Download “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6 e-book bundle, and kick-start your songwriting career!
Most of the time, we use chords in root position, which means that the root of the chord is the lowest sounding note. An inverted chord is one in which the root of the chord is not at the bottom: some other chord tone is. I’m often cautioning songwriters that chord inversions need a reason for existing. In other words, every time you use an inverted chord you should be able to answer the question: why did I use the inversion form of the chord instead of the root position?
In this post I want to discuss a very commonplace chord: the V7. And in particular, I want to describe a particular inversion of that chord that’s not used very often, but can and should be: the V7 with the 7th in the bass.
If you’re a rhythm guitarist, you may not be so aware of the tendency of the 7th of a chord to want to move downward. But if you sing the 7th of a chord, you’ll notice that it definitely has this yearning to fall. Try it: Play C7 followed by F, and sing the 7th (the Bb note) as you play C7. You’ll notice that the most natural way for your voice to move is downward, to the A as you play the F chord.
In traditional theory classes, students rattle off the rule like a mantra as they work on part writing: “7ths must fall.”
I mention this because it becomes especially important when you place the 7th of the chord in the bass. Consider the following progression:
F C7 F Bb C7 F
There’s nothing particularly wrong about this progression, but to be honest, there’s nothing stellar about it either. It’s quite ordinary.
But notice that the F chord makes an appearance three times in that progression: at the beginning, the middle and the end. The problem that creates becomes clearer if you think of the progression as being a musical journey. Every time you leave home (F), you try to get going somewhere, but you keep returning home. In the end, it’s not much of a musical journey.
So here’s a solution: Put the 7th of the first C7 in the bass. Since the rule is that “7ths must fall”, it means that the logical note for that 7th to move to in the middle F-chord is the A. So the progression now looks like this (remember, notes after the slash represent the bass note):
F C7/Bb F/A Bb C7 F
That once-mundane progression suddenly has a new lease on life. Moreover, it now represents a true musical journey: we hear the F at the beginning, and don’t ever get the solid sound of the root-position F chord again until the end.
This has the effect of building more energy than the first version of the progression, and there’s more of a sense of release when we hear that final F.
As I say, V7-chords are a dime-a-dozen, but V7 with the 7th in the bass (called V/4-2, for you theory nerds ;)) can create a very interesting moment and build momentum at the same time.
PURCHASE and DOWNLOAD the e-books for your laptop/desktop
NEW: Advanced Chord Progressions in HD, with sound samples, for your iPAD!