I was listening this song;

Chord progression is something like this;

Am, E, F, C, Dm .(BTW His guitar is tuned half step down)

And almost all solos are in A minor/harmonic minor scale.

I believe this progression is in the key of Am (apart from E and not Em)

Then out of no where, there is a chord change at the 3.28 mark. He switches to C#m, and plays from the C#m pentatonic scale

C#m is not in the key A minor/harmonic minor but it sounds very good. Is this a common change when you want to switch to pentatonic scale in a harmonic minor song? Are there other examples of this? I'm impressed and would like to to formulize this.

  • What chord is played before and after the C# minor and can you find the written chord progression? There are many things that could of happened from a temporary modulation to borrowed chords.
    – Dom
    Mar 31, 2014 at 13:56
  • @Dom Am before and after
    – Spring
    Mar 31, 2014 at 14:01
  • 1
    C#m is a substitution for Amaj7 Sep 7, 2014 at 0:10

5 Answers 5


The key change you are describing is known as a Chromatic Mediant Relationship. This type of modulation rose to prominence in the Romantic Period and has been used by composers and musicians ever since.

Chromatic Mediant Relationships are ones in which the roots or tonal centers of the keys are a non-diatonic 3rd apart. If diatonic (within the key), it would simply be labeled as a Mediant Relationship.

Alternatively, one may also make a case for modal mixture. If he is not actually modulating to a new key, but instead merely borrowing chords, then the above term would apply. Modal mixture occurs when notes or chords are borrowed from parallel or related keys / modes.

In the case of the example above, even though C#m is not a chord found in Am, it is a chord (iii) found in A major. In this circumstance, one could argue modal mixture for A / Am as the C# pentatonic scale also contains (and implies) active tones in A major.

  • 3
    I'm so glad someone on this site actually knows music theory, because otherwise it would just be too depressing. (Also, thanks for giving me the correct term for my favorite modulation in Grieg's piano concerto; there's a chromatic mediant from F Maj to Ab Maj in the middle of the third movement that's just gorgeous.) Mar 31, 2014 at 18:32
  • @jjmusicnotes thanks for great info! but I am afraid I couldn't understand you in the context of this song:) first of all what is "non-diatonic 3rd apart" and also I couldn't get the connection between the last paragraph and the explaination about what is a "Chromatic Mediant Relationship" Could you explain these taking the song as example?
    – Spring
    Mar 31, 2014 at 22:01
  • @Spring - "Non-diatonic" means "isn't a part of the original scale". For example, A -> C in A minor is a diatonic third. A -> C# in A minor is not a diatonic third as C# doesn't occur in A minor. Therefore, it's a non-diatonic third. Chromatic Mediants refer to non-diatonic third relationships. Mediants refer to diatonic third relationships. Apr 1, 2014 at 2:21
  • @jjmusicnotes Thanks! but then why we use C#m an not C#? because diatonic 3rd of Am is a C major and not Cm.Also What do you think of this case : V chord of A Harmonic scale is Emaj, And the relative minor of E is C#minor?
    – Spring
    Apr 1, 2014 at 8:58
  • If you are talking about non-diatonic thirds, don't you have to qualify it as major or minor? Apr 1, 2014 at 11:35

Am it is until your stated 3:28 mark.Then it goes into more like E maj. Then about 4:10 ish it modulates back to Am.It doesn't have to have a lot to do with the original key.Although the new key of E is the dominant of Am.This E maj spawns the relative minor of C#m, so that's where that comes in.

A song, say, in C can modulate (change key) up to C#. None of the new notes are related in any way to C, except they're all up a semitone. The same idea works from C to D. Again, no relationship . Often modulations will have a common note that links each key, but with Yngwie there are so many notes, it's impossible to check that idea out !

Minor keys have three derivatives- natural, harmonic and melodic. They all have the same 5 notes at the beginning of their scales, but the 6th and 7th notes vary. Maybe this is not the time to explain all that - it's been done already on this site,so having an E chord rather than Em should be no big surprise in the key of Am.


It seems to me that the C#m chord is a flavoured substitution for the C+ (C augmented) chord that is built from A harmonic/melodic minor.

The notes in C#m are as follows:

C#  E  G#

The notes in C+ are as follows:

C  E  G#

Because there is only one note difference this substitution is easily achieved. Another thing to notice is that there is a C in Am chord before.

The notes of Am are as follows:

A  C  E

As you can see, the E is a common tone and a half step below A is G# and a half step above C is C#. Because of this the chord voicings lead very well to each other while having a slight departure from the original key of the song A minor to E major/C# minor. The reason for this departure is because the root note of the C# minor chord is not native to any A minor scale, but because of how it is approached it sounds fine with the general progression. The reason the scale/melody played over this scale is E major/ C# minor is as you inferred it is taken from the Dominant's major scale which is quite normal for a piece in a major key, but a little more rare in minor keys because of how different the two keys are.

  • 1
    @Dom - functionally, this explanation really only works if the C# is being used as an approach note to a V4/2 in A minor. Mar 31, 2014 at 17:36

I'm not an expert on the terminology, but I just think of that as the 4-semitone key change. It mimicks the chord progression (Am,F) but it has 2 minors, so its kind of like a "dark" version of (Am,F). Also, the 4-semitone change fits with the 5- and 7-semitone changes people use in blues. So its kind of like a "dark" version of the standard blues progression.

That being said, I haven't figured out how to formulate it yet. Instead, I treat it sort of like a pattern (like plaid or houndstooth) that mixes two colors (the two keys, Am and C#m)

  • 1
    The 4-semitone explanation seems rather strange to me, and particularly unlikely seeing as this comes from someone with as profound classical backing as Yngwie Malmsteen. But anyway, it's sure an interpretation you can choose for yourself. Only... what the heck does this have to do with Blues-style I IV and I V changes? Mar 31, 2014 at 20:55

Especially if, as you state, Yngwie favors the harmonic minor scale, he's probably using a borrowed chord from the 6th mode of a parallel harmonic minor scale in C#m/Emaj. That harmonized scale being: A Aeolian Harmonic Minor (in C#m/E): AMaj7, Bdim7, C#mM7, D#m7b5, EMaj7+, F#m7, G7. To verify this, listen for the Maj7th interval in the C#m context you're referring to.

Hope this helps. E.

  • A Aeolian Harmonic Minor? I've never heard of such a scale. The first mode of A Harmonic Minor is sometimes called A Aeolian ♯7, but the 6th mode of C♯ Harmonic Minor goes with an AMaj7 chord, so it makes no sense to call this mode Aeolian. Instead, it should be A Lydian ♯2.
    – user39614
    May 11, 2018 at 7:56

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