SongWriterSelect Episode 4 - Chord Theory

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Boydie

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« on: July 14, 2015, 09:54:16 PM »
Hi All

This post should be read in conjunction with Episode 4 of the SongWriterSelect Podcast, which can be found here:
http://www.songwriterforum.co.uk/the-bar/songwriter-select-podcast-episode-4/

In this episode we delve in to some music theory and how it can be directly applied to songwriting

The topic for this discussion was how to choose the right chords to form the foundation of your song

To keep things simple we will be sticking to the key of C Major

C Major is a very special scale as if you played it on a piano/keyboard and started on a C note you would play a C Major scale if you just played all of the white notes as the C Major scale does not contain any Sharps (#) or Flats (b)

This will also help understand some of the more complex chords where certain notes in the chord are changed

Roman Numerals are often used to describe the chords to make it easier to play songs in a different key (which we will not worry about for now)


CHORD SCALES

The chords that "fit together" in the key of C MAJOR are:

MAJOR CHORD SCALE

Degree of scale          Roman Numeral          Chord

1                              I                                C

2                              ii                                Dm    

3                              iii                               Em      

4                              IV                              F

5                              V                               G

6                              vi                              Am

7                              vii                             Bdim


If you were new to songwriting, or looking for inspiration, this gives you a "palette" of chords to choose from

For now we will ignore the B Diminished chord as we will be looking at Diminished and Augmented chords a little later


If you experiment with playing these chords it is likely you will find some sequences that go particularly well together

Here are some examples of some common progressions:

I        IV    V           -    “3 chord trick”        12 bar blues        Rock n Roll

I        vi    IV    V    -     “Rock n Roll ballad” - Teenager In Love, Earth Angel etc.

I        V    vi    IV    -     This is the “4 chord trick” that covers a whole raft of songs and parts of songs: Don’t Stop Believing, With Or Without You, Let It Be, Poker Face, Its My Life, Auld Lang Syne etc. etc.

For a fun example of just how many songs use this  I        V    vi    IV sequence (and to hear how it sounds) check out this excellent video by the AXIS OF AWESOME:



There is a very special relationship between the I chord and the vi chord - the vi chord is known as the RELATIVE MINOR

The RELATIVE MINOR uses exactly the same chords as its respective Major scale but by using the MINOR chord as the "tonal centre" the chord progression will have a different feel  

The "tonal centre" is the chord that the progression wants to "resolve" to, which also indicates the Key of the progression


MINOR CHORD SCALE

Degree of scale          Roman Numeral          Chord

1                              vi                               Am

2                              vii                              Bdim
  
3                              I                                C

4                              ii                                Dm    

5                              iii                               Em      

6                              IV                              F

7                              V                               G


This then gives 2 options for a palette of chords in a MAJOR and a MINOR key

Major keys often give happier sounding songs and Minor keys often give a more "melancholic" feel


The MAJOR and RELATIVE MINOR keys can also be mixed together in a single song

eg - The song could be in a MAJOR key but then in the BRIDGE section it might move to the RELATIVE MINOR to make it sound a little different for this section before returning to the MAJOR key


THE IV MINOR TRICK

Using this knowledge of the “rules” one of my favourite “songwriting tricks” is to break the rules and use a "non-chord scale" chord

e.g  In the chorus of the Beatles song “I Saw Her Standing There” this little run of chords is played for a bar each:    

C    C7    F    Fm

The Fm shouldn't “fit” very well, but it becomes a “stand out” moment of the song for me, emphasised by the high pitch “wooh”

The choice of these chords creates an interesting descending run of notes within the chords (C-Bb-A-Ab) as a counter the the vocal, which is going up:

C           - the root note of C Major    
Bb         - the Dominant 7th (b7) note of C7
A           - the Major 3rd note of F Major
Ab         - the b3 (Minor 3rd) of F Minor

I used this “trick” in the chorus of my own song “Edge Of Never”

The chord sequence for the chorus is:

C        C Maj 7    F     F
C        C Maj 7    F     Fm    (resolving to C)


It is important to note that "chord progressions" are not subject to copyright so you are free to "borrow" chord progressions from your favourite songs - just be sure to completely change the melody and lyrics  ;)

This can be a great way to explore and understand chord sequences, key changes and other songwriting techniques
« Last Edit: July 15, 2015, 09:31:04 PM by Boydie »
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Boydie

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« Reply #1 on: July 14, 2015, 09:54:42 PM »
EXTENDING THE CHORD SCALE

The basic chord scale can be "extended" to give an extra flavour and embellishment to the chords in the scale

MAJOR CHORD SCALE

Degree of scale          Roman Numeral          Chord          Chord Extension

1                              I                                C                  C Maj7

2                              ii                                Dm               D min7    

3                              iii                               Em               E min7        

4                              IV                              F                  F Maj7  

5                              V                               G                  G7

6                              vi                              Am                Amin7

7                              vii                             Bdim              Bm7b5


A word of warning!

C Major 7 is a C chord with an added "7th" - ie the 7th degree of the scale is added to the Major chord (this chord is sometimes written using a little triangle after the chord name or in front of the 7)

In this case a B note is added to the chord


When a chord is written with just a "7" after it (e.g. C7) this actually means C Dominant 7

This type of chord adds a "flattened 7th" to the Major chords - which is a B flat (Bb)

Don't worry too much about how the chords are constructed at this point - just bear in mind that these "7" chords are different as this is an area that often confuses people new to music theory

In this example we have MAJOR 7 chords for the I and IV and a Dominant 7 chord for the V

A Major 7 chord has a really "happy" and "jazzy" sound

A Dominant 7 chord has a more "bluesy" sound and creates a bit of tension

These extensions add a further set of "colours" to your songwriting palette


The same rules apply to the chords of the relative minor:


MINOR CHORD SCALE

Degree of scale          Roman Numeral          Chord          Chord Extension
1                              vi                               Am                Amin7

2                              vii                              Bdim              Bm7b5
  
3                              I                                C                  C Maj7

4                              ii                                Dm               D min7    

5                              iii                               Em                E min7        

6                              IV                              F                   F Maj7  

7                              V                               G                   G7
« Last Edit: July 14, 2015, 10:12:42 PM by Boydie »
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« Reply #2 on: July 14, 2015, 09:54:58 PM »
DIMINISHED CHORDS

We have conveniently skipped over the vii chord in the Major Chord Scale - ie B Diminished, which can be extended to Bm7b5 (B minor seven flat five)

So what on earth is a Diminished chord!?!?!?

Diminished chords have a very "weird" sound - the intro to "Ghost Town" by the Specials consists ascending Diminished chords

A Diminished chord is essentially a MINOR chord with a b5 (flattened 5)

This means that every note in the chord is 3 semi-tones apart, which is what gives the chord its "eerie" feel when played on its own

When played within a sequence a Diminished chord can often provide a fantastic "tension", which leaves the listener hanging and wanting the chords to "resolve" to another chord

e.g. B Diminished sounds like it wants to resolve to C Major because of the notes within the chord

The notes that make up a B Diminished chord are B D F

These notes resolve nicely to the notes of C Major (CEG) : B-->C, D-->E, and F-->G

Diminished chords can sometimes be indicated by a small circle (similar to a degree sign for temperature) or simply dim or dimin


AUGMENTED CHORDS

Augmented chords are Major chords with a "raised" 5th - ie the 5th is raised by a semi-tone

Augmented chords work best as "passing chords" to add momentum to your songs as they often provide a "pull" to other chords or as a pivotal point for a key change

The V chord of the scale (G) is often a good candidate to replace with a G Augmented chord as it will provide a "pull" back to the I (C) chord

Augmented chords are often written with a "+" sign after the chord name (eg G+) or a aug (eg G aug)
« Last Edit: July 14, 2015, 10:42:34 PM by Boydie »
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« Reply #3 on: July 14, 2015, 09:55:17 PM »
SUSPENDED CHORDS

There are 2 main types of Suspended chords

SUSPENDED 4th

This is often referred to as "sus4" and it replaces the 3rd note of the chord with a 4th

This really adds tension to the chord and provides a real desire to resolve the 4th back to the 3rd - think of the choral "Ahhhhh - Men" sound


SUSPENDED 2nd

This is often referred to as "sus2" and it replaces the 3rd note of the chord with a 2nd

I find that "sus2" chords sound really "open" and although it is less pronounced they still have a degree of tension and a desire to resolve back to the 3rd


Suspended chords can be mixed and matched to provide movement to a static chord

"Summer Of '69" by Bryan Adams is a classic example where the "sus 4" and "sus 2" chords (combined with the major chord) provide the actual instrumental hook of the song




"Needles & Pins" by the Searchers uses exactly the same technique



« Last Edit: July 14, 2015, 10:53:24 PM by Boydie »
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Boydie

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« Reply #4 on: July 14, 2015, 09:55:34 PM »
Reserved
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Boydie

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« Reply #5 on: July 14, 2015, 10:53:41 PM »
Reserved
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Coolcat

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« Reply #6 on: July 15, 2015, 12:23:47 AM »
This is fantastic, Boydie.  8)    Your explanation makes it so easy to take in.

Learnt a lot. Thanks for sharing.

PS: Will be scouring the board for the previous tutorials.
Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes

Boydie

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« Reply #7 on: July 15, 2015, 07:11:39 AM »
Thank you COOLCAT, that is much appreciated

You really should have a read through AND listen to the podcast as these are just the notes from the discussion

The Podcast discussion really brings the theory "alive" with played examples and more info

If you are new to music theory (or brushing up) we would not expect anyone to digest all the info in one sitting

Hopefully after each go through you might get some "a-ha" moments and some new ideas

I will update/amend the posts if there are any questions/comments to give a nice little resource but I can't stress enough that this should be read in conjunction with the Podcast: http://www.songwriterforum.co.uk/the-bar/songwriter-select-podcast-episode-4/
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adamfarr

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« Reply #8 on: July 15, 2015, 09:14:24 PM »
Great podcast and great notes - I didn't see the "4th minor" trick here - perhaps still to come.

One of the first things I do when writing is to write out all the chords of the home key at the top of the page. Saves time and sometimes corrects strange chords. And then ignore it (sometimes, maybe)...

Boydie

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« Reply #9 on: July 15, 2015, 09:29:51 PM »
Quote
I didn't see the "4th minor" trick here - perhaps still to come.

This was well covered  ???

The whole discussion about "I Saw Her Standing There" and the example from one of my own songs ("Edge Of Never")

Here are the notes from that bit:

Quote
Using this knowledge of the “rules” one of my favourite “songwriting tricks” is to break the rules and use a "non-chord scale" chord

e.g  In the chorus of the Beatles song “I Saw Her Standing There” this little run of chords is played for a bar each:   

C    C7    F    Fm

The Fm shouldn't “fit” very well, but it becomes a “stand out” moment of the song for me, emphasised by the high pitch “wooh”

The choice of these chords creates an interesting descending run of notes within the chords (C-Bb-A-Ab) as a counter the the vocal, which is going up:

C           - the root note of C Major   
Bb         - the Dominant 7th (b7) note of C7
A           - the Major 3rd note of F Major
Ab         - the b3 (Minor 3rd) of F Minor

I used this “trick” in the chorus of my own song “Edge Of Never”

The chord sequence for the chorus is:

C        C Maj 7    F     F
C        C Maj 7    F     Fm    (resolving to C)

I will go back and add a heading for this part in the notes though to make it more obvious

I am pleased you enjoyed the Podcast
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adamfarr

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« Reply #10 on: July 16, 2015, 08:32:44 AM »
Ugh yes - was reading on phone - sorry and thanks! I actually think this is more useable than augmenteds and diminisheds - but therein maybe lies the story that there is a huge non-comfort zone of things for me to try.

Viscount Cramer & His Orchestra

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« Reply #11 on: July 19, 2015, 09:17:13 PM »
Fantastic job here Boydie.

Good to include examples of how things sound in practice...a great aid to understanding.

I've been playing guitar for years so the learning of progressions came progressively ( as it should!) just through exposure. It was only a year and a half ago or so that I learnt about harmonising the scale and the circle of fifths etc.....brilliant.

Now I am also one of those who, sometime during the process of writing the song, will write down the chords which harmonise the scale of the key I'm working in...usually at a sticky point.

Great stuff. Well done for taking the time and effort to put it all together.
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Neil C

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« Reply #12 on: July 23, 2015, 10:59:45 PM »
Boydie really effort gone in here as usual.
Just had a good listen down the M4 today and enjoyed the pod. I've been playing and writing for too long to remember and I start to glaze over around theory but it made sense when I heard it. All i'm saying is you can be unconsciously competent and never knowing understand it. Anyway one thing that really helped me was learning to transpose keys. The easiest key on the piano was C, the equivalent on the guitar was E. I followed the Beatles chords on one instrument and learnt how to transpose it to the other and vice versa. So what? Well it means the I, IV, V 3 chord trick can be moved up and down so if you want to change key to suit the singer or a particular instrument it becomes really easy. I never thought it was theory just learnt it as a practical thing by ear, but its pretty useful tool to have.
 :)
Neil  
« Last Edit: July 23, 2015, 11:22:23 PM by Neil C »
songwriter of no repute..

MartiMedia

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« Reply #13 on: July 23, 2015, 11:13:01 PM »
Wow Boydie thank you for sharing! You shure know what you talk about. Very good material, enjoyed it a lot! MM
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Boydie

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« Reply #14 on: July 24, 2015, 07:29:02 PM »
Thanks guys

One of the "reserved" posts I have made is there to share my biggest "nugget" of info relating to music theory

To keep the podcast to a reasonable length we consciously stuck to a single key ( C )

For my next trick I will show you the easiest way in the world to learn all the chords in all the keys, learn how many sharps & flats are in each key, and the order in which they appear!

When return from my hols I will post it here and see if my fellow "podcastites" want to include a discussion around it in a future podcast...
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