Using Implied Chords to Lighten Instrumental Textures

“Implied chords are used by performers as a way of lightening up the music texture… you can build the song’s energy in a natural way.”
Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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bass2With even just a simple guitar accompaniment, you have a tremendous variety of sounds to “orchestrate” your song. Beyond exploring that range of instrumental techniques and textures, you should give serious thought to implied chords as a way of giving your accompaniments a sense of transparency.

A chord is the simultaneous sounding of three or more notes. An implied chord means that you aren’t giving the listener the full chord; by itself, an implied chord could actually be interpreted as any one of a few different possible chords. For example, if instead of playing a full C major triad, which uses the notes C-E-G, you might play just the C and E. By itself, the C and E will strongly suggest a C major chord, even without the G. It could also be the C and E from an A minor chord. But musical context will usually answer the question, “What chord is that?”

Implied chords are used by performers as a way of lightening up the music texture. And you most often see implied chords in a song’s verse. This is because by lightening the texture, you usually diminish instrumental energy- perfect for the verse. By allowing other accompanying instruments to fill in the chords as the music approaches the chorus, you can build the song’s energy in a natural way.

The easiest way to use implied chords in your song is to use bass alone as your accompanying instrument. Consider the following chord progression:

C C/E F G C

By simply playing the bass notes indicated by that progression, the listener will get a clear understanding of what chords are being implied. The benefit of this bass-alone accompaniment is that the instrumental quality is very transparent, very light.

Listeners can suffer from instrumental fatigue if the same sounds are being presented to their ears for the duration of a song. If your latest song requires you to strum mindlessly throughout, or play full chords on your keyboard, your audience is going to get bored with your song, and probably won’t even know why. I strongly recommend that songwriters and performers use implied chords as a way of contouring the energy of their music.


6 Songwriting E-books“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” shows you how to write great songs. It’s just one of a suite of 6 songwriting e-books written by Gary Ewer. (His newest e-book, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting- Chord Progression Formulas” is being offered for free when you purchase any other of his songwriting e-books.) Let these six e-books show you every aspect of how to write great songs! Read more..

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