Mar 16, 2014
Hey guys, Sean Bodley here with my new column aimed at giving you some advice, helping you to explore your playing, but most of all to have fun! Lets begin this month with some fundamentals – basic, but extremely important. A little note before we begin though – my guitars are tuned to Eb, if you want to play along \m/
We all learn them, we all play them but what are they? Well ﬁrst lets start off by saying that we will relate everything in this article to the C Major scale… no sharps, no ﬂats so its a little less confusing.
C Major is a scale consisting of the following notes:
C D E F G A B C
Now if we take the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes in order we create the chord we all know as C Major. Easy – just C E G. Try it out, play a C Major chord and check all the strings you are playing, each note will either be a C, E or a G. Now, if we ﬂatten the 3rd note from E to Eb, we change the chord to C minor. So that one little change has a drastic impact on the sound of the chord, and now we know the formula for making any Major and Minor chord based on its most basic components. 1 3 5 for Major and 1 b3 5 for Minor.
Lets apply this to a new scale, say A Major. The notes are:
A B C# D E F# G# A
Using the formula above, we can now make A Major and A minor, which would be A C# E and A C E respectively. Check it with the A Major and A Minor chords you know.
Ok, lets get back to the C scale. We can make chords based off every degree in the scale so that we can write a song ‘in the key of C Major’ – don’t worry, that’s not as daunting as it sounds!
All we have to do is apply the following pattern:
Major – Minor – Minor – Major – Major – Minor – Diminished – Major
If we do this, we end up with the following chords:
C Major – D minor – E minor – F Major – G Major – A minor – B Diminished – C Major
Now we’re getting somewhere! Ever heard musicians use the phrase a ‘I – IV – V’ progression? Well it means taking the 1st, 4th and 5th chords above and making a chord progression from it. Let’s give that a crack. Refer to the list up above, pluck out the 1st, 4th and 5th chords and you get:
C Major – F Major – G Major
Here’s the ﬁrst audio example of these chords being used:
Ok, so we have a chord progression. Now the REAL fun begins – those three chords have probably been used a million times over, so how can we spice up these chords a little?
Remember our formula for the chords above? Let’s put it to good use.
First, we’ll add a bass guitar to the song.
Let’s have the bass play the root note, while the guitar plays the 3rd and 5th (so, for a C Major, the bass plays the C while the guitar plays E and G, and so on for each chord in the progression). Check it out, this time with some overdrive on the guitars.
So immediately, we have created a new layering of the notes which give the chord progression more depth.
Now with modern technology, its easy to add software instruments to your recordings to give them even more depth and texture – so let’s see how it works out! I’m going to add a cello, viola and violin each playing one of the notes of the chords each. Check it out:
All of a sudden, it’s no longer merely a simple chord progression – it’s MUSIC!
Take away these ideas and apply them to your compositions, or if you happen to play in a band with a bass player, keyboardist or 2nd guitarist, try splitting the chords up the way we did here, and sharing them round the other players. It could add some interesting layers to your songs, help to ‘thicken’ up your sound and create new sonic textures!!
Texture + Melody
So before, it was feeling much more like a piece of music and less like a simple 3 chord progression. What’s the last thing we need? A melody line! Here’s the whole thing with a little lead thrown in….
Hope you liked my approach to constructing chord progressions and developing textures and layers in your compositions! Catch you all next time!
Ed – thanks heaps Sean! Everyone else, don’t forget to check out Sean’s music page, and here’s a cool teaser from his new release: