From the Borrowed Chords theory, I should be able to use the flat-third major (♭III) 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?

  • 1
    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. 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-♭III- II- ♭II -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. Dec 29 '18 at 19:49

In a minor key, you can use: i - ♭III - ♭VII - 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, ♭III 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?) Sep 12 '14 at 18:39
  • It's not made explicit, but I think OP might be talking about using ♭III in a major key.
    – user45266
    Mar 23 '20 at 2:25

The basic classical theory is that borrowed chords have the same function as the diatonic chords for which they substitute. So, a 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 ♭III 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": Harmonic succession in the chromatic-minor system

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


The ♭III chord is also used in the Mario Bros 3 water level theme :-)

I - IV - iii - ♭III - IV - V


How about I - ♭II - ♭III - ♭II - 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
  • 1
    Yep, you're right. The tonic is major. Just fixed it. Mar 6 '18 at 18:38

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

  • 3
    Can you clarify what you mean by "licc"?
    – Richard
    Dec 29 '18 at 20:55
  • I'm taking the liberty of throwing the part about "the licc", which seems to be a fragment of a thought that isn't adding anything to the post. If this user wants to rise from the dead and revert my edit then hopefuly they'll also elaborate on the phrase.
    – user45266
    Mar 23 '20 at 2:28

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