From the Borrowed Chords theory, I should be able to use the flat-third major (bIII) in my composition and it should sound good. However, after many trial and errors, I am unable to discover any suitable chord progression that utilizes the flat-third major pleasingly. Does anybody know how to apply the flat-third major chord into a song?

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    A couple chord progressions using bIII that I've found useful are I-bIII-IV and I-II-bIII-IV. Even though they're similar, the first one sounds very pop-y and upbeat, and the second one sounds more serious, especially in a natural minor key or dorian mode (as i-ii-III-IV). – Kevin Sep 13 '14 at 5:30
  • @Kevin - i-III in a minor key is what's expected. It's the relative min/maj. The unexpected is in a major key, going to a major b3. – Tim Sep 13 '14 at 6:29
  • You're right. I-bIII-IV definitely still works in a major key/mixolydian mode in my experience, and I-II-bIII-IV can work a well. – Kevin Sep 13 '14 at 17:18
  • As it happens, I wrote a song recently which uses bIII; the song modulates for a few bars from I to bIII by using iv as a pivot chord (it's ii in the key of bIII). The chord sequence is IV V vi iv bIII (I in new key) iv (ii) bVI (IV) ii V. – No'am Newman Dec 17 '19 at 5:50

It's fairly 'in yer face', and works best in blues and soul. Think 'Knock on Wood', often used between I and IV.Good as a turnaround , I-bIII- II- bII -I, first four in the last bar of sequence.

You say 'I can use'. You can use anything you like in your songs - they don't have to obey any rules or theory. They may well do, but they don't have to. If it sounds good...

  • I have rephrase the 'I can use' thing, no too much difference though. Thanks for pointing that out. – krismath Sep 12 '14 at 17:48
  • 'Borrowing' can justify just about any chord. Save the concept for when the chord is used as a modulatory gateway into the key it's 'borrowed' from. – Laurence Payne Dec 29 '18 at 19:49

In a minor key, you can use: i - bIII - bVII - IV. Since this is minor key, the flats are redundant, but I like to include them anyway, for clarity. Several songs use this progression, but one that comes to my mind is "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons (Bm-D-A-E). I'm not at a keyboard, but I'd imagine the same progression would work reasonably well if you replaced i with I.

From a functional harmony perspective, bIII seems to have a tonic function.

  • On further reflection, its funny how I mention functional harmony, since modal chord progressions often don't really even use the traditional dominant or predominant function. (Perhaps a subdominant and pre-subdominant function would be more in line?) – Caleb Hines Sep 12 '14 at 18:39

How about I - bII - bIII - bII - I

  • You show roman numerals for minor i - ♭II - ♭III, but both of those sound like they have major tonic chords: I - ♭II - ♭III (which is good, because if they were minor they would be i - ♭II - III progressions). – ex nihilo Feb 10 '18 at 6:23
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    Yep, you're right. The tonic is major. Just fixed it. – Vahe Hovhannisyan Mar 6 '18 at 18:38

Use the BVII chord as well. That nice fourth interval between BIII and BVII helps to move there nicely, or at least to set zit it up tonaly, thirds can be a nasty jump. Jarring if nothing else so nice sundomiant to tonic, IV-I or related BVII/ ii - I, can really smooth that out. Also minor iv. The licc helps

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    Can you clarify what you mean by "licc"? – Richard Dec 29 '18 at 20:55

The basic classical theory is that borrowed chords have the same function as the diatonic chords for which they substitute. So, borrowed minor iv still functions as a subdominant.

But you might consider a different theory if you are dealing with rock music. Some rock music used chord roots based on a minor scale, but chromatically makes the chord qualities on those roots major. In other words, roots I and bIII come from the minor orientation of a lot of rock music, but chords are harmonized with major thirds. It's a bit similar to how blues adds minor sevenths to I IV V even though those tones aren't in the "key."

This post discusses the style with one textbook source calling in "chromatic minor."

From this perspective bIII isn't borrowed. It's part of a different, unique tonality.

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