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Guitar Chord Progression:

vi - Relative minor (Submediant) - Chord

Other Chord progressions

The vi-chord is the first of the secondary chords that we will look at. You can hear it played as a chord vamp with just the I and vi chords, or as a reverse vamp with the chords vi-I. I will quote Dominic Pedler's description:

"The happy-to-sad 'see-sawing' with the mellow VIm was a nifty antidote tu upbeat rock 'n' roll with its primary (all major) triads. The dreamy ambiguity is best when reversing the run [as in the 'Soldier' verse (see below)], which cleverly question our sense of major versus minor key."

It is said that The Beatles got this vamp for the song Soldier Of Love by Arthur Alexander (he also wrote Anna (Go With Him), from the Please Please Me album.) It has I-vi-I-vi in the intro, and vi-I-vi-I in the verse. The Beatles made a cover version in E (E-C#m)that is included on the Live At The BBC album. Another classic The Beatles song with this progression in the same key, is All I've Got To Do.

You can find many examples with this chord if you listen to some early Beatles records, particularly the covers like Anna (Go With Him). The verse is mainly built around a series of I-vi changes in the key D-major, meaning that the chords are D and Bm. Still on the same record, Baby It's You is a another example. But you can also hear this vamp in many of The Beatles'originals. From Me To You is in C. The opening is I-vi (C-Am)changes only. Other examples in the same key are It's Only Love and Anytime At All (reverse). The verse of Run For Your Life is based on a vamp in D, It Won't Be Long is in E (reverse), and the coda of Not A Second Time is a vamp in G.

From Ger Tillekens Words and chords [links added by me]:

Our last example, the verse of "All I Got To Do" with its exceptional length of 11 measures, is again a Lennon' composition (example 5). It illustrates the function of parallel* minors in locating a semantic position in the matrix of conversation. In this particular case the work is done by the minor subdominant. Semantically this chord has the same function as the minor fifth that's facilitating the modulation in "I Want To Hold Your Hand." It is important to notice that these minor chords do not sound sad. The "sadness" of parallel* minor keys is still a standard in music theory. It does apply to the work of Mahler or Schubert, often referred to in this context. In the Beatles' songs and Pop Rock music in general another feeling, however, is attached to these chords. With the parallel Major chords the parallel minors share the location of private space, making utterances sound sincere and deeply felt. As these minor chords point toward the collective side of realization they give the lyrics a more convinced and determined sound.

*) The terms "relative" and "parallell" are confusing. It seems that the terminology varies from country to country/language to language. I would use "parallell" here, but I cannot tell what is correct - if there is a correct answer here. See more in the Relative minor lesson.

But you can hear the vi-chord in other musical contexts. From The Beatles first album, Please, Please Me, you can listen to Misery. This is a song in C, where the vi-chord is Am. You can hear the chord in the intro, the verses end on it, and it is very prominent in the bridge. (The first part of the bridge is a reverse vamp, but after the second Am it goes to G7, for a return to C).

The first song I learned to play was Bob Dylan's Blowing In The Wind in the key of C-major. When I am teaching beginners, I would not choose a song with four chords, and I would probably not choose they key of C. But that is how it was some 35 years ago. I learned the song with the following chords:

C F C Am
C F G7 G7
C F C Am
C F G7 G7
C F C Am
C F G7 G7
F G7 C Am
F G7 C C

This is not Bob Dylan's original key or chords. I think he plays in D-major, and I don't think he use the relative minor chord. But I have not checked. What I learned was probably more like the Peter, Paul and Mary version of the song. (I do not have any record where Peter, Paul and Mary is singing this song, so I cannot check this either.) But this introduced me to the relative minor - the vi-chord, and different variations of the arrangement also illustrate that it can substitute the root / tonic chord, or be substituted by this chord.

Listen to this MIDI-file with this progression. The first time through, it is played without any Am-chord. Where there is an Am in the diagram, a C-major is played. The second time through, it is played as written. (Then the whole thing repeats in total 6 times ...)

You can of course hear this chord in many other songs. It seems to be a favorite of Bruce Springsteen. He will often start with the minor chord, before establishing the chord in the major key. Listen to The River for one example, where he starts with Em and then goes to the G chord.

The introduction of the vi-chord can also be an introduction to chord substitution. A tune might be harmonized in many ways, and there is no "right" answer to which chords to use for a particular song. Bob Dylan used one set of chords with Blowing In The Wind. I use some other chords that will also work. If we stay in the key of C-major, the I-chord C has the notes C-E-G. The IV-chord is F, with the notes F-A-C. And then comes the vi-chord Am, with the notes A-C-E. The Am has the notes C and E in common with the C-chord, and it has the notes A and C in common with the F-chord. This means that the vi-chord often (but not always) may substitute the I-chord, and it may also substitute the IV-chord. The relation with the I-chord is stronger than the relation with the IV-chord, even though it has two notes in common with both. The reason is that the common notes between I and vi are the two most important notes in the I-chord: The root and the third. The root gives the chord a root, and the third defines it as a major chord. The vi does not contain the root of the IV-chord. It has the third, but without the root, the third does not have the same effect. This means that we will more often substitute vi for I than for IV.

If we had been in a minor key context, we would have to change the perspective. If we are in the key of A-minor, and want to substitute the i-chord Am with a major chord, then the F will have a stronger relation to Am. The F-chord has the root of the Am (A) and the third (C), while the C-chord has the third (C) and the fifth (E). As you see, there is no reciprocity or symmetry in the relations between the chords. But now we have deviated into music theory, and you should switch to my theory series if you want to go further along this road.

The vi-chord shows up in many progressions, and you will meet it again in the next progression.

Recordings with the vi Relative minor (Submediant) progression - Annotaded

  • The Beatles - Anna (Go With Him) -
  • The Beatles - Anytime At All -
  • The Beatles - Baby It's You -
  • The Beatles - Can't Buy Me Love -
  • The Beatles - From Me To You -
  • The Beatles - It won't Be Long -
  • The Beatles - It's Only Love -
  • The Beatles - Misery -
  • The Beatles - Not A Second Time -
  • The Beatles - Run For Your Life -
  • The Beatles - Ticket to ride -

  • Books covering the progression -

    Further references:

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