Songwriting basics and tips 10: Shifting Foundations …

Hanging around … 

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Bob Leslie is an Independent Scottish Songwriter, Singer, and Recording Artist

We’ve looked at various ways of incorporating key changes into songs. The main idea behind changing key in those ways is to give us a wider palette of notes to play with when generating a melody. 

However, one of those methods – using essentially the same melody over the relative minor chords – might be described as the reverse process.

We made the melody sound more interesting by changing the chords under it.

Now let’s look at a variation on that idea: suspending a note over two or more chords which contain that note without worrying so much about strictly sticking to the key.

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Lush and Latin … 

The best example of that has to be One Note Samba

The song starts with a pattern that descends a semitone at a time alternating minor and major chords. Those chords are
 Bbm7, A7, Abm7, and G7 –
all with a Db (the “one note”) held over the top of all of them.

This means that the chords are, in reality,  
Bbm7A7Abm7sus4, and G7(b5).
The verse does this twice.

Then the “one note” jumps up a 4th to Gb. The chords also jump a 4th, giving 
Ebm7D7Dbm7, and C7

When we add in the Gb, we get 
Ebm7D7Dbm7sus4, and C7(b5).

Finally, the verse repeats the  
Bbm7A7Abm7sus4, and G7(b5) 
and finishes on Gb.

The bridge moves through chords that are basically in the cycle of fifths (B>E>A>D>G) but, again, putting in some unexpected minors and complex chords, with a semitone slide up and back down again to finish. This gives us

Bm7E9Amaj7
Am7D9Gmaj7
Abm7b5G7(#11).

Then the verse starts again.

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Running hard to stand still …

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is run.gifOne Note Samba uses some pretty complex chords, and its jazzy bossa nova sound might not suit your style of music, so let’s look at a few progressions that you might find more applicable.

Let’s say you’re in the key of G. You’ve written a line that ends on a D note and a D chord. You want to repeat that line, then change the whole thing up by using a different chord. 

If you use a Bb chord, that would then give you a number of choices:

  • move back to D
  • change key to one that uses the Bb chord, e.g. FBb itself, Eb, or Gm
  • slide down to A then modulate back to G via a D or D7 chord
  • move to yet another chord that uses D

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The choice is yours …

Bb isn’t your only choice for a D note. Here’s a list of some other chords that contain a D:

Gm
Asus4
Bm
C9
Cm9
Ebmaj7
E7
Em7
F6
Fm6
Fdim7
F#aug

Each one of those chords gives you different possibilities for a smooth key change, e.g. Ebmaj7 could lead on to AbC9 could lead on to FFm6 could lead on to Bbm.

Theoretically, you could write your own “one note” song by using all of those chords!

Try them all out, and see if any of those changes inspire you – songwriting is all about getting into something that will kick-start your imagination!

Next, work out how many chords you can play over any note other than D,  and try putting together a few chord progressions that incorporate these kinds of changes and work out a melody line to go over the top of them. If the melody sounds fine over the chords, and it’s got something about it that’s a bit different to what you usually do, count that as a success! winker

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Next time, we’ll look at “echoing” melody within the instrumentation, and strengthening the melodic aspects generally. See you then!

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Bob Leslie – Scottish – Traditional – Songwriter

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