I've done some looking to no avail, so I'm hoping one of you will know the answer to my question. If I'm in a minor key and I play a i, iv, v progression, but later on I change ONLY the i to a major, how is that chord identified? For example, in A minor, if I suddenly played an A major, but still had a D and E minor following.

I don't know what to call it, other than a non-diatonic chord, but something tells me there's probably a name for this type of chord in this situation, as well as other non-diatonic chords. I haven't really studied post-tonal theory, so I wouldn't know where to begin. If someone could point me in the right direction, I'd appreciate it.

4 Answers 4


Well, first of all, "chromatic chord" is probably a better term than "non-diatonic". When a composition ends with a major I in an otherwise minor piece, it's called a "Picardy third" or "tierce de picardie". But in the middle of a piece it would generally just be called "modal borrowing". You could also call it a secondary dominant, ie V/iv. The use of a different mode or secondary dominant like this in an otherwise basic tonal progression isn't particularly the purview of post-tonal theory, but in neo-Riemannian theory the move from a minor chord to major with the same root or vice-versa is labelled "P", which stands for parallel.

EDIT TO ADD: Whether you call it a modal borrowing (just labelled I) or a secondary dominant of iv (labelled V/iv) is to some extent just six-of-one, half-a-dozen the other. It depends on how you hear it or want it to function. If you mostly just hear it as an occasional alteration of the i chord then I'd reflect that by calling it modal borrowing, but if you hear it as making the drive to iv stronger then I'd call it a secondary dominant. Both will probably be somewhat true.

  • I think it may be useful if you add suggestions of which modes the chord could be borrowed from and potentially a few other situations where similar things might happen, such as a bIII chord in a major key, or something along those lines. I think this would help solidify the OP's understanding of the subject more than just label the chord that he is using. Just a suggestion, I already up voted your answer. I would have answered but you seem to have covered everything I would have mentioned. Dec 29, 2014 at 19:09
  • @Basstickler Fair points. In common practice theory of course, modal borrowing always just means the parallel major/minor. There are already a lot of answers on here about modal borrowing in general, but it's a good suggestion. I'll try to sneak some time later to update the answer further. Dec 29, 2014 at 22:59
  • I do find that convention to be largely true but you can definitely borrow from other modes even though less common in most settings. I generally try to format answers to provide everything in one place, which is why I suggest mentioning it. Dec 30, 2014 at 3:43

That would be called the parallel major chord. Likewise, in A major, the A-minor chord (or scale) would be called the parallel minor.

In the key of A minor, BTW, the relative major would be C major.

As mentioned in other replies to your question, it also could be thought of as a secondary dominant chord, and in this case written as V/iv. Although it would be more convincing that way as a dominant-seventh chord (V7/iv), so in the key of A minor this new chord would have the notes A, C#, E, G, and would commonly lead to iv (D minor). But this really depends a lot on voice leading and cadence!


A secondary dominant, I think, eh? A is going to act like the dominant of d. It would be like A-d = V-i in d minor, d-e = iv-v in a minor, with d as the pivot chord between the two key centres.

V/iv is the usual way of numbering it.

  • it would still be an A of some sort in the key of A of some sort. So it would still be a tonic. Can a tonic be a dominant at the same time?
    – Tim
    Dec 29, 2014 at 18:41
  • Yes. As a matter of fact, this gets into a bit of a grey area: it can be the sign of a transient modulation within a prevailing A tonality; it can also just take on a brief colouristic dominant function within the A tonality (as in the example Matt gave). Multiplicity and ambiguity of function is actually what makes large scale form possible in tonal music. You need to destabilise a tonality in order to modulate from it convincingly (that is, there needs to be some sort of tonal justification in functional tonality). Ambiguity of harmonic function achieves that.
    – user16935
    Dec 29, 2014 at 19:11
  • that means that the next part of the composition will be in D minor.At that point, Em would pretty well be redundant.
    – Tim
    Dec 29, 2014 at 20:09
  • That's why I said colouristic function in Matt's example. Still, think about it: A-d-e... Is it a passage in A minor that is giving some prominence to iv? (And it is doing that - the root movement and leading tone voice leading are very strong.) Or is it a passage in d minor that is starting to move away from d minor? In isolation, without what comes before and after, that would be hard to tell. As part of an unstable passage, it will continue the instability; embedded in purest A minor, it's going to be a little bit of a surprise.
    – user16935
    Dec 29, 2014 at 20:27
  • I agree — it's impossible to analyze without the context, but I think it's hard to imagine an example in a-minor where an A-major chord followed by d-minor doesn't sound like V/iv.
    – user13034
    Jan 15, 2015 at 20:14

Depending on the context, it could either be considered a secondary dominant or a borrowed chord.

If the I is preceding a iv chord, it is most likely meant to sound as a secondary dominant; that is to say that this chord sounds like the dominant (V) in the key of iv. For instance, in the case of A minor, A major sounds like V in D minor, so 'A d E a' would be analyzed as V/iv iv V i.

Alternatively, if the chord is not acting as a secondary dominant, it would be considered a borrowed chord. For instance, some songs in minor keys end with a raised third. In this case, your chord would be analyzied as I, borrowed from the parallel major. For instance, in the case of A minor, 'a d E A' would be analyzed as i iv V I.

  • 1
    as in 'tierce de Picardie'.(Last para).
    – Tim
    Dec 29, 2014 at 18:43

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