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Songwriting Tip: Striking the Right Chord

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 02, 2013 @09:00 AM

STRIKING THE RIGHT CHORD

 Danny Arena, songwriter

By Danny Arena

One kind of "creative rut" that songwriters can easily fall into is when the chorus section of all their songs starts to sound the same. Some songwriters get into the habit of using the same chord to begin the chorus of every song they write. In one of my SongU.com courses, we look at some of the many chords you can use to start your chorus as well as some of the successful songs that have used them in the past.

 

The I (ONE) CHORD

Contrary to popular belief, there's nothing wrong with starting the chorus to your song (or bridge in an AABA song) on the "I" chord. Be careful though, to make sure your chorus contrasts from the verse - either rhythmically or melodically. For example, both the chorus and verse to hit song "She Believes In Me" (songwriter - Gibb) begin on the I chord, but the melody soars high in the chorus in contrast to the melody in the verse. Similarly both the verse and bridge to song "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" (songwriter - Howard/Arlen) start on the I chord, but the 8th note rhythm of the bridge makes it stand out in contrast to the half note feel of the verse. The Bruno Mars hit, “Just The Way You Are” takes the opposite approach and the rhythm in the chorus contains longer notes than the verse even though both sections start on the I chord.

 

THE iim (TWO MINOR) CHORD

The iim chord is similar in structure to the IV chord, but, like the iiim and vim chord, it is a minor chord with a different sound quality than the IV chord. It is not used very frequently to begin a chorus, but is used more often as a starting chord of a bridge section in an AABA song as in the old standard "I'm In The Mood For Love" (songwriter - Fields/McHugh).

 

THE iiim (THREE MINOR) CHORD

Another chord which is similar in structure to the I chord is the iiim chord. It is not used as frequently to start a chorus as the vim chord but has a similar sound quality. The Beth Neilson Chapman adult contemporary hit, "All I Have" (songwriter - Chapman/Kaz) has a chorus which starts on the iiim chord, and the bridge of the Elvis Presley AABA classic, "Can't Help Falling In Love" (songwriter - Weiss/Peretti/Creatore) starts on a iiim.

 

THE IV (FOUR MAJOR) CHORD

Another common chord choice for starting the bridge or chorus of a song is the IV chord. Probably the reason it is such a popular choice among songwriters is because of it can be set-up easily. By ending a verse on the I chord, you automatically have set up the chorus to begin on the IV chord. This is because of the natural "pull" the I chord has toward the IV chord (technically speaking, the I chord acts as the dominant of the IV chord). Some of the many songs which use the IV chord to start the chorus (or bridge), include the Kenny Rogers classic: "Lucille" (songwriter - Bowling), the Christina Aguilera ballad, “Beautiful” and the Train hit, “Hey Soul Sister”.

 

THE V (FIVE MAJOR) CHORD

A common chord used to begin a chorus in a song is the V chord. The V chord is a naturally unstable chord and the I chord is a naturally stable chord. So when you end the verse on the I chord and start the chorus on the V chord, you create a contrast. The chorus in the Reba McEntire classic, "Rumor Has It" (songwriter - Burch/Dant/Shell) starts on the V chord.


THE viim (SIX MINOR) CHORD

The vim chord is a chord which is fairly close in structure to the I chord. In fact, two of the three notes that make up these two chords are the same. The one note difference between these two chords results in the vim chord having a more "somber" quality as opposed to the "brightness" of the I chord. Starting the bridge on the vim chord can result in a change of mood in a song as in, "Through The Eyes Of Love" (songwriter - Hamlisch/Sager) or "What I Did For Love" (songwriter - Hamlisch). The Grammy winning song, "Wind Beneath My Wings" (songwriter - Henley/Silbar) begins its soaring chorus on a vim chord as does the chorus in the Taylor Swift hit, “I Knew You Were Trouble.”

So that gives you six different approaches you can try the next time you're looking for a different sound for that chorus you're writing. Maybe one of them will spark something in you that will help you create a standout chorus.

Hope to see you on the charts.

 

About Danny Arena
Danny Arena is a Tony Award nominated composer and professional songwriter. He holds degrees from Rutgers University in both computer science and music composition, and serves as an Associate Professor at Volunteer State Community College in Nashville, and an adjunct member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University. In addition, he has been invited to teach songwriting workshops throughout the U.S. and abroad, and performs his original songs regularly in Nashville at venues like the Bluebird Café. As a staff songwriter for Curb Magnatone Music Publishing, he composed several songs for the musical "Urban Cowboy" which opened on Broadway in March 2003 and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and a Tony Award for Best Original Score. He is also the co-founder, CEO, and one of the main site developers of www.SongU.com, which provides over 100 multi-level courses developed by award-winning songwriters in addition to online coaching, co-writing, industry connections, and pitching opportunities.

For more information on the 18th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

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