YOU CAN’T HUM THE CHORDS
Updated: Jun 7
I got really hung up on chords and what they should be for a song. It took a songwriting bootcamp in 2015 to fix that. The afternoon’s task with three other people was to write a song. But to get us going, we were told, use these chords: C, F, G, Am. I was thinking, well how is that going to work. The truth is it liberated that part of the process for me, and when we had the rough melody started, we could just go immediately to those chords. We could focus on lyric ideas and a melody, and just work out which one of the four chords it was afterwards. If you try this and have trouble matching the melody and you play guitar, then try using a CAPO to change the key, but stick to those basic chords.
Chords are important of course, but just choose some from a major or minor key, and worry about making them more interesting later.
No one walks down the street humming the chords to the latest hit - it’s the melody that matters.
When you are constructing the melody don’t always start from the root note. That is likely to create a predictable melody.
If you have a lot of information and words to get across, keep the melody simple, more static. As the song develops perhaps through a Pre-Chorus, start adding some runs of the melody up or down the scale (conjunct). As you reach the Chorus, you can get more adventurous, the melody should be reaching its highest point here to support that Roof Top Chorus. Add spikes into the melody to make it interesting (disjunct).
Now you have your melody, find the harmony that supports your message or creative idea.
Keep it simple when you are building:
Use 1 or 2 chords per bar max
4 chords in the song total (to start with)
Voice leading which ones feel right
One way to find the harmony chord that fits the melody you’ve got, is by finding the single bass note that fits - then decide is the chord you want happy or sad: Major or Minor
Chords are typically made from three key notes (sometimes four). Work out he chord notes based on the Major or Minor scale and using the chart below:
I III V HAPPY Root Chord Major
I IV VI DREAMY 4th Chord
I III VI SAD Relative Minor
I bIII V SAD Minor
I III V bVII - Seventh
I II or IV V TENSION Suspended
When you play those notes on a piano you get the full chord.
Rhythms gonna help you
To help you create interesting phrasing of words along with your melody, the use of beats and loops can really spark different flows to the words.
Think about pace too. There are lots of ballads, maybe too many. Up tempo is also the most pitchable if you are trying to persuade others to love your songs! You can still sing about sad things in upbeat songs, sometimes that can actually make it more melancholy, but with a hope factor too.
Today I help singers and songwriters explore their own potential, working alongside them to transform their ideas into fully finished songs they are proud of.
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