it's two questions:

a) Can a piece in one key borrow from its relative minor?

b) Can a piece in one key borrow from its parallel minor?

for example,

a) key of E major piece (progression): I V i/vi

last chord plays in C#m?

b) key of E major piece (progression): I V i

last chord plays in Em?


Short answer: yes.

Long answer: not at all uncommon. Your first example is a deceptive cadence, which is a standard progression. The second is a fairly standard move to the parallel minor; a similar move from minor to parallel major is a tierce de Picardie. Both are as common as dirt. There is, in all cases, no real need to establish the new key or mode - the substitution can be colouristic or motivic.

Other substitutions, quite a bit further out, take place all the time. Establishing a key doesn't necessarily require a diatonic progression; it does require strong root movements that confirm the key.


Yes, it happens. There are plenty of examples out there, in serious and pop music. The finish on relative minor is, as Patrx2 stated, the deceptive, or interrupted cadence, leaving the listener with a feeling of being left hanging on for the end, which has actually just happened.

The 'tierce de Picardie' where the last chord is 'borrowed' from the parallel major is far more common than the change you suggest, but playing a whole piece in major, and finishing on the tonic minor is rare. It would leave the listener on a down, unless it was setting up for the next movement, or even the middle 8 of a pop song, but isn't often used. Best to try each and see - or better still, listen!


Yes. But I find the whole "borrowing" concept rather suspect. Chromatic chords are acceptable without special justification. So they're diatonic in some OTHER key. So what?

Do remember that 'Theory describes, it does not command'. 'Borrowing' can be a description of an 'outside' chord. It may even be a useful description, (though I have reservations!). But it describes what HAS been written, it doesn't tell you what you MAY write.

  • If I ever get to be world dictator, my first edict will probably be to destroy all music textbooks that start with the statement "a scale consists of 7 notes". Every scale in contemporary Western music has 12 notes - but some of them get used more often than others! – user19146 Aug 28 '16 at 2:48
  • Humans tend to gravitate towards things that work logically, or form patterns. If an often used scheme can be found to follow a 'rule', then that rule becomes accepted, mainly because it helps to give a framework for working within. Merely stating such as 'anything goes' isn't particularly helpful to anyone who is still struggling to make sense of a concept. If 'they're diatonic in some other key' that's obviously true, but that's rather like saying if you want to spell a word you are having trouble spelling - use the letters of the alphabet, they'll do. That's part of 'so what'. – Tim Aug 28 '16 at 7:36
  • @alephzero - to do the job properly, wouldn't you, as world leader, have to include the 'in the cracks' notes that occur in Blues, making a number larger than 12 in Western music?! Just include the magic word 'diatonic'. Doesn't that ameliorate the term. – Tim Aug 28 '16 at 7:51
  • A scale usually has 7 notes. Though improvisors seem to favour a 5-note one. But a KEY has 12 notes and hundreds of chords. Tim: sure, but there are just so MANY exceptions to the "diatonic only" rule, and they occur so early in everyone's musical journey, that it's hardly a rule at all. – Laurence Payne Aug 28 '16 at 17:13
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    Not sure where the concept of a KEY having 12 notes comes from. If it's true, there can only be one key. And that's not true. – Tim Aug 28 '16 at 17:52

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