330-Year-Old Chord Progressions Work Just Fine

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6 eBook BundleIf you’re relying on instincts alone, you could be missing out on great opportunities to take your songwriting to a much higher level. Let “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle show you how to polish your technique. Now with a 7th FREE eBook. Read more…
______________
GuitarIt still amazes me how chord progressions from today’s pop music sound pretty much the same as progressions from several centuries ago. That accounts for why it’s so easy to take a piece of music from the Baroque era (1600-1750), borrow the chord progressions, and make them sound like something written today by simply adding a rock band!

I’m getting ready to conduct a choir in the next few days that is performing music by Danish/German composer Dieterich Buxtehude (1639-1707). He was a master of organ and choral music for the period we call the middle-Baroque – roughly 1630-1680.

And guess what… his chords still work. Dressing them up with whatever you’d normally do when producing your own music would make them sound as fresh today as any other chord progression you might come up with.

Give them a try. They all come from Buxtehude’s masterpiece called “Membra Jesu Nostri,” and they’ll work for any tempo, style, time signature and key. Hold each chord as long as you want before moving on to the next one, and try going back and forth between two chords before moving on to the next one.

I’ve included a sample sound file to show how you might use the chords, but by all means experiment and use your imagination.

1. Cm  Fm  Cm  Ab  Fm  Ddim  C [LISTEN]

2. Eb  Bb  Eb  Bb/D  Cm7  Bb  Eb [LISTEN]

3. Gm  Ebmaj7/G  F#dim/G  Gm [LISTEN]

4. Gm  D/F#  Gm  Adim  Gm/Bb  D/A  Gm [LISTEN]

5. Eb  Eb/G  Ab  Adim  Bb  Eb/G  Bbsus4  Bb  Eb [LISTEN]

______________

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Can Songwriting Be Learned, Or Is It All “Organic”?

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Songwriting BundleHoning your abilities to write great songs means learning how all the different elements of a song work and communicate with each other. “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle covers every important aspect of songwriting, from chords to melody-writing to lyrics.  Now with a 7th FREE eBook. Read more…
______________

Student of MusicIn the comments of a blog posting last week, someone asserted that good songwriting can’t be learned. It’s “organic.” By that word, he meant that it’s something you either can or can’t do, reflecting the limits of your artistic abilities. Your songs are either good (in which case you keep them), or they’re bad (in which case you toss them.) If you write all bad songs, you’re not a songwriter.

I am, in certain situations, inclined to believe part of his sentiment: you cannot make someone into a songwriter. It’s something someone needs to be doing on their own in the first place, and achieving a certain level of success with it.

But the implication that since anything creative reflects the result of your own imagination, there’s not much you can do to improve on it… I can’t agree. The specific comment he made was:

music is like art..its an organic process… So make your own music, do it exactly how you want, without rules and boundaries, the day you start to listen to other peoples own ideas on changing anything, is the day you lose your own original sound.its easy to copy other musicians songs but to create your own individual sound is the right way to go.

So it begs the question: is it possible to learn to be a better songwriter, or does learning simply mean that you’re copying someone else’s ideas?

Certainly in the world of classical music, the greatest composers that ever lived were always taught by other composers. In fact, most composers would get the printed music of composers they admired, and sit down and copy it all, note by note. In so doing, they hoped to learn the reasons behind every musical decision that composer made.

There was never any fear that they’d wind up simply copying their favourite composers when they sat down to write their own music. Copying, in this sense of physically replicating someone else’s music, was common, and was seen to be a necessary learning technique.

In addition to copying, composers learning their craft were taught by other master composers, sitting side-by-side, and having every note they wrote scrutinized.

Fast-forwarding to today, we’d be silly to fear learning from others how to improve our writing skills. The “sitting side-by-side” in 21st century terms usually equates to listening to recordings, reading texts and musings from other musicians, attending songwriting circles, and so on.

Most of the time, songs are written, and then they are reworked and rewritten. That first writing stage comes purely from you. The next stage, where you fix and adjust what you’ve written to make it even better, is where veteran teachers, songwriters, producers, and other such individuals, can have a tremendously positive impact.

If you’re assuming that there is nothing to learn that can make your songwriting better, you’re missing out on amazing opportunities that can take your songs to a new level of excellence.

I agree: songwriting is organic. But organic should never mean that once it’s out there, there’s nothing you can learn from someone else regarding how to improve it.

In fact, learning from others is an essential component of becoming excellent.

______________

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

5 Tips for Writing a Rock Anthem

Here’s what you do to a song to make it feel like an anthem.

_______________

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Songwriting Bundle “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle will strengthen your songwriting technique, and take you to a new level of musical excellence. It comes with a 7th free eBook, “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro“. Read more..

________________

Freddie Mercury - Queen "We Are the Champions"An anthem is a song that:

  1. speaks to a universal issue;
  2. speaks to (and/or as) an identifiable group of people ; and
  3. either begs for change, or acknowledges/celebrates changes that have occurred (mostly societal ones).

So in a rock anthem, you’ll either hear a lot about “we” (“We’re Not Gonna Take It” - Twisted Sister, “We Are the Champions” - Queen). You’ll also hear a lot about “you” in the plural sense (“All You Need Is Love” – The Beatles).

In any case, an anthem needs to get a large group of people to identify with the message, feeling that the song lyric sums up their feelings on a particularly strong issue.

It comes mainly from the lyric, of course, but there are things you can do in the creation of your music that can and will power up the lyric’s message:

  1. Match the tempo (if you can) to the kind of message you’re conveying. In “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, its driving tempo seems to perfectly match the “we’ll fight the powers that be”. An uplifting song with a message of love or personal strength connects better with a slower tempo (“All You Need Is Love”, “We Are the Champions.”
  2. Use mainly strong chord progressions. A strong progression is one that clearly points to the key of the song. The basic I-IV-V progression of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” works so well because we recognize the strength of that progression on a subconscious level, and it mirrors exactly what we’re getting from the lyrics.
  3. Try secondary dominant chords. A secondary dominant (s.d.) can take a while to explain, but it suffices to say that if you take a chord that’s normally minor in a key, change it to major, and then be sure that the next chord’s root is 4 notes higher, you’ve created an s.d. There’s something uplifting and positive about an s.d, and it’s probably why you see them so often in rock anthems. (Example: “All You Need Is Love”, Key: G major. Chorus (the s.d.’s are in bold: G A D|G A D|G B Em…). They are s.d. chords because you would normally get Am and Bm in the key of G major.
  4. Make sure the lyrics are speaking to (or speaking as) an identifiable group of people. In “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, it’s youth. In “We Are The Champions”, it’s the otherwise disadvantaged. If you’re only speaking on your own behalf, about an issue that’s troubling you, that’s completely fine of course. But it may not put your song in the category of an anthem. So that’s where “we”, “us”, and “you” (in the plural sense) becomes important.
  5. Give your melody a climactic high point. This is especially true of the chorus melody. A climactic high point seems to give an important point of focus for all the emotions that you’re putting into your lyric. It’s often best if that climactic moment is in the second half of the chorus melody.

Some anthems don’t specifically speak to a group of people, but as listeners we get the feeling that they’re addressing a wider societal issue. A good example might be “Bridge Over Troubled Water“, which is sung from one person’s point of view, but we all feel encouraged and uplifted by its message in much the same way that we do with other anthems.

Titanium“, by David Guetta, Sia et al, is another example of an anthem-like song that focuses on the singer as an individual, but in such a way that we all strongly identify with the message.

Getting your audience to identify as part of a larger group is an important part of what makes a song an anthem. Keep your message positive and confident, and you’ve already done the most important part of writing a strong anthem.

______________

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. $95.70 $37.00 (and you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Becoming a More Prolific Songwriter

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6 eBook BundleNo songwriter should tolerate mediocrity. It will amaze you how quickly a weak song can be turned into something that really grabs attention.  “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle will show you how. Now with a 7th FREE eBook. Read more…
______________

Keyboard synth and headphonesWhen we define songwriting success, the actual number of songs someone has written doesn’t much figure into the equation. You may have written hundreds of songs, but if no one is singing them, buying them or otherwise enjoying them, it may not matter.

I say may not matter, because there is something to be said for being able to write lots of music:

  1. Like a baseball player getting lots of at-bats, your chances of hitting a home run increase the more you get to swing the bat. For songwriters, your chances of writing something significant increase with every song you write.
  2. It’s hard to build an audience base for your music if you’ve only written five songs — even if those five songs are wonderful.
  3. Every time you write a song, you learn something new about your creative process, and that improves your technique.

In order of importance, you want to:

  1. Improve your songwriting technique.
  2. Increase your songwriting output.

Addressing step 1 is easy — relatively, anyway. You should do what you’re probably already doing, which is reading what others are saying about songwriting, as well as playing your music for good songwriters and getting good advice. Analyze the songs you love and try to figure out why they work so well. Don’t be afraid to be influenced by others.

For step 2, it’s difficult if you’re the kind of writer who only writes when feeling inspired. Increasing your output means being able to write when you don’t feel like it, and yes, that’s possible to do. And in fact, if you want to be anything close to prolific, it’s essential.

An increased songwriting output is going to happen if you:

  1. Schedule your songwriting activities. Don’t leave it up to chance, or do it because you’ve got nothing else to do. Treat it like a job, even if it’s a job you only do for an hour or so per day.
  2. Schedule some downtime before your songwriting activities. Take a 15-30 minute break before you try songwriting. That break should be a time when you can relax quietly, not in a noisy room or conversing with others. Research shows that getting quiet before getting creative is extremely beneficial.
  3. Set real songwriting targets, with real consequences for missing those targets. There’s a funny quote by author Mavis Cheek: “Authors with a mortgage never get writer’s block,” and the same should apply to songwriters. Set a real target for yourself to complete a song by setting a date for completion, and then imagine an audience waiting for that song.

Research shows that it really does work to “force yourself” to write. Writing only when you feel like it is just too random for anyone trying to make it in the music business.

Having said that, there is also something to be said for stepping back and taking a break every once in a while. Getting your mind on something else other than songwriting every once in a while can be a good thing. It gets the creative juices flowing again.

Save everything you start. If you get stuck, file it away, and start something new. On those days when ideas are hard to come by, you can then turn back to songs you started but never finished. It’s amazing how many times ideas will suddenly start to flow when you look at an old incomplete song.

______________

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Your New Song Idea: Trash It Or Keep It?

Get “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, along with a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro”. Read more..

_____________

Songwriter-GuitaristIf you’re normal, you’ve started many more songs than you’ve finished. For the ones that you started, sweated over, and eventually abandoned, it can feel like a lot of wasted time.

In my opinion, the time you’ve put into trying to get a song working is never wasted, even if you’ve spent weeks or months on it. Everything you do changes who you are as a songwriter, and those changes are almost always good ones.

It may seem that some song ideas don’t have the legs to go the distance, and you’ll eventually call it a dud, and move on. Hopefully you never actually trash those failed ideas, because bits and pieces of them can wind up in future songs.

But wouldn’t it save you a ton of time, I hear you asking, if you could identify early on whether the idea you’re working on has “hit potential”? Why spend all that time working on something that doesn’t have strong possibilities of being a keeper?

Here are some of my thoughts on that:

  1. Failed song ideas are failures because of how they’re treated within a song, and not usually because the idea itself is bad. Years ago, a visual artist friend of mine did a watercolour on parchment that she judged to be a failure. So she took the failed painting, tore it into vertical strips, and then mounted them on a canvas with about an inch space in between each strip. The painting was a dud; the treatment was successful: it was enticing to look at.
  2. Songwriting as an activity is never bad, even if the end product fails. Songwriting is always just an exercise. That exercise can produce beautiful music, but no matter what happens in the end, songwriting is always just an exercise. It is never time wasted unless you stop. And even then..
  3. Most song ideas have potential. A song idea may be great, but can still fail if it’s not partnered properly with other ideas. “My Sharona” by The Knack, has a distinctive melody that is mainly built around one pitch. Not a great idea, you would think. But everything else in the song is strong, and makes the one-note melody a great idea.
  4. There is no time limit on creating a great song. Songs that work well can come together in minutes, or can take months or even longer. The creative process is like that: you adjust one part of your music, and you feel compelled to adjust everything else. That’s what the imagination does.
  5. “Failed” song ideas can be combined to create something better. For you, your song idea might be a verse that doesn’t seem to connect well to anything else. But eventually, you may write a chorus that just doesn’t seem to have a verse that makes it work. So see what happens when you put those two together?

When all is said and done, problems happen more by the way an idea is treated than by the idea itself. That’s important to realize, because it means you’re never wasting time as a songwriter. With every song you write, you become better at what you do with those fragments your imagination creates.

______________

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Songwriting BundleWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. $95.70 $37.00 (and you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

7 Top Tips for Songwriters

Here are the 7 bits of advice I find myself giving to songwriters over and over again.

_______________

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Songwriting BundleThousands of songwriters are now using “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle to improve their technique. Includes two volumes of chord progressions, the very popular “Chord Progression Formulas”, and now comes with a 7th free eBook, “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro“. Read more..

________________

Drummer in a rock concertNo matter what genre you call your own, many of the suggestions I give to songwriters can and do apply to all music. Most of the time, the structural elements that make a country song work will be the same ones that make metal, folk, pop, jazz, and even classical work.

Here’s a list of the top 7 tips, in no particular order, that I find myself giving to songwriters time and time again, no matter what style of music they write:

1. Develop more contrast within your songs.

Look for ways to juxtapose opposite-sounding events. That might mean contrasting a minor key verse with a major key chorus, using light instrumentation in the verse and heavier in the chorus, or rhythmic complexity in one section contrasted with rhythmic simplicity in another. Whatever it is, the contrast principle is a vital part of making your songs interesting.

2. Don’t be afraid of repetition of musical ideas within a song.

Repetition is an important structural element that strengthens music and makes it memorable. Good melodies consist of short fragments that are either repeated exactly, or repeated approximately. Repetition gives the listener the impression that they understand the structure of music, and that’s a good thing.

3. Don’t make your chord progressions so complicated.

Most of the time, creativity, imagination and innovation within a song comes better from melodic design and the quality of your lyrics, more so than from complex chords. Chords need to make sense to the listener on some level. That doesn’t mean writing 3-chord songs all the time, but it does mean not worrying so much about chord progressions that stick to the basics. Done well, a good chord progression often just stays out of the way of other creative elements.

4. Yes, your instrumental music does need a melody.

I love a good instrumental, and I wish it were done more in the pop genres. When I am asked to listen to someone’s instrumental track, however, I often find the same problem again and again: Instrumentals with little or no melody. An instrumental song has the same requirements as a sung one: It needs a recognizable and catchy tune – something for a listener to remember. It often amazes me how often I’m asked for an opinion on an instrumental track, only to find that it’s basically just a chord progression.

5. You need more variety in your approach to songwriting.

Sticking to one genre is fine; many (or most) singer-songwriters write within one or two genres. But if all your songs use the same chords, the same tempos, the same styles, the same backing rhythms, and/or the same overall design, you’re turning away potential listeners. It’s crucial to try to develop your style and explore all the possibilities offered by your genre. The Beatles were the best group in musical history for doing this. “Penny Lane” sounds like no other song they wrote. The same is true of “Yellow Submarine”, “Don’t Let Me Down”, “Ob La Di”, “With a Little Help From My Friends”… You get the picture.

6. Improve the quality of your demos.

Songwriters often send me links to songs they’re trying to “shop around.” These days, a demo has to be clean, well recorded, well mixed and well produced. No industry personnel will listen to or consider a poorly-recorded demo. If you don’t have the ability to do that yourself, hire someone who can.

7. Improve the quality of your performances.

Like Point #6 above, no one in the industry is going to be enticed by your demo if you’re singing out of tune or if there are other performance-related inaccuracies. If you’re making a demo and you can’t get it sounding professional, you may need to hire the people who can do it.

And if I were to give a related 8th tip, it would be to build an audience base for your music. There are still many songwriters who can’t or don’t believe that that’s important. Industry personnel need to see that your music has the potential to attract a following. These days, at least most of the time, being successful as a songwriter means being successful as a performer.

______________

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Song Lyrics: From Category to Topic to Specifics

Ideas for a lyric can happen easily and quickly if you start by generating a page-full of words and then narrowing it all down.

_____________

Discover the 11 secrets that pro songwriters have known for decades. “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle is being used by thousands of songwriters to take their music to a new level of excellence. Now with a 7th FREE eBook. Read more…
______________

Creating Word Lists for SongwritersOnce in a while you’ll find that a specific song topic will come to you in a flurry of inspiration. But don’t be surprised if that’s a bit rare. Most of the time, lyrical ideas for songs will come to you in bits and pieces. Sometimes you’ll find that a song topic changes as you work on it, so that what you thought you’d be writing about gets abandoned in favour of something else.

It’s a bit frustrating, though, since for many songwriters knowing what you’re going to write about is an important first step. Is there a way to speed up that process — a way to generate an idea for a song lyric more quickly and efficiently?

If you can get as far as developing a general category for a song (love song, social justice song… that sort of thing), you might have all you need to quickly drill down and find an enticing topic, and then a specific angle for your lyric.

Here’s a set of steps to try, either using blank paper, or your digital device:

  1. Write a general category across the top of your page.
  2. Begin writing words, phrases and sentences that pertain to that topic. If you’ve written “Love Song,” you’ll probably write words and phrases like: “heart“, “warm“, “touch“, “I love you“, “my beating heart“, etc. Don’t worry that the words seem to have little if anything to do with a story yet. The more you write, the better, so 50 or more is a good target. You may find that some phrases seem to come from a potential story, but you don’t know how it might fit in, like “She told me you’d feel this way…” Don’t worry; write it down anyway.
  3. On a separate page, write words and phrases that express a contrary emotion. For love songs, you’ll likely write words like “leave me alone“, “go away“, “I don’t feel that way“, but a negative emotion might be something that expresses a wish that your relationship was better: “where is she gone?“, “why“, “don’t leave“, etc.
  4. Leave your lists for a short while, like an hour or so, and then return to them. This time, try to add phrases that use imagery, metaphors, and other poetic devices and turns of phrase. So you might find yourself writing something like, “soaring like an eagle“, “my wind-swept mind“, “our love is a diamond in the rough“, and so on. You may come up with words and sentences that don’t seem to pertain directly to your topic, but that’s OK. It’s better to write too much than not enough.

You’ve now got a page or two of words and phrases, you’re ready to start digging down and finding a song topic. Look through your words, and then circle the ones that seem to point to a specific theme. This is where it’s beneficial to have written words that seem to come from a story that you can’t yet identify.

After you’ve circled several words, you will start to see the makings of an angle — maybe not necessarily a story, but something that can serve as a topic that will lead to specific lines of lyric. For example, you might see that you’ve circled words like “I don’t need anyone“, “love always leaves me“, and “inner strength“… that sort of thing. You start to see the makings of a topic: you’ve been burned, and now you want to try life on your own. Keep working through your lists, finding more lines that seem to come from that sentiment.

Now take a new piece of paper, and write a specific topic at the top, something that could serve as a working title: “I’m On My Own”, for example. From there, there are many ways to proceed, but in practically any case you’ll want to create new word lists that speak to that specific title, and see if you can now get something more specific.

It all starts by having a couple of pages of words and you can draw from. You have a creative mind, and so seeing dozens and dozens of words that address the same general topic should be enough to get your creative juices flowing.

______________

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Extending a Melody With a Key Change

Changing key is a good way to keep song energy moving in an upward direction.

_______________

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Songwriting BundleThousands of songwriters are now using “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle to improve their technique. Includes two volumes of chord progressions, the very popular “Chord Progression Formulas”, and now comes with a 7th free eBook, “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro“. Read more..

________________
GuitarHere’s a bit of an add-on to my recent post about chord theory. Let’s look at how to change key when the relationship between the old and new key is tricky to navigate.

It’s something I’ve written about before. Moving up by a semitone (from C to Db), a major 2nd (from C to D), and even up a minor 3rd (from C to Eb), are all relatively easy to do.

But what about changing from C major to E major?

Key changes are not actually all that common in pop music. It’s relatively common to start and end a song in the same key. Most of the time, however, a key change, particularly an upward one, is used if the songwriter wants to build a bit of musical energy. Here’s an example:

Key Change From C Major to D Major

That’s a typical way for music to change from C major to D major. At the end of the C major progression, you insert a transition chord that moves easily to D major — the A7. It’s the sort of change you might see at various possible spots in the latter half of a song: between bridge and final chorus, for example, or during the final chorus repeats.

But there’s a way to use a key change in the middle of a verse, and there is one main reason you might try one there: it can allow you to extend the length of a verse melody. Let’s say that your verse melody is short — 4 bars, for example. You can play through the 4 bars of music, bump the music up into a new key, and then you’ve got a way to repeat the same 4 bars without having it sound so repetitious.

And now for the tricky bit: getting from C major to E major. Those two keys are not particularly closely related. (If you know a bit about music theory, then consider this: the more different two key signatures are, the less related they are. E major has 4 sharps, while C major has no sharps or flats. So E major is, as they say it, “four sharps away,” and that’s a little bit distant.

What we want is a way to make the transition from C major to E major not sound so jarring. Here are some examples you can try, and feel free to experiment. In the suggestions below, try strumming each chord for 2 beats, with the burgundy-coloured chords strummed for 1 beat each.

  1. C  F  D#dim  E  B  |E…
  2. C  F  Dm  G  Am  F  G  G/F  |E  A  F#m  B…
  3. C  G/B  Gm/Bb  A7  Dm  C7  B7  E  B7|E….
  4. C  F/C  G/B  Bsus4  B  |E  A/E  B/D#  E…

These will also work as good pre-chorus options, especially if you consider changing the first C chord of each one to something like Dm or Am. As always, experiment with what you see there, and change them to suit the song you’re working on.

As you’ll hear, getting from C to E is a bit strained at times. Making the transition a bit smoother sometimes requires you to hold on to chords longer. You’ll also notice that tricky key changes happen easier with songs in a slower tempo.

If you’re changing key in the verse and you want to get back to C major from E major, try this for a smooth transition:

E  A  F#m  B  C#m  G#m  G  Gsus4  G  |C

______________

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Using Chord Charts to Learn Chord Theory

If chords mystify you, you need to get “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-ebook Bundle. It includes “How to Harmonize a Melody”, as well as the incredibly useful “Chord Progression Formulas”, which will show you how to create dozens of progressions almost instantly. Read more..

_______________

Acoustic guitar - SongwritingFor most chording musicians (guitarists, keyboardists, etc.), a chord chart is mostly just a guide for getting your fingers on the right notes. But studying the chord charts of successful songs — songs that make a strong connection to audiences — can teach you a lot about how chords work. In that sense, a chord chart can teach you why, not just what.

Here’s a good way to start: Take the chord chart for a favourite song, and circle every pair of chords where the root (i.e., the letter name) of the second chord in the pair is a 4th or 5th away from the first note. This is significant, because when chords move by a 4th or 5th, it creates a strong progression, and you’ll notice that especially choruses will feature this kind of thing quite a bit.

Some songs have simple progressions that don’t really change from verse to chorus, such as with “Radioactive” (Imagine Dragons). It demonstrates that you don’t need much to create something catchy and memorable:

Radioactive Chords

Other songs have more elaborate chords, ones that have separate verse and chorus progressions, and that’s where you can really learn something. In “Just Give Me A Reason, you notice that the verse gives us a longer, more wandering progression than the chorus, and that’s to be expected. But you’ll also notice that in both the verse and chorus, strong two-chord sequences abound:

Just Give Me a Reason Chords

What is this showing? Mainly, it shows the tendency toward strong progressions in pop music, and that strong progressions, even though they are highly predictableare an important ingredient in the making of popular hit songs. Songwriters should not be turned off by that characteristic of predictability. With chords, predictability is usually a good thing.

Also notice something else: the way that a verse progression is “fragile” tends to be the result of avoiding overuse of the tonic chord. In “Just Give Me a Reason”, the tonic (G) chord happens fairly frequently in the first part of the verse, but happens hardly at all in the second half. When it does happen, it’s inverted (G/B). That avoidance of the tonic chord is an important part of building musical tension that’s released in the chorus.

In most songs, a verse will tolerate more wandering progressions that avoid an overabundance of strong 4th and 5th movement. In Paul Simon’s “My Little Town“, you still get the 4ths and 5ths in the verse, but what makes the verse progression fragile is the length, and the tendency to visit other keys. And even though the short chorus progression doesn’t show root movement of 4ths or 5ths, it still rates as strong, as the progression is highly predictable (its bass line is a simple descending scale), short and repetitive:

My Little Town Chords

For your own songs, my suggestion would be to make chord charts of your music, and then do what I’ve done above: circle the strong sequences of chords — the ones where the roots are a 4th or 5th away from each other. You should see it happen as a fairly common feature, and particularly in the chorus. If your chorus doesn’t happen to use many or any strong progressions, it needs to be short and repetitive.

______________

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Let Pride Help Dig You Out of a Creative Block

Thousands of songwriters are using Gary Ewer’s “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6 e-Book Bundle to solve their songwriting dilemmas. Now with a 7th free eBook, “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.”  Read More..

______________

Songwriter-GuitaristSometimes, your inner critic can make you feel that everything you do is garbage. Writer’s block usually comes from a fear of failure, and the source of the fear is often a lack of confidence. If you lack the confidence to believe that you can and will please your audience with your music, it seriously cramps your creative abilities.

Here are some ideas for getting your healthy ego back and working for you:

  1. Make a list of all the songs you’ve ever written. Look at the titles, remember the excitement and pride you felt when you wrote them. That kind of acknowledgement, once in a while, is healthy and important.
  2. Try a bit of positive reinforcement. During a time when writer’s block makes you doubt that you are a songwriter at all, say to yourself several times, “I am a songwriter.” Let the positive vibes that come from saying it remind you that all songwriters go through creative blocks. It’s a normal part of being an artist in any field.
  3. Listen to your songs, and defend them to yourself. Remind yourself that as the writer of those songs, you’ve created something unique and important.
  4. Declare your resolve to cure your writer’s block issues. Say over and over again to yourself, ” I will get through this block.” It usually takes more than just saying it, but the confidence that comes from that simple act is an important first step.
  5. Do something nice for others. It doesn’t have to be something musical… just an act of kindness that gets you thinking positively. There is research to show that the kinder we are to others, the happier we become. Happiness won’t on its own solve writer’s block, but is an important part of any creative process.

Psychology, it’s important to say here, is only part of the problem in solving songwriter’s block. A big part of the solution comes from tightening up your writing technique. So you need to find both psychological and practical solutions to keep writer’s block away.

The ideas in this blog posting come from the conclusion of “Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music“, available online and in music stores now.

______________

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,119 other followers