The three major chords in a scale are amazing. I feel like I overlook them sometimes. I want to do more than write just another three chord song. But a solid melody and three chords is more than enough to write a great song.
This week’s musical idea is taking a look at a connection between the three major chords and the scale they come from, which is that those three chords together hold all the notes of the major scale. That means any melody that sticks to a major scale could be harmonize with just those three chords.
I was blown away the first time I heard that. I still kind of am.
A few days ago, I was checking out Jake Lizzio’s video (from Signals Music Studio) looking at the chord progression of Bruno Mars’s “When I Was Your Man.” It’s a cool video, and the song has some great changes to explore. And like pretty much all music theory, it can be a little intimidating if you don’t know the jargon. The cool thing is, BEAD Guides Chord Flow can show the principles guiding the song, no jargon needed.
Today is Halloween. This week, I figured I’d share something scary–or at least potentially spooky–and focus in on chords in a minor scale. Not merely a minor scale, but the A minor scale and how to find the chords in it, and play around with them.
Minor scales are notoriously unstable, and there are lots of different ways for a scale to be minor, while there is basically only one major scale. The plus side of the variety and instability of minor scales is that tons of different chords and substitutions will sound “good” in minor scales. (The definition of good here is dependent entirely on the amount of dissonance you can bear).
I’ve included a worksheet below so you can create lots of different progressions and see what they sound like.
Some songs I hear for the first time and I’m just floored. “You Are Not Alone,” performed by Mavis Staples is one of those songs. The lyric is simple, but deep. The chords and melody, likewise are pretty straight forward. But there are some kinks.
Watch for the moment about 30 seconds in, right after the line “What’s that song . . . “ where Jeff Tweedy extends the song a measure on the Em and Mavis has to stop herself from singing the next line, because it’s what a person would expect to happen. That moment of space and melancholy fits the song perfectly. Could adding space, (or taking it away), help a song of yours? The only way to fing out is to try. Here’s the video:
Sometimes things can be virtually the same, even though they look pretty different. That’s the case with the C and G chords on the guitar. They are built in the same way, but use different notes. Also, their fingering on the fretboard appears pretty different because of the how the guitar is tuned.
This week, why not play around with just the G and C chord in a song?
What happens if you only use two chords, G & C major, in a song anyway? Some thoughts that may or may not be useful to you if you decide to use just these two chords:
1) There are five notes in these two chords. C, E G, B, and D, which are Do, Mi, Sol, Ti, and Re, in Solfege.
2) These two chords share only one note, G, or Sol.
What happens when you use a note in the melody that’s in the chord, what about one that isn’t?
What happens when you use a note that isn’t in either chord, but is in a scale the chords share? (This might be F, or A (Fa or La) in the key of C. (In the key of G, the notes would be A or F#, (La or Fi in solfege)
Stretching things a bit further—what if you were to write a melody in the the relative minor of one of these chord (Am for C, or Em for G)
These are all just questions and experiments. If you like, work with one that feels comfortable to you. Simply playing around with only two chords could be plenty.