Element 1 – Pivot chords
“Pivot chord – a chord that is common to two diatonic key centres, used in order to modulate from one key to the next.”
A skittering pop-techno juggernaut of a song with ear worm levels that read off the scale, ‘Everything Is Awesome’ by Tegan and Sara (featuring The Lonely Island) is a prime example of the pivot chord. Appearing frequently in classical harmony and counterpoint, a pivot chord is a harmonic device used within a chord progression, where we use a chord that can be viewed as part of two keys: the key that we are in, and a key that we want to modulate to. The chord forms a ‘pivot’ between the two, allowing us to modulate smoothly. Often a key change comes by way of a crunching gear change of a modulation, just shifting everything up a semitone or two. A pivot chord is a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce of a chord change.
‘Everything Is Awesome’s writers employ a pivot chord in order to link different sections of the song, which when combined with the fast tempo gives a strong sense of forward momentum to the piece. In the key of F, the home key, at bar 19 the Bb chord functions as the IV chord, or sub-dominant. However, Bb is also chord V, or the dominant, in the key of Eb. The dominant is the strongest ‘cadential’ harmonic device, and practically begs to resolve down a fifth to the tonic. So, a bar later when we hear an Eb chord at the start of the next verse, we have experienced the song pivoting on the Bb chord: instead of being used as chord IV in F, it has been used as chord V of Eb. Simple, but oh so very effective. Or, to put it another way… awesome.
Find the sheet music here to explore for yourself!