Learning How to Change Keys from Sting’s “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You”

Sting: Ten Summoners Tales

Sting’s “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You” features some advanced songwriting techniques in the area of transpositions — changing keys within a song.  Now, it’s not a requirement for a song to go through more than one keys for it to be good or impactful, but a key, or a tonal center, is a fundamental element of a song and changing it can go a long way toward making that song interesting to listen to.

There are three techniques of changing keys within a song:

  1. Common-chord transposition
  2. Common-note transposition
  3. Direct transposition

Of which, we can see examples of #1 and #3 in this song.

The song starts out innocently enough in the key of D, with A-G-D progression.  But after repeating that three times, he goes from A to F#m the fourth time, and then on to the chorus progression, which is E-F#-G-A, which is in the key of E. (Doesn’t exactly feature the chords of E Major, but the point here is that the tonal center is E)

Note that F#m is a common chord between the two keys, D and E (bold are the common chords):

Key I ii iii IV V VI viib5
D D Em F#m G A Bm C#b5
E E F#m G#m A B C#m D#b5

And ii-I chord progression is a weak cadence, it does create a sense of arrival albeit a subtle one.  So Sting is using the common chord between the two keys to transition from D to E without making it sound obvious or abrupt.

In the bridge section he goes from G-Em bluesy section to a modified chorus progression in the key of F#:  F#m-G#-A-B-F#-G#-A-B.  This is an example of direct transposition and it does sound abrupt/surprising, which is intentional here — he wanted that sense of unexpected in the bridge, so he didn’t bother using a common chord as a glue between the two.  The first chord being F#m instead of F# does soften the blow a little bit though — going from E to F#m is not quite as abrupt as E to F#.

The final chorus includes one more transposition.  This time, coming out of the verse with A-F#m-E, he goes on to C#m and then plays the chorus progression in the key of B: B-C#-D-E.  This works because C#m is the common chord between E and B, and C#m-B is the same soft landing of ii-I cadence he’s been using to land on chorus:

Key I ii iii IV V VI viib5
E E F#m G#m A B C#m D#b5
B B C#m D#m E F# G#m A#b5

After going through the chorus progression in B twice, he jumps back into the regular chorus in E using E as the common chord.

In summary, Sting’s “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You” goes through a number of key changes, but most of the time the change feels seamless thanks to the use of common-chord transposition.  Again, changing keys isn’t a requirement in writing a good song, but knowing how to change keys can help you write more interesting songs or glue two distinct sections (perhaps written at different time or by different people) together.  Being able to change keys will expand your harmonic palette and expand your songwriting vocabulary.