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"The Borrowed IV, as Spotted in 'Let it Go' and 'Run Away Baby'"
What’s going on there? First it was one way, then it was slightly different?
Anyways, hey everybody, and welcome to the Spotter Spots Vlog. Today we’re gonna talk about that interesting chord you just heard, it’s called the borrowed ‘Major Four’ chord, as heard in minor keys, like the keys these songs up here are in!
Alright, first of all, I want to say that this “Major Four” triad is a pretty common borrowed chord as heard in minor: around 26% of hit songs in minor keys use this chord type, written as a capital roman numeral IV.
For some perspective on that “26%” number: In major keys, a major IV chord is used in 90% of popular songs, and in Blues-rock supermode tonalities, it clocks in at 87% usage.
But yeah, that’s enough of that for now, check out the Spotter Stats vlog on chord usage if you want to geek out on more factoids and statistics about how often people use the different chord types.
OK, as I mentioned a minute ago, this particular chord—used in minor keys—is what some people call a “borrowed chord”, because you ‘borrow’ it from a specific root-key’s diatonic chords taken from the major scale. And you can see how that works, if you look at the scale degrees of minor vs. major.
So like, here’s all the notes you’d regularly use in a minor song, relative to major: 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7, 1. So those are minor scale tones.
But in order to play our featured chord of the day, a Major IV chord, we have to use a major scale note, the raised not flatted 6th scale degree. All in all we play the 4th—which is the same in major or minor scales, then the non-flatted 6th from major, and then 1st note of the scale, which, again is the same for both major and minor. So yeah, we see that it’s just a one note difference—here it is again: [demo]
Bam! Borrow that relatively raised major 6th scale degree from the major scale…and voila, major IV “borrowed chord.”
Okay, that’s enough of that, if you want to know more about ‘Borrowed’ chords, Google the term and you’ll get loads more info.
But for now, on to the good stuff, let’s check out how this chord type is used in 2 popular tunes:
First up is “Run Away Baby” by Bruno Mars.
Okay, you can sort of hear it implied in the riff, like this [demo], what I’m doing is I’m playing the borrowed IV underneath, and, as you may agree, it seems like it could belong here, so there’s that to consider. But, really the first time you hear it in a concrete way, and not in a made-up-in-your-head’s-own-expectations way like I just did, is 0:34 seconds into the song, in this chord progression: bVI V i IV!
I mean, you really hear the lift, you know, that major 6th scale degree, that wasn’t there before—here colored in red on the board, as opposed to the stuffs colored in green, which have the regular minor 6th scale degree, a chromatic step lower.
Okay, Bruno Mars, very cool, but now let’s hear today’s featured chord again in a more Disney slash Broadway … way.
Alright, if you watched the Syncs Vlog about “Love is an Open Door” from the movie Frozen I did a little while ago, you already know how much I love Robert Lopez’s genius E.G.O.T.-winning use of harmony. So yeah, in that song, he does the opposite—he uses a borrowed—Minor—four in a Major key, but in the song “Let It Go” from the same movie, he uses our Borrowed Major four in a minor key.
And it’s not only that, but it’s HOW he uses it in itself, that’s pretty cool. What I ‘m talking about is the set up.
You may have already guessed that that little teaser at the beginning of this vlog was some kind of attempt to sound like the start of this song, “Let it Go”, where he ends his first phrase on a regular minor scale’s minor four chord (iv)—here, let me play it again [demo]. Oh, by the way, if you want to hear it for realseys, on the record, it happens at 0:08, 0:20, & 0:34 into the song.
So yeah, that’s the set-up, because every alternating time he plays the phrase, he switches that regular minor four we just heard, to the borrowed major four, giving your ear that little bit of a tweak, a tweak that is enhanced because he’s already established your expectation that it’s gonna be the same regular minor chord from earlier. Sounds like this [demo]. You know, it’s like “Ooo, that’s different than it was, or was it, whoa 3D snowflakes.” Anyways, that tweak can be heard at 0:13, 0:27, & 0:39.
So yeah, both regular minor 4 chord, then the raised 6th scale degree borrowed major IV. Super slick.
Hey I know, wanna hear what “Run Away Baby” would sound like if it used this same trick—like if it used a regular diatonic minor four chord (iv) first, instead of the borrowed one?
Just wait this is going to be all messed up. [demo]
I mean, yeah, I don’t know, right? It just makes it kind of sad, don’t you think? Too sad almost.
It’s like, without the borrowed major IV chord, it like, makes you not even like Bruno Mars anymore. Because instead of happy fun lovable “he’s not a player he just crushes a lot” guy, now he’s like super sad tragic player guy where everyone’s heart get’s broken.
So yeah, anyways, that’s my take on how you can get different results, just by tweaking one little scale degree.
Okay though, we’re not done yet. I have to quick mention how the borrowed Major IV chord type also gives us shades of what the cool kids call the ‘Dorian’ mode.
The same thing we’ve been doing this whole time is also how you make a Dorian Scale: you take a Minor Scale, and you raise the 6th scale degree!
But yeah, just wanted to mention that, because if you don’t hear any minor scale flat 6’s in a song, it’s going to be in full on Dorian. And if it’s in full on Dorian, you can’t call the major IV’s “borrowed chords.” Both of these last examples do have lots of flat 6’s and raised 6’s, so yeah—not full on Dorian, just shades of Dorian.
Alright, before we go: other honorable mentions of minor songs with these major IV ‘dorianesque’ tweaky-slick sounds are: “I Heard It Through the Grape Vine”, by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, and “Breathe”, by Pink Floyd. So yeah, go see if you can hear the borrowed major IVs in those songs. And, while you’re at it, might as well stay on the lookout for this super happening chord type in all the other music you listen to too, and if you spot it, let us know. And maybe, just maybe, you can even use the borrowed major IV chord in your own compositions and songwriting!
Alright, thanks for hanging out with the TonalTrends.com music vlogs, and we’ll see you at the next video. Bye.