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

Songwriting Tips: 10 Elements of a Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Aug 11, 2014 @01:34 PM

Songwriting Tips: 10 Elements of a Song
by Steve Cheeks

 songwriting

When studying songs and songwriting, there seem to always be common threads to the basic components of successful songs. Like most people, I am measuring a songs success by it's popularity more than any other factor, although it is not the only factor to consider. With that thought being set aside, lets look at the elements that make up songs in the Modern Contemporary Music era (the last fifty years of rock, pop, country and R&B). Please also note that these are not considered to be in any particular order.

1. Melody - The melody is the tune of the song that you sing or play. The best melodies are considered to be "catchy". This typically means that the melody is memorable, which should be the desired effect.

2. Chords (chord progression) - The chords accompany the melody of the song. This can also be, and is typically, part of the rhythm of the song. A chord progression is the order in which the chords are played.

3. Beat and Rhythm - The beat of a song is what "drives" the listener to "feel" the song (fast or slow). It is also referred to as the tempo (speed) of the song. Because music stirs our emotions, we often are drawn to a song because of the beat. The rhythm on the other hand, is the beat that the various instruments (drums, bass, guitar and keys) create.

4. Genre and Style - the genre of a song (rock, pop, country or r&b) is typically established by the beat and rhythm of the song. The style may vary once the song is constructed with the words and/or instruments. The style of the song branches out from the genre, such as, punk rock, alternative, hip hop, blue grass etc.

5. Concept (story) - All songs have a story line or theme. Typically the song title will convey the essence of that story idea and the words (lyric) will expound upon that idea or theme. The story concept and theme is typically stated in the title of the song.

6. "Hook"- Simply stated, the hook is the part of the song that you just can't get out of your head. It sort of "sticks" to your thought process, sometimes, even if you like it or not. All great (if not memorable) songs have great hooks. A song may also have sub hooks that are sections,words, phrases of music that will get inside your brain. The song title can typically be a "singable" hook or phrase as well.

7. Lyrics - What is being "said" in the song comes through the words called the lyrics. The lyric describes the concept, theme and/or title of the song. A lyric will typically rhyme in rhythmic phrases in the sections of music.

8. Song Sections - Songs are divided up into sections and have names, such as, intro, verse, chorus,bridge etc. Typically, the verse describes the concept of the title and hook that are typically in the chorus. Other sections such of music, such as the intro, bridge, lead breaks, etc., will function to support these main components of the song. Sections consist of measures (also called bars) that are typically four beats in length. Although they can be longer or shorter, sections are typically eight measures (bars) in length.

9. Arrangement - The arrangement is actually two-fold. First, the arrangement is the order in which the sections of music are placed, such as, intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus and so on. Secondly, the organization of the instrumentation, vocals and/or other parts of music that make up the song, are considered to be the arrangement as well.

10. Length - The length of a song is always a consideration, depending on the use of the song. If a song is being written and arranged for radio airplay, songs today are typically three and a half to four minutes long. They can be shorter or longer, but this is the typical length in today's musical formats. It should be stated that you will find successful songs with less (or even more) of the ten elements that are listed here. That doesn't make the song right or wrong, just different.

There are always exceptions to every rule,and in music, you will find that to be the case more often than not. In searching songs, I believe you will find most "hit' songwriters will use proven formulas with the elements listed above, in some shape or form. I always remind songwriters and musicians alike, that there are no "have to be's" in music, just "probablies." That's the purpose of using the word "typically" so often. As always, go back and study some of the songs from your favorite genre to see how many of the elements you can detect. I'm sure you will find that the more successful the song, the more song elements that are in the song. This should give you a great overview for your study. Happy Hunting!

Steve Cheeks is a Producer, Arranger, Singer, Songwriter and Psalmist. As a teacher, Steve has taught many hundreds of students how to play, perform and compose music with many different instruments. Currently, Steve is on a mission to teach the world to play and sing. He resides in Evans, Ga.

For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Lyrics, songwrite, hook, song elements, Melody. create song, create melody, Chords, beat and rhythm, song structure