Chord Tips to Learn from “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is one of the Beatles most popular and well-known songs. Buried within this masterpiece are some truly amazing chord sequences! In this article, we’ll break down those chord sequences so that we can learn from them and use these tricks in our own songwriting.
This article is a summarised transcript of our video “These Beatles Chord Moves will Blow Your Mind”. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.
Borrowing Chords from Outside the Key
Before we begin to discuss how The Beatles borrowed chords from outside the key, we must first understand the chords that the key contains. The following are the chords in the key of A Major, which is the key of the song:
The verse of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” contains the chord progression A A/G F#m F, which in chord theory is I I7 vi bVI. As you can see, F#m is not in the key of A, and this creates an element of surprise for the listener. So, this F chord really creates a sense of intrigue because we’re not expecting it.
If you need to brush up on what chords are diatonic to a key, then download this free PDF of the “Functions of Chords in a Diatonic System”:
Variation in the Chromatic Bassline
In the verse of the song, the chords are varied slightly the second time around, which creates this really nice descending bass line. When it cycles around to the A, The Beatles could have just used the same A chord in root position. Instead, they used an A/E, which created a descending bassline that goes from G to F# to F then E.
This is an important lesson on how we can try to look for ways to create variation when a chord progression repeats. It keeps your listeners wondering what’s going to happen next.
Playing with Rhythm and Timing
Another detail worth mentioning in regards to the verse is how the F chord at the end is held twice as long as the other chords in the progression. This is such a great technique because we’re really expecting the sequence to be balanced or symmetrical.
Prolonging the F chord creates instability because it makes the chord progression have an uneven number of bars. When you have instability or an odd number of bars in a sequence it creates forward momentum because it’s unresolved and you want to hear a resolution.
Modulation Using Borrowed Chords
The second half of the verse is almost exactly the same as the first half, except with the addition of Dm and Dm/C at the end. The Dm has the same borrowed chord sound as the F chord. But one important difference here is how there’s a new descending bass line which goes from D to C, and leads us towards the first chord of the pre-chorus, which is Bb.
In the context of the original key of A Major, Bb would be the b9, C would be the major chord of the b3 and as we’ve previously established, the F is a borrowed chord. When there are 3 borrowed chords in a row like this, it means that we’ve modulated keys.
Our ears will now tell us that Bb is the new key. The presence of the C chord might be confusing since it isn’t diatonic to Bb. However, when we listen to how the V chord ie the F brings us back to Bb, we can confirm that Bb is the new key. The reason our ears accept this key change is because The Beatles have employed a technique known as priming.
Priming is the process of exposing your listeners to some of the sounds that they’ll hear later on in the progression so that their ears can accustom themselves to it first. So, since we’ve heard the F as a borrowed chord throughout the verse, our ears easily accept that F is the new key in the pre-chorus.
This happens again in the second half of the pre-chorus. We’ve already established that C is a borrowed chord since it’s not diatonic to Bb. The next two chords which are G and C, are also not diatonic to the key of Bb. And since there are 3 borrowed chords in a row, that means we’ve modulated keys again This change is once again, facilitated by the use of priming.
The C chord is easily accepted because a Dm/ C was used at the end of the verse. In addition, the G can be heard in the bass of the A/G chord. The D chord gets introduced to us just for a moment before we hit the F#m in the verse, through the use of the notes in the melody. The progression that is formed creates a modulation to the chorus, which uses the same 3 chords (C G and D) in a different order.
Time Signature Change
An interesting thing to note is that the chorus is in a completely different time signature compared to the rest of the song. Up till the end of the pre-chorus, the song is counted in threes. However when we get to the chorus, we notice that there’s a complete shift to straight fours instead.
The final trick that The Beatles uses in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is to hold the D chord for an extended period of time at the end of the chorus. D is the IV chord of the original key of A Major. So, by playing the modulated chords in the second half of the chorus then holding the D at the end, it makes us feel as if all these chords belong together. This is how The Beatles take us back to the song’s original key.
How to Apply this in Your Own Songs
Based on everything that we’ve discussed so far, the following are ways you can apply these chord tricks in your own songs:
- Write down the chords of the key you’re writing in then look for ‘borrowed chord’ options.
- Look for opportunities to extend the form by adding beats or bars at the end of a section.
- Consider a modulation (key change) as you move between sections – look to use your borrowed chords as ‘priming’ devices.
- Look for opportunities to change the time feel and use other rhythmic variations.
Conclusion: Chord Tips to Learn from “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
An important lesson here is that Lennon and McCartney were always looking for these little variations and ways that they could surprise their listeners. It’s these changes that help keep our listeners interested and create a truly memorable song.
If you would like more details, explanations and examples, then be sure to check out the video now.
Level up your songwriting with five radically practical exercises used by professional songwriters around the world: