As the name says, Borrowed Chord is a chord that is borrowed from another mode. It can be from a Greek Mode or from a Parallel Mode.

Most of the time, Borrowed Chords come from the parallel mode. For this reason, many authors classify the Borrowed Chord as just a chord borrowed from the parallel mode. Our definition here will be broader.

Before going on, we will give you an example of borrowed chord: let’s say that the song is in C major tonality. If, in some moment of the song appears the chord Eb7M, we quickly identify that it doesn’t belong to the harmonic field of C major, but from the harmonic field of C minor. As C minor is the parallel of C major, we conclude that this Eb7M is a borrowed chord from the parallel mode. These borrowed chords are passing chords; they suddenly appear in the song and soon the song returns to its tonal harmony again. It is rare appearing a borrowed chord followed by a cadence, because, in this case, we would be characterizing a modulation.

Notice the difference: modulations are little transitions of tonality. Borrowed chords don’t change tonality, they are just borrowed and passing chords. With this difference understood, let’s go on.

Borrowed Chords options

Considering all the modes, there are many options for borrowed chords to use them in the songs. See below the chords of the harmonic field of all the available modes to C tone:

borrowed chords

In the point of view of extension notes, it’s really common to substitute, in the parallel mode, the degrees Im7 and Ivm7 for Im6 and Ivm6, respectively, due to the pleasant obtained sonority.

You also have to be careful with the chord Vm7, because in some cases, it is not a borrowed chord but a second minor degree, providing a modulation to the fourth degree. Example: Gm7 – C7 – F.

Very well, you have probably noticed that there are many details, so you need to work in each one of them calmly.

Now that the concept of borrowed chords is solid, let’s train improvisation using these chords. After that, let’s analyze some songs that have borrowed chords, for you to believe that they are real and used!

How to improvise in Borrowed Chords?

To improvise in borrowed chords is simple, it is just to identify where the borrowed chord came from and play the scale of this chord. In theory is easy, but in practice you should be thinking that this is hard, because we have to identify fast what was the borrowed mode to know which tonality or scale to use. Actually this is true. This is why is useful to know which are the most used borrowed chords. This way you can memorize these degrees and know automatically which one to use in these situations. All this will help to decrease your “surprises” while improvising and will increase your music luggage. As more experience you will have, faster will be your reaction.

Let’s start then, working on improvisation with some bases of Guitar Pro. All of them are in D major tonality and have borrowed chords:

1) | C7M | Fm7 Bb7 | C7M |

File: Borrowed chords1.gpro

In the second bar line of this file, we can use Cm scale, since Fm7 and Bb7 belong to the parallel tone of Cm. Another option it would be using the resources that we already studied to the cadences II – V, with of that possible approach to the dominant, because Fm7 – Bb7 is a cadence II – V with deceptive resolution. Of course the fact of being a deceptive resolution requires caution in the return from the solo to the original tonality.

2) | C7M | Dm7 Db7M | C7M |

File: Borrowed chords2.gpro

Here in this base we have, in the end of the second bar line, the chord Db7M, which is a borrowed chord from the Phrygian mode. In other words, Db7M is chord which exists in Ab major tonality (it is the IV degree of Ab), where C is the third degree (IIIm7) of Ab. So we can use in this moment the scale of Ab, its relative Fm or, of course, C Phrygian. Or even Db Lydian, since it is the IV degree of Ab. All this things are, actually the same thing.

3) | C7M | Abmaj7 Db7| C7M |

File: Borrowed chords3.gpro

In the first half of the second bar line, we can use the scale of Cm, because Abmaj7 is a borrowed chord in the parallel mode, IV degree of Cm. In the second half, we can use Ab melodic minor, which it the melodic minor scale one fifth above Db7.

Observation: This chord is acting as subV7 of G7.

4) | C7M Bb7 | Abmaj7 G7 | C7M |

File: Borrowed chords4.gpro

Here, in the first bar line, it appears a borrowed chord (from the parallel mode). With it we can use the scale of Cm or A flat Mixolydian, because Bb7 is the fifth degree of Eb (relative of Cm). We can go on with the scale of Cm in the second bar line due to Abmaj7 (which also belongs to the field of Cm) and when the chord G7 comes, we can play the harmonic minor scale of C, as if we would stay on C minor mode. This is a really interesting idea to this progression.

5) | C7M | Fmaj7 Fm6 | C7M |

File: Borrowed chords5.gpro

In the second bar line of this progression, in Fm6 (IVm6), which is a borrowed chord of the parallel mode, we can use the melodic minor scale of F. If you want understand the reason of it, read the article “Fourth minor degree (IVm6)”.

Besides all this approaches we showed, borrowed chords can also being preceded by a dominant chord. For example, in the previous exercises, Ab7M could be preceded by Eb7 in some progression. In this case, Eb7 wouldn’t be a borrowed chord, but an auxiliary dominant. Now, be careful when you also want to add the second degree in this progression, to try to create II – V – I, because with this structure we are already going to modulation and leaving the borrowed chords subject.

Don’t forget what we said in the beginning: borrowed chords are those which appear as intruders, they don’t have the aim of changing the tonality of the song; they just appear as a surprise effect to create some peculiarity in the melody.

See below some examples of songs that use borrowed chords (in orange):

MEU ERRO (Hebert Vianna)

A                                   C#m                D                                                  Dm                                       A

Eu quis dizer você não quis escutar agora não peça não me faça promessas eu não quero te ver

C#m                      D                                 Dm                    C#m                                F#m

nem quero acreditar que vai ser diferente que tudo mudou você diz não saber o que houve de

D                                      Dm                 A                               D                                           A

errado e o meu erro foi crer que estar do teu lado bastaria a meu Deus era tudo que eu queria

D                                                        Dm

eu dizia o seu nome não me abandone

In this song, which is in A major, we clearly have a single chord that doesn’t belong to the harmonic field of A: the chord Dm. In the tonality A major, D is the IV major degree, not the minor (IVm). The chord Dm is present in the tonality of A minor, therefore Dm is a borrowed chord in the parallel mode.

NOS BAILES DA VIDA (Milton Nascimento e Fernando Brant)

D                                                            D7M                      D6                                                         C

Foi nos bailes da vida ou num bar em troca de pão que muita gente boa pôs o pé na profissão

Em7           A7(4)                                 A7                             D

de tocar um instrumento e de cantar não se importando se quem pagou quis ouvir foi assim

D7M                D6                                                                      C

cantar era buscar o caminho que vai dar no sol tenho comigo as lembranças do que eu era pra

Em7                          A7(4)                   A7                    D                   D4

cantar nada era longe tudo era tão bom pé estrada de terra na boléia de caminhão era assim

D                                                                    D7M                D6                                             C                 Em7

com a roupa encharcada e a alma repleta de chão todo artista tem de ir aonde o povo está se

A7(4)                  A7(4)                 A7                               D              D4

foi assim assim será cantando me disfarço e não me canso de viver nem de cantar

In this song, which is in D major, the chord C should be C#m7(b5) (VIIm7b5). This C major that appeared is acting like D minor (it is the seventh degree downgraded bVII).

This song also presents other interesting characteristics, like cadences II – V – I to the tonic and to the first degree with passing notes. This last characteristic appears in the chord D4 (where the fourth is an avoided note. Notice that the chord D4 appears before the chord D, emphasizing that this fourth is just a passing note).

Go to: How to modulate

Back to: Module 10