Guitarist - songwriter

Using a Minor V-Chord in a Major Key Song

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook BundleGet “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBooks. They’ll help you polish your technique, and make you the best songwriter you can be. Comes with a Study Guide, tons of chord progressions, and information covering every aspect of how to write good music.

Good chord progressions take you on a musical journey that usually starts at “home”, wanders to some interesting place, and then returns home. Chord progressions don’t have to be particularly unique or creative because for most songs, the melody and lyrics are going to offer the unique bits that listeners can sing and remember.

So you can take a standard progression like I-V-IV-I (C-G-F-C in the key of C) and write hundreds or even thousands of unique songs.

But this is not to say that an interesting chord progression serves no useful purpose in good songwriting. Of course it can, and there are benefits to thinking about how you might take a standard progression and make it a bit more interesting.

One idea you can try is to take a V-chord (G in the key of C major) and modify it to be a minor chord. As you know, a V-chords in major key is a major chord:

Major V-chord in a major key

So take that G chord and make it Gm:

Minor V-chord in a major key

Because we’re expecting a major chord in that circumstance, its harmonic function actually changes, and sounds as though we’re moving to F as a new key. Try strumming through those chords and you’ll hear what I mean… the Gm sounds like a ii-chord in the key of F.

But as soon as we play the F chord, we follow it up with a C, and it sounds like we’ve returned once more to C major.

Progressions that Use a Minor V

Practically any progression that moves from V to IV (G to F in the key of C major) can be modified so that the V-chord is minor, as long as the melody note you’ve chosen still works: if you’ve got B as your melody note, you’d need to change that note to Bb if you want to experiment with a minor V.

So here are some sample progressions you can try:

  1. C   Am  Gm  F  C
  2. C  F  Gm  F  C
  3. C  G  Gm7  F
  4. C  Bb  Gm  F
  5. C  Gm  Dm  C

That final progression, C  Gm  Dm  C, was used in the chorus of “Tell No Lies“, by the Canadian 80s new wave band Spoons. You can hear the chorus at about the 55-second mark of this video.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary EwerFollow Gary on Twitter

How to Harmonize a Melody, 2nd ed.Stuck with how to get chords that fit the melody that’s rolling about in your musical mind? “How to Harmonize a Melody” will show you how to do it, with sound files that demonstrate the process. Get it separately, or as part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle.”

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Guitar chords

Creating Chord Progression Partners for a Verse and a Chorus: 5 Examples

Many songs will use the same chord progression in both the verse and the chorus, and of course it’s completely fine to do that. A classic example is America’s “A Horse With No Name”, which toggles back and forth between the two chords Em and D6-add9/F# for both verse and chorus. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana) is another good example.

For the songs that do use different progressions for verse and chorus, you need to know that there is no particular need to create a clever partnership between those two sections. Many songs use a verse progression that bears little to no resemblance to the chorus progression, like Lennon & McCartney’s “Penny Lane.”

Writing a Song From a Chord ProgressionIf you like the chords-first method of writing songs, you need to read “Writing a Song From a Chord Progression.” It shows you the advantages of this songwriting process, but also the problems you need to avoid. Comes with the 10-eBook Bundle, or purchase it on its own.

But there is a special advantage to creating a kind of partnership between the verse and chorus, and that advantage is that it adds a kind of “musical glue”, you might say, when we hear something similar but different.

Here’s a good example: if you used this as your verse progression: Am-C-Dm-G, repeated several times, and then you go on to a chorus progression that uses these chords: C-Dm-Am-G, can you tell what the connection is?

You probably guessed right: both sections use the same chords, but in a different order. While it’s not likely to be something the average listener is going to pick up on, that fact that the same chords are being used makes both sections sound similar, without actually using the same progressions.

That’s what I’d call a chord progression partnership. They add a similarity to the sound of your music when comparing verse and chorus, and it’s a similarity that your song could benefit from.

Looking for some more chord progression partners to try? Check out these ones:

Reversing Bass Line:

VERSE: C  Dm  C  E  F  CHORUS: C  G/B  Am  G  F [Verse bass line moves up, chorus moves down]

Minor to Major:

VERSE: Am  Em  Am  Em  |Dm  Am  Dm  Am  CHORUS: C  G  C  G  |F  C  F  C [Verse is mainly minor, chorus is mainly major]

Chords That Move Mainly By Thirds:

VERSE: C  Em  F  Am  |C  Dm  F  Am  CHORUS: C  Am  F  Dm  |C  Am  F  Dm [Verse chords move up mostly by 3rds, chorus moves down mostly by thirds]

Chromatic Bass Line:

VERSE: F  D/F#  G  E/G#  A  Bb  G/B  G7  CHORUS: C  G/B  Gm/Bb  A  G#dim  C/G  D/F#  G [Verse ascends, chorus descends.]

Same Progression, Different Key:

VERSE: Cm  Fm  Ab  G (repeat)  CHORUS: Eb  Ab  Cm  Bb [Verse in minor, chorus in major]

I’ll reiterate here that there is no particular rule or even a principle that states that there must be a harmonic connection between verse and chorus progressions; they can be completely different, with nothing in particular that binds them.

But I’ve found that for songs where you worry that you’re not hearing enough of a connection between the verse and the chorus (i.e., where the melodies and perhaps even the musical styles are very different), it might be a good idea to explore the possibility of connection by doing some kind of chord progression partnership similar to the five examples above.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook BundleGet “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBooks. They’ll help you polish your technique, and make you the best songwriter you can be. Comes with a Study Guide, tons of chord progressions, and information covering every aspect of how to write good music.

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The Beatles - Get Back

McCartney’s Songwriting Process

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook BundleIf you’re ready to study — to learn why a great song succeeds — and then to apply those discoveries to your own songs, you’re ready for “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle.”

It’s a treat to watch some of the video snippets from the recently released “The Beatles: Get Back” documentary. I’ve not had opportunity to see the entire documentary yet, but a short excerpt I came across today is a fantastic little peek into Paul McCartney’s songwriting process.

Though the video is obviously edited, it still gives the impression that McCartney had a way of starting a song from almost nothing, and in short order have a song that the others in the band could play along to.

Here’s the excerpt:

No doubt McCartney’s process, like everyone’s, is a bit different depending on the song. In the bit we get to see, it appears that the song “Get Back” started mainly as a development of a rhythmic idea for the guitar.

You hear that guitar, then McCartney improvising some melodic ideas in his falsetto voice, and you can hear the occasional word “back” as he mumbles a guiding vocal, trying to find something that works.

Very quickly you hear the melodic shape that we associate with “Get Back” — a short ascending melody that repeats, then reverses and moves downward, along with the words “Get back to where you once belonged.”

If you ever needed convincing that some of the great tunes out there start with simple improvisations, with different ideas that get spontaneously glued together, this is a perfect demonstration.

In my last post I suggested to new songwriters that they try to write quickly and not get hung up in a long, laborious process. You can see in this video that McCartney has no intention of letting his inner critic take over. He really doesn’t stop; he keeps trying ideas, tossing out the bad ones and keeping the good ones.

And the closer he gets to what he thinks “Get Back” should sound like, the easier the ideas seem to come.

This short video is a perfect workshop/masterclass for how songs in the pop genres can be written, just allowing improvisation and stream-of-consciousness take over and having fun. It’s worth trying!

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting ProcessAre you trying to make your lyrics more important in your songwriting process? This eBook can help: “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process.” Take advantage of this FREE offer.

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Writing great song lyrics

Getting a Good Start in Songwriting

Never written a song before? Wondering if you can do it?

Everyone has to start somewhere. Perhaps for you, even though you’re not a songwriter, you’ve been noodling around with bits of what could be seen as a song in the making:

  • Maybe you write poetry.
  • Maybe you’ve discovered a chord progression you like, and you play it over and over again, just enjoying the way the chords move one to the other.
  • Maybe, while improvising at the piano, you’ve come up with a melody/chord combination that really sounds great.

As you know, no single component will make a song. If you’ve got something that looks like it could make a good lyric, for example, you’ll also need to come up with melodies and chords that will work with those lyrics.

How to Harmonize a MelodyIf you’re stuck trying to add chords to your melodies, you need “How to Harmonize a Melody.” Shows you how to do it, step-by-step, with sound samples to guide you.

And if you’ve never done that before, you’re really at the start: dipping your toe into ocean, as it were, and then taking the plunge.

Songwriting takes a lot of courage, because it’s a very personal to communicate your thoughts and feelings by using music. It takes guts. It particularly takes guts if you’re trying to be unique and innovative.

It’s practically impossible for me or anyone to tell you how to write a song. We all know that a song is a pulling together of melodies, chords and lyrics, and the melodies and lyrics need to be new, a product of your own imagination.

But if you’re ready to take that plunge, keep the following in mind:

  1. It’s better to write quickly than to stretch the process out for weeks or months. Get something written, enjoy the process, and then be ready to move on to your next song. By writing quickly, you come up with something close to a finished song fairly quickly, and then you’ve got something you can fix. (You can’t fix dead air!)
  2. Don’t fixate on “Can I do this” kinds of questions. Use your instincts and be impulsive. The answer to “Can I do this” is always “If that’s what you want.”
  3. There are no rules. There are guidelines and principles, though. The more you listen to good music, the more you become aware that every genre has a particular sound. But how you achieve that sound doesn’t come from rules, just principles… and expectations.
  4. Try as much as possible to keep your inner critic suppressed while you’re writing. Especially when writing quickly, you can be too hard on yourself. It’s far better to get something written and completed, even knowing that something about it isn’t working. You can always go back and fix things. But your inner critic will always present you with doubts and make you feel nervous. Stay confident!
  5. As you continue to write new songs, focus on one aspect of your writing as an area of improvement. It will help your long term development as a songwriter if you choose one part of your songwriting at a time — lyrics, for example — and keep striving to improve mainly in that one area, at least for now. You may listen to your early efforts and think everything needs to improve! But life is long, and you’ll have a long time to improve. By focusing on one aspect of your writing, you’ll more quickly see the benefits that come from that one point of focus.

And just to reiterate: putting your songs out there takes courage. These days, there are people to find it easy to express hate online, so you have to rise above that. Remember that it’s unreasonable (and unattainable) to expect everyone will love your songs. Some will love them, some will dislike them, and that’s normal.

Good luck, and have fun!

Gary EwerWritten by Gary EwerFollow Gary on Twitter

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook BundleThousands of songwriters are using “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” ebook bundle to improve their songwriting technique. If you’re looking for excellence and consistency, get the bundle today. Comes with a FREE COPY of “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process.

Posted in songwriting.
Rolling Stones

Beyond Songwriting: How to Make Your New Song Even Better

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook bundle gives you lots of help when it comes to writing song melodies. Chapter 5 of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” shows you how lyrics and melody work hand-in-hand, and “How to Harmonize a Melody” shows you how to add chords to that melody you’ve just created.

If you go to YouTube and type in the title of a really well-known song — one that’s been covered by numerous singers and bands over the years — you become aware of just how many ways a song can be arranged and presented to an audience.

Those many ways of performing a song typically use genre as a guide. You can hear “Jingle Bells” as country-swing, up-tempo jazz, dixieland, or even as if were composed by your favourite classical composer.

Any song can be arranged in probably dozens of different ways, and so it automatically begs the question: once you’ve written a song, have you given enough thought to the presentation — the arrangement — of your song?

This comes under the heading of production, and these days many songwriters do much of their own producing. Sure, you may be thinking that the song you’ve just written is a slow ballad, but have you considered other possibilities? You may discover that your very good song is actually a real gem if you change the way you thought you’d be singing it.

Here are some tips to help you discover new ways to present your song to an audience:

  1. As a first step, make sure your song is structurally sound, and really working well. The best way to do this is to sing it unaccompanied, or with a very sparse chordal accompaniment. The melody, chords and lyrics should work even in this stripped-down version.
  2. Try your song in various tempos and performance styles. Try to listen to what you’re doing objectively, and give the song a chance in each new tempo and style.
  3. Try some chord substitutions. If you’re not too sure how you might do this, read this article to help.
  4. Get creative with instrumental choices. Sometimes all it takes is to add a unique instrument to the mix, as The Beatles did when they added piccolo trumpet to “Penny Lane”, or recorder in “Ruby Tuesday” (Rolling Stones).
  5. Consider whether your song should be in a major or minor key. There’s a quirky recording online of a reworking of McCartney’s “Yesterday” in a minor key, and it’s certainly a surprise!

All this is simply to remind you: there’s no particular reason to assume that your first ideas with how your song should sound are necessarily the best ideas. Take the time to challenge your own musical imagination, and to challenge your own initial assumptions about what your new song should sound like.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Hooks and Riffs“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base“, is available at “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Online Store. Get it separately, or as part of 10-eBook Bundle, along with a FREE chord progression eBook.

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Gary Ewer

I’m Gary Ewer. For years I’ve been helping songwriters understand the basic fundamentals of good songwriting. I do that mainly through the free articles on this blog, and also through my 10-eBook bundle. If you lack consistency in your songwriting, and you want to take your abilities to the next level, everything you need to know is in that bundle package, so please take a look at those ebooks. And if you want to browse through the more than 2300 posts in the blog archive, scroll to the bottom of this page.

Please feel free to leave a comment at the end of any article. I love reading what others are thinking about music.

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