Piano - Songwriting

Giving Your Song a New Identity

Have you ever written one of those songs that just doesn’t work, no matter what you seem to do to it? Of course, the most common solution is to put it aside, maybe forget about it, and get on with your next one.

Before you give up entirely on that song that isn’t measuring up, here’s something you can try: Give your song an entirely new identity by switching modes. Here’s how that works.

Let’s say that you’re song is primarily in a major key, with a chorus progression something like:

C  F  Dm  G  Am  F  Am  G

As you play it through, it’s obvious that C is the tonic (key) chord. Songs in a major key tend to exhibit a particular mood. Depending on the lyrics, it’s easy to think of major key music as happy, optimistic, or in some way generally positive.

To find other possible moods, try switching from major to minor. There are several ways to do this, but let’s start by simply assuming that we’re in the key of C minor, and using the equivalent chords we would find in that key.

In C major, the 7 chords naturally existing in that key are: I: C| ii:Dm| iii: Em| IV: F| V: G| vi: Am| and vii: Bdim.

In C minor, those chords are: i: Cm| ii: Ddim| III: Eb| iv: Fm| V: G (or Gm)| VI: Ab| and VII: Bb.

That would make your progression:

Cm  Fm  Ddim  G  Ab  Fm  Ab  G


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When you change the quality of the chords from major to minor, this might also change your melody, so you’ll need to sing through your tune to make sure it’s fitting with the new chords.

As you can hear, the entire mood of the music changes when you switch from major to minor.

Good songs are a partnership between all the many song elements that work together to form a song. Key, tempo, lyrics, melodic shape, chord progressions, rhythm, production — they all play a role in defining the overall success of a song.

You may spend a fair bit of time changing tempo, developing a different backing rhythm, changing the melodies or lyrics… but the one thing we often don’t change is the major or minor quality of the music. We often see that as a change that might be a bit too radical.

But for those songs that just don’t seem to work, a radical change might be what’s needed. And it’s not difficult. To summarize what you need to do to make this kind of change work, simply write out your chord progression, work out the Roman numerals for those chords, and then switch them for the minor key equivalents.

If your song was originally in minor, simply make the switch to major.

Once you’ve done that, you might find that others song elements such as tempo, time signature, and backing rhythmic feel, might need to be experimented with as well. But making that switch in mode might be the thing that opens the floodgates and gets you thinking creatively about that song that just wasn’t working.

Good luck!


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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  1. Pingback: Giving Your Song a New Identity - The Hit Songwriting Formula | The Hit Songwriting Formula

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