I've heard somewhere that there's a technique where you put a major chord where a minor chord is expected, and it creates a feeling of unexpectedness. If I recall, there's one in Hey Ya by OutKast: the chords are G C D E, instead of G C D Em.

I'm sure there's a name to this and not something like "vi to VI".

Subsidiary question: does it count as a chord subsitution? I tried to look there but from what I got that's not exactly the same thing.

(I think there's already a question about it but "how is this called?" questions are really hard to find. I tried and couldn't find anything so I'm trying again with a title that is hopefully more evocative.)

  • 1
    This is unusual in that the question involves totally major chords, and at the end of the sequence, there's another major chord, which OP thinks may have been a minor - diatonically true. However, the Picardy third works in a different way, in that the piece has minor sonority througout, but ends on a tonic major chord. Something of a red herring.
    – Tim
    Apr 29, 2020 at 18:13
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    This does not seem like a Picardy third which would be the raised third on the final chord of a piece in a minor mode. Apr 29, 2020 at 23:26
  • It could be the Picardy third. But this E major looks like a secondary dominant.creating a tension which pushes towards A or F. .
    – PeterJ
    Apr 30, 2020 at 11:18
  • Since none of the chords in your example are minor, the song cannot be in minor. Which is a basic premise for using a Picary third. How does that make your accepted answer right?
    – Tim
    May 1, 2020 at 16:09

6 Answers 6


This is actually a chromatic mediant. In that specific case, it's a VI, which is a parallel major to G, the tonic.

It can't be considered a V/ii (secondary dominant) as it doesn't resolve in Am, but in G.

And it's not a Picardy Third, because those are used only once in a song, as the final chord, substituting the minor tonic to its parallel major. This song is not even in minor mode, so it doesn't make any sense to call it a Picardy.


The original term - still used - is 'Tierce de Picardie', which translates to Picardy Third.

No proof has emerged appertaining to the reason why Picardy was involved, except perhaps the major chord to end a minor piece, which started in the sixteenth century, was used at least initially, in church and choral music, and that was prevalent in Northern France at that time.

Of Bach's 24 preludes and Fugues,(first book), 23 of them use a Tierce de Picardie.

Having said all that, Tierce de Picardie usually is found at the end of a minor or minor modal piece. In your sample, it occurs every end of line. So it probably won't be labelled as such. More like a borrowed chord. Or even V/ii.So, yes, in that situation, it's more likely chord substitution.

EDIT: after some thought, in that example, it's not a Tierce de Picardie. They are used in minor pieces, essentially, and finish on the tonic major instead of the tonic minor, as would be expected. There are NO minor chords or minor sonority in that example, so it just isn't that!

  • or we say the piece is in E and all other chords are borrowed? (G=bIII, C=bVI, D=bVII, E=I ;) Apr 29, 2020 at 10:15
  • @AlbrechtHügli - borrowed - from where? G and D, yes, but C?
    – Tim
    Apr 29, 2020 at 10:50
  • Pretty sure the French name is Tierce Picarde, not Tierce de Picardie. Apr 29, 2020 at 11:59
  • @TeleportingGoat - either - or either...
    – Tim
    Apr 29, 2020 at 12:02
  • C= bVI (from the minor parallel key). in popular music, the major triad on the lowered third scale degree (♭III), the major triad on the lowered sixth scale degree (♭VI) and the major triad on the lowered seventh scale degree, or "flat seven" (♭VII) are common. -> en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borrowed_chord Apr 29, 2020 at 21:21

The name is "Picardy Third."

Many Medieval pieces did end with a major third in the final chord though the piece was in the Dorian or Phrygian mode. The practice has continued.

  • And my edit....
    – Tim
    Apr 29, 2020 at 14:56
  • and Aeolian ... and then many minor, yes! Apr 30, 2020 at 11:48
  • Bukofzer's "Music in the Baroque Era" has an example of Greensleeves (rather strictly as a Romanesca) with a minor chord in the middle of a phrase and the corresponding major at the end (G minor and G major in this case.) It has an unusual sound. The opening doesn't sound like a Passamezzo Antico as the Romanesca is used in both cases (using Bb with a G ending, A Green Hammerclavier?)
    – ttw
    Apr 30, 2020 at 21:46

This does not seem like a Picardy third which would be the raised third on the final chord of a piece in a minor mode. It's not a borrowed chord either. E major, borrowed from where? All the chords named - including both E chords - are open guitar chords. Rock music uses those chord in just about any order often with no concern for formal function. There is a theory idea called chromatic minor. Which provides a nice theory behind a lot of rock harmony.

At the risk of sounding glib: the name is rock music.

If that sounds like a put down, it isn't. Rock does a lot of interesting things, even Leonard Bernstein acknowledged that.


This is a very simple instance of the use of parallel modes; in this case parallel major and minor. Parallel use of and ambiguity between major and minor is very common in the Blues and Jazz, pervading popular musical practice related to these. It is found in classical music. For instance in J. S. Bach's Em Suite for Lute (BWV 996) the Allemande and Courante movements end on a E major harmony in contrast to the other movements which more conventionally return to E minor. Bach executes the shift very smoothly, concealing it in flawless counterpoint. The listener is not "hit in the face", so to speak, with an abrupt shift to a parallel mode, but feels the mood change nevertheless. In later periods, more abrupt uses of parallel modes became more common and of course we are used to that today.

It seems worth mentioning that the use of natural minor and melodic or harmonic minor is also a use of parallel modes. The top tetrachord of the melodic minor is identical to the major! That is to say, the only difference between major and melodic minor is one note: the third. This is why Baroque music is able to execute the shift to a major harmony ending. If the tune already uses melodic minor, it just has to tweak one note by a half step to shift to major. In the context of Western historic practice, the melodic minor seems to have provided the pathway to the parallel major.

The D E ending could occur in music that is mostly in the key of E major, not only as an unexpected shift out of E minor. For instance, play E A B ... Am D E. The first chords squarely anchor us in E major. Then there is a surprising mood change with the Am D shift into the parallel minor, with a shift back to a major ending. The E B A ... Am D E rearrangement is also interesting due to how the A becomes a pivot for the mode shift, perpetrating it with a single note change in contrast to unchanging notes.

We have to remember that "major" and "minor" are just theoretical constructions. There is a fundamental note, and in relation to it there are various other notes of a scale. If we have music organized around the C note, there is on inherent reason why we shouldn't use the E# note if we are also using E, or vice versa. Rules like that are a matter of taste and are the determinants of a genre or period-specific musical practice.

The use of parallel modes gives rise to creative harmonic devices, because fragments of a device in one key can be combined with fragments in another key. In Jazz for instance, some of the alterations of the dominant harmony can be understood as borrowing from a parallel mode. If we look at a minor key, the +5 note of the dominant V7+5 is in the scale! If we bring that into a major context, it creates a funny mood. The V7#9 chord's #9 is also in the minor scale rooted at I. Both these devices can be understood as manifestations of parallel major/minor.

[New edit]

I neglected something important. Use of parallel modes is not restricted to just minor and major, of course. That per se is clear, but there is a special case that is relevant here: parellel Mixolydian and (natural) minor. This is a device commonly seen in pop music, rock, Jazz and Blues. A tune that is in Em but contains D E transitions may be shifting to E Mixolydian. If there is instrumental or vocal improvisation happening over a C D E ending, it can switch to E Mixolydian.

The parallel Mixolydian and natural minor is interesting, because the parallel Mixolydian has the same key signature as another minor key that is a whole step up. For instance, E minor has the G major key signature, that being its relative major. E Mixolydian has the A major key signature: a whole tone up.

Music that shifts between parallel minor and Mixolydian allows the musical composition or improvisation to simply shift keys by a tone up and down. Stated differently, we can move the key by a tone this way and that way (between G and A), while maintaining the same tonal centre (the root E note, giving E minor or E mixolydian).

And then, E minor is the same as D Mixolydian. So in a pop or rock tune, if we play some D-Mixolydian-based figure over the D chord, and then E mixolydian over the E, then what is happening key-signature-wise is the same as the change from E minor to E Mixolydian. Thus, a full step change is tying in in with parallel mode use, which can be exploited.


Picardy or Picardy third. Named by a famous custom in Renaissance’s music. The most accepted origin by scholars is that the term came from an old French word, picart, meaning “sharp”.

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