Songwriting Tips, News & More

The Valuable Chord Tricks All Major Hit Songwriters Use (Part 1)

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Feb 10, 2020 @08:00 AM

by Dave Kelly

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The vast majority of songwriters begin their composing life depending on the same 4, 5, or if they are really adventurous, 6 chords. Those chords are technically called “diatonics”, and they’re the chords built on the first six notes of any major scale. There is also a 7th chord that technically should be added to the set, but it has been considered a troublemaker for years, so we’ll come back to that in a moment.

For now, check if any of your songs are limited to using only two or more of these 6 chords. Include checking through any songs you play that were written by other people.

Key of C – C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am

Key of D – D, Em, F#m, G, A, Bm

Key of E – E, F#m, G#m, A, B, C#m

Key of G – G, Am, Bm, C, D, Em

Key of A – A, Bm, C#m, D, E, F#m

Almost 50% of all the hit songs released over the past fifty years, were composed using only diatonic chords. I’m sure you probably know many of these songs. They tend to sound very similar to each other.

But what if you want your song to sound a bit more interesting than the run-of-the-mill song you hear everybody else writing? Well, officially that’s easy. You just need to add in one or more of the 18 chords not included in the diatonics list. But knowing which one to add, and where to add it is the hard part.

It’s also dangerous. The moment you leave the safety and familiarity of the key chords, you risk sounding strange, jazzy, progressive, scary, discordant, unpleasant or worse, sounding amateur. And that’s enough to stop most composers from venturing beyond the same old 5 or 6 chords. So, you can understand why there are so many songs written that way, when trying anything else is likely to make you sound like you don’t know what you’re doing.

That’s why top professional songwriters depend on 6 specific chord usages or tricks to help them effortlessly place the right chords in the perfect spot, ensuring their songs always sound exceptional.

This first lesson is going to address the easiest of these chord tricks to insert into your writing. It involves the 7th chord that we left out of our original list of diatonic chords at the beginning of this article. It’s called a diminished chord. In the key of C it would be a Bdim, and is technically the seventh chord in the diatonic family, and would be added to the other six we’ve discussed already, if that is, it didn’t sound so odd to the ear of the general public.

Because of its discordant sound, the diminished chord has been replaced over the past 50 years within popular music, by the far more appealing and pleasant sounding “flattened seven (b7).” In the key of C this is a Bb.

Key of C – C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, [Bb]

Key of D – D, Em, F#m, G, A, Bm, [C]

Key of E – E, F#m, G#m, A, B, C#m, [D]

Key of G – G, Am, Bm, C, D, Em, [F]

Key of A – A, Bm, C#m, D, E, F#m, [G]

Although the flattened 7 doesn’t technically belong in the diatonic family of chords, ever since the introduction of the blues, it’s been adopted and included in hundreds of hit songs that would otherwise have been limited to 5 or 6 predictable diatonics. The power of flattened 7 chord in a major key is instead of having just three major chords to write music with, it gives you a 4th major chord. This 4th major chord makes a difference! Try it for yourself. If you are trained it music theory it may seem like you are breaking the rules, but your ears will tell you something quite different… you’re enhancing the music.

There are many ways to use this new addition to the family. One common way is to place it between two of the same chords. This was one of the ways favored by The Beatles. For instance, in the key of C that could be C-Bb-C or F-Bb-F or Am-Bb-Am.

Another option is to use it at the start of a song section, possibly a bridge, giving the song a much-needed lift at that point.

On the other hand, when placed at the end of a verse section, it can create tension that will be resolved during the chorus.

But no matter where you place the flattened 7 among the other six diatonics it will sound completely at home. In fact, it will spice up any standard song just by its inclusion.

Try playing around with adding it to the other 6 chords. You’ll like how it sounds, and you’ll quickly realize that you’ve heard that type of chord movement before in higher quality songs from well-respected writers. Give it a try and see if you don’t immediately sound more like a pro.

 

Dave Kelly has worked closely with many of the greatest musical artists in the world, including Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Pink Floyd, Genesis and Aerosmith. He is an award-winning recording artist and songwriter and has recently completed the first volume in the Secret of Songwriting Series entitled Secret of Chords (www.secretofchords.com) with the second volume, Secret of Melody, due out late February.

 

For information on the 25th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, songwrite, Bob Dylan, Chords, Rewrite, non-diatonic chords, diatonic, Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Genesis, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd

How to Write Lyrics: 8 Tips to Inspire Your Meaning

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Feb 03, 2020 @12:03 PM

by Steve Lipman

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A painting is composed of shapes and colors, arranged in such a way to create a cohesive picture for the viewer. Painters become better with practice by showcasing their art and developing a personal creative process - most of the time. Sometimes, inspiration works in mysterious ways.

A song is very similar to a visual masterpiece. Each sound, phrase, and word - arranged in just the right order - elicits an emotional or intellectual response from the listener. A song is an intangible creation, built of many parts to achieve a myriad of effects.

Just as the visual artist might dive into the world of their craft, songwriters and lyricists are well-served by doing the same. Great lyrical songs touch their listeners by combining the impact of their words with the emotional power of its music. That’s why I suggest you ask the following questions about the song you are trying to write.

 

  1. What Do You Want to Say?

Painters often take time to visualize their work before the brush hits the canvas. Developing a guiding statement for your lyrics - what they want to say - keeps your message top of mind as you work. The question is: What is the subject of my song?

 

  1. Who Are You Writing To?

The listener may be the person you are addressing in your song. It could be someone else - someone who broke your heart or stole it. Or, it could be a series of rallying statements for the world at-large. Regardless, a song always speaks to someone or something.

Understanding who the song is speaking to gives lyricists direction with the finer details of writing such as tone, character, and point of view.

 

  1. How Do You Want to Say It?

What’s the emotion behind your message? Is it an aggressive call-to-action? Or, a sweet tune for the love of your life? Just as there’s a difference in what we might say to someone we’re mad or happy with, the emotional and psychological origins of your message should come out in your writing.

 

  1. Now What’s the Right Word?

Next, you need to think about the lyrics (words) in your song. Again, who is speaking them, and to whom, will help you determine how the lyrics are heard.

The right words put the listener exactly where you want them. Great lyrics convey a message effectively when they are embodied by the music. A song should feel like a complete experience, meaning that everything that needs to be said finds itself in your lyrics.

Finding the right words is tough. Sometimes, such as in the case with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock n’ Roll,” a song can be completed in 15 minutes in the studio and get slapped onto an album.

On the other hand, Bob Dylan always said his song, “Tangled Up in Blue” took him “a decade to live, and two years to write.” Crafting great lyrics often takes care, patience, and time.

 

  1. How long does it take to write a song?

It could be somewhere between 15 minutes to a lifetime. Some songs are started but never finished. Sometimes the unfinished song is telling you that you don’t know enough about the subject you are writing about. And, sometimes, the passion behind the song dissipates. My advice is to write a song until you can’t write it any more. The song will let you know when it is completed. Learn from it and move on to the next song.

It’s what made “Tangled Up in Blue” take two years to write, and “Rock N’ Roll” take 15 minutes. If your song feels complete, it is. If it doesn’t feel complete, then it needs more work.

 

  1. The Next One will Always be Better

According to veteran songwriting coach Randy Klein, writing a great song requires drawing from past experiences.

Each song you attempt to create is a demonstration of your understanding of song craft, and of your ability to draft lyrics that make an impact. As you work on your current piece, it’s always helpful to reference past pieces and utilize the lessons you learned from their creation.

 

  1. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

Many songwriters forget there is a lot of power in the rewrite.

Perhaps one of the most effective ways of battling writer’s block - what many people may call “hitting the wall” - is by taking a different approach. More often than not, the first draft of a song is a collection of ideas which should be considered temporary.

Rewrites allow you to explore a different direction with your song, while using elements already created to guide the way. Many songwriters are completely surprised by what comes out of them during the rewriting process.

 

  1. Test Your Audience

If you’re inspired to write a song, it means you want to communicate something to someone else. Having a sample of who that “someone else” is may be invaluable to your editing process.

 

A phrase may resonate with us because it comes from within. Yet, it’s not uncommon for something meaningful to us to fall on someone else’s deaf ears. That’s why workshopping your lyrics with trusted listeners can inspire valuable revisions, or tell you the song is on the wrong track altogether. In this instance, remaining humble is key.

 

In the end, it’s your voice.

You may be sitting there asking yourself, “Does every songwriter incorporate each of these eight steps into their songwriting?”

The answer to that is absolutely not. Just like any form of art, songwriting is a personal journey, the success of which is most clearly determined by whether you’re happy with the finished product.

Any songwriter who wants to get better at writing lyrics can use any number of these steps to help them along the way. You may also decide you want to study songwriting in college, or take the journey on your own.

Either way, it’s your words, your voice, and your message going into people’s ears. Treat each song like an individual experience, a singular journey to navigate - and remember to always enjoy the process just as much as the finished product.

 

Steve Lipman is founder of Inside Music Schools, a music school admissions consultancy based near Boston, MA. He has experience counseling aspiring professional musicians from performance and songwriting to music production and music business. Having spent more than 40 years at Berklee College of Music as Director of Admissions, Assistant Dean of Students, and as Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, he is one of the country’s leading experts on contemporary music education and college admissions.

 

For information on the 25th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Berklee, songwrite, Berklee College of Music, Rewrite, visualize, Steve Lipman