Music Theory, Songwriting

What Makes “La Vie En Rose” Work!
Here’s a one sheet that accompanies the video.


I hope this is helpful.  Let me know in the comments what you’d like to see more of.  Or if you’d like to be explain the working of a song you love.

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Music Theory, Songwriting

What Makes Hallelujah Awesome

I spent the last few days learning how to iMovie.  Edit, cut, insert images.   So I’m both proud of what’s below, and keenly aware that there’s room to grow. Enjoy it.  And comment to let me know what works and what doesn’t.

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Chord Stories, Fearless Challenge, Music Theory, Songwriting

Dang Good Chords

Here are two sheets I put together a dog’s age ago, with the clever titles “Dang Good Chords” and “Good Chords Fool.”* They talk about chord relationships and what chords tend to like to do, in the keys of G and C.  This is all based on “The Chord Ladder” which is an alternate perspective on Chord Stories and Circle of Fifths.

The Chord Ladder takes the letters from the Circle of Fifths and stacks them up. If you climb a step up the ladder, the tension of your chord progression increases a bit. If you descend the ladder a step, it resolves. (Climbing the ladder brings you clockwise around the circle of fifths. Descending it brings you counterclockwise around the circle). Just like with the circle of fifths the letter could represent a chord, a whole key, or simply a note. There’s a lot of info packed into these sheets. Some of it could probably be explained more clearly, but I want to share it because I think it could useful.

Each rung on the ladder has a big grey box on it—the biggest letter in represents a major chord. On the top right side of the grey box is a smaller white box. That box tells you what the relative minor of the major chord is. In the case of G its Em, for C it’s Am. (I haven’t talked about relative minors anywhere on the blog yet, but will soon).

Underneath the little white box is a letter with slash next to it. Use a chord with this note and you can create a lot of drama and tension. Like most drama, it can be confusing to explain why it happens exactly, but it has to do with Mozart’s Alarm Clock which you can read about here.

There are two sets of examples building chords with this letter. The first is probably most familiar as a D/F# chord. (It’s the one where you play D chord normally while you strangle the neck of the guitar to declare a thumb war on the sixth string and wrestle it into submission at the second fret of your guitar).  Here it is:
This chord uses the principle of Mozart’s Alarm Clock to point back to a G chord (or a G note). Here’s Lindsey Buckingham using a D/F# in Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide at 01:11, which signals the switch to the “I’ve been afraid of changing” section.  There’s one of these slash chords for every major chord. (Some are easier to play on the guitar than others).

You could use that same note as the root of a major chord, or a (dominant) seven chord to create even more tension and feeling.  Here’s John Lennon using this principle right after singing “You may say I’m a dreamer” at 00:01:38 (also 01:45 & 01:51)

Each of these things are describing a principle of what music “likes” to do. At some point soon I’ll go into more detail about all this stuff and work to make it more accessible. But there’s a Fearless Challenge Starting Sunday, so I want you to have it now.



*Clever because each is a mnemonic for the three major chords in the G and C scale, respectively, arranged by the Circle of Fifths.

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Chord Stories, Music Theory, Songwriting

Mozart’s Alarm Clock

The Wheel of Chord Story, (the circle of fifths), maps out what chords “like” to do, but it doesn’t really explain why.  

The jump of a fifth between two notes is actually pretty stable. The only jump between notes which feels more stable is the interval between two notes with the same name, G to another G for instance. What is the jump between notes with the tension to really move you? 

There’s a story that Mozart’s father had a secret to getting young Wolfie to the piano to practice. He’d tinkle out the notes of a major scale on the harpsichord: do, re, me, fa, so, la, ti and . . . wait. Supposedly Wolfgang would come running from any room in the house to complete the scale and kill the tension.   

The modest jump from ti back to do is what really moves things in music.  It’s the jump of one fret on the guitar. It’s called a half-step. The first few notes of the Jaws theme move a half-step.

The first notes strummed in Led Zeppelin’s “Rain Song” descend a half-step from do to ti.

Now, look at the notes of a G and C chords spelled out below, (G to C is an antagonist/hero pairing on The Wheel of Chord Story). Do you see Mozart’s Alarm Clock going off?  

G major: sol ti re
C major: do mi sol 

The “ti” of the G chord desperately “wants” to resolve to the “do” that is the foundation of the C chord.  (“Do” by the way is just the just another name for a C note).

Mozart’s alarm clock, (the “longing” of the final note of a scale to resolve to the root of that scale is named after), is built right into every Hero/Antagonist chord story.  If you love music, it’s probably what gets you out of bed in the morning.  

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Chord Stories, Music Theory, Songwriting

Music Shapes

Here’s experiment you can try for yourself.  Draw a circle with 12 points on it. It’ll look like a clock without numbers:

Now what is the most interesting pattern you could create to get around the circle, moving the same number of spaces each time. You could move one space at a time, which gets you all the way around the circle, but it’s kind of a boring way to do it. 

If you move by twos you create a hexagon, and you miss half the notes.  Moving by three creates a square. Fours creates a Triangle.  Both are closed loops and with a bunch of points which get missed. 

Moving by five dots at a time however, is pretty cool, you a star and you touch all the dots.  


Six is a line.  


After that it’s all repeats in reverse.  Moving by seven spaces is a again star, eight triangle, nine square, etc. 

Now name the points on the “clock” with the twelve notes from frets one to twelve frets on the guitar. Use any string you like.  I chose the low E string.  Follow the path of the star around the circle and you end up with the same pattern as the Wheel of chord Story (the circle of fifths. 


Kinda cool right?  All the other patterns of 2, 3, and 4 spaces create closed loops, (geometric shapes really), but jumps of frets five or seven allow you to touch all the points on the circle.  Of course all these jumps have names in the jargon of music theory:

Jumping of 1 dot (or fret) is a 1/2 step (or semitone)
Jumping of 2 dots (or frets) is a whole step (or whole tone)
Jumping of 3 dots (or frets) is a minor thirds
Jumping of 4 dots (or frets) is a major thirds
Jumping of 5 dots (or frets): is a perfect fourth
Jumping of 6 dots (or frets): is a tritone, augmented fourth, flat five, or diminished fifth (a lot names for a simple line, eh?)
Jumping of 7 dots (or frets): is a perfect fifth

That’s enough for now.  All of that jargon can be a little confusing and abstract to keep straight.  Looking at the shapes they create however give a nice visual reference to think about how these jumps might help you move in a scale, or piece of music.

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