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Songwriting Tip: Sharpen Your Music With The Flat Seven Chord

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Apr 02, 2012 @01:18 PM

SHARPEN YOUR MUSIC WITH THE FLAT SEVEN CHORD by Danny Arena

Danny Arena, Songwriter
There are seven standard chords that are part of every key in which you may be writing a song. In traditional theory, these are known as the "diatonic chords", but you can simply think of them as the chords we tend to gravitate towards first when writing music. The reason is simple - they are the ones we hear the most. However there are also some commonly used chords that are called non-diatonic that turn up in many hit songs. One of these so-called non-diatonic chords is called the flat seven (or flatted seventh) chord. It can be a valuable tool to have in your composer's toolbox.

Formation of the Flat Seven Chord 
The flat seven chord is formed by first determining the seventh note of the scale of the key in which you are writing your song. Lower this note by a half-step (also known as "flatting" the note) and you have the flat seven. For example, in the key of C, the flat seven would be a Bb chord. In the key of G, the flat seven chord would be an F major chord. 

How It's Used 
The flat seven is generally used in one of two ways. First, the flat seven chord can also be used as a "surprise" chord, where you set the listener up to hear a certain chord, but give them the flat seven chord instead as a "surprise". This is how Jimmy Webb first popularized the use of the flat seven chord (in fact, the flat seven chord is also known as the Jimmy Webb 7th). The bridge in the Grammy winning song "Beauty and the Beast" (songwriter - Menken/Ashman) uses the flat seven as a surprise chord as does the Faith Hill classic hit "This Kiss" (songwriter - R. Lerner/B. Chapman/A. Roboff) which incorporates the flat seven chord in the verse chord progression. 

An Example 
Let's say you are writing a song in the key of C and have the following chord progression for the verse (1 chord per measure): 

C F C F
Em Am F G

One way to surprise the listener would be to play a flat seven chord (Bb) instead of the F chord in the seventh measure. Another way to surprise the listener would be to play the Bb chord in the 8th measure after the F chord, and use an extra measure for the G chord.

So the next time you're looking for a little different twist on an old progression or just a different chord to start that chorus or bridge on, don't overlook the flat seven chord - it's really pretty sharp (sorry for the pun there...I couldn't resist). 

Hope to see you on the charts. 

-Danny

About Danny Arena

Danny Arena is a Tony Award nominated composer who has worked as a staff songwriter for Warner/Chappell Music and Curb Magnatone Music Publishing. He holds degrees from Rutgers University in both computer science and music composition. He is currently an Associate Professor at Volunteer State Community College in Nashville and has been a member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University as well as a guest lecturer at the Berklee College of Music and Belmont University. Together Danny and Sara collaborated on composing songs for the Broadway show "Urban Cowboy: The Musical" which was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and a Tony Award for Best Original Score. He is also the co-founders of the online educational website www.SongU.com which provides multi-level songwriting courses developed and taught by award-winning songwriters, song feedback and mentoring, one-on-one song coaching, co-writing, unscreened pitching opportunities and more. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, visit:http://www.songwriting.net

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