Light and Shadow Part 3: Reversing the Polarity of a Chord Progression

In the third installment of the Light and Shadow mini-series, we look at a strange technique that will ensure contrast between two parts of your song. This may take a little tweaking, but it’s sure to bring about surprising results.

THE EXERCISE
So far, we’ve looked at two ways to work with light and shadow in our songwriting. First, we contrasted an all-light section with an all-shadow section. Then, we added depths to a single section by adding a light chord to shadow chords and a shadow chord to light chords. Now, we are going to create a “negative” of our chord progression by reversing light and shadow from one section to another.

This exercise is simple to explain, but a little tricky to implement. So let’s start by getting our hands dirty and then worry about working out the kinks.

Start by coming up with a chord progression mixing major and minor chords. You can use one you’ve written for another exercise (such as the last one), or just write something new. Use at least four chords. This is your first part.

Now play the “negative” of this: reverse the polarity of every chord. Major becomes minor; minor becomes major; light becomes shadow; shadow becomes light. This is your second part.

You have at least two options for the melody, and I recommend you try both. First, try to write a unique melody for the second part to stress the contrast. This could serve as a chorus or a bridge.

Second, try to write a similar melody. This will prove to be a challenge because of the new chord relationships, but it just might produce something interesting. You could treat it as a continuation of your verse. There’s no reason why a verse always has to be simple!

HELP! THIS JUST SOUNDS RANDOM!
If you’re lucky, you’ll immediately hit on an interesting change and come up with a great new part. But you might find that the change just sounds random or ugly. If this is true, then just use the reverse polarity chord progression as a starting point.

Try to sculpt it into something that fits better with your original part. The more you play around with it, the more ideas you’ll discover. And there’s a good chance you’ll come up with something you wouldn’t have written otherwise.

Once you’ve transformed light into shadow and shadow into light on your own song, submit it to the site to surprise and delight the rest of us.

Next: Secondary Dominants: Introducing the Seventh Chord

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John

John Thomas Mumm has been writing and studying music since 1997. He has recorded hundreds of songs and five self-produced albums. His day job is as an academic philosopher, and in his spare time he writes fiction and brews beer. Most recently, he's started studying the fine art of the cocktail. So far he's finding that the principles of balance in drink mixing aren't completely unrelated to the principles of balance in songwriting.

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