Today we continue our discussion of secondary dominants with a look at the VI7 chord. Remember the magnetic tunnel progression? The power of that progression came from the fact that we were moving from the v of V to the V of I to the I (ii-V-I). That sequence can be extended to the v of ii, which is vi. Try playing vi-ii-V-I to see what I mean (in the key of C major, that’s Am-Dm-G-C).
Now that we have the V7 under our belt, we’re ready to dive into the world of secondary dominants. We’ve been imagining the harmonic landscape in terms of a home base, an immediate neighborhood, and a shadowy area just beyond. Today we’re going to enter a portal to another world: the world of chords outside the home key. BACKGROUND Recall that our home key consists of the following chords: I – ii – iii – IV – V – vi – vii°
I haven’t had much to say about lyrics on this site yet, but they obviously form a core component of songwriting. For those of you who tend to write lyrics before music, there’s some great advice available over on Nicholas Tozier’s blog Song Written, and I’ll be focusing on his article “How to Write a Melody For Any Lyric” here. I highly recommend you read the article and try experimenting with some of his ideas, whether you’re primarily a lyricist or not.
With the exception of the tricky diminished vii (which we’re ignoring for the time being), in this series so far, we’ve played around with all of the core major key chords. With these under your belt, you should be able to establish a sense of home, explore the immediate neighborhood, play with tension and release, and create depth and surprise with shifts between light and shadow. Not a bad start.
Many people I’ve talked to think of songwriting as a dark art practiced only by people with the magical ability to conjure fully formed songs from thin air. There’s a lot that’s mistaken about this, but for now I want to focus on one simple point: most people can write a song. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it’s (relatively) easy. “Songwriting isn’t easy,” you might think as you sit making random noise on the guitar or piano, “It’s impossible.
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.
In the second installment of the Light and Shadow mini-series, we’re going to develop on the idea of writing separate light and shadow parts. This time we’re going to add depth to these parts through contrast. BACKGROUND In this mini-series, we’re trying to think of songwriting on analogy to painting. Just as a painter works with light and dark shades, so are we working with major and minor chords. Sometimes painters will focus on one or the other in a composition.
Today we look at a simple method for adding complexity to your songs. We’re going to play around with the idea of polymeter. Why choose between writing a song in 4/4 or 3/4 when you can do both at once? THE EXERCISE There are many ways to write polymeters into your music, but we’ll be focusing on one simple approach in this article. This will get you started and will hopefully lead to some interesting results.
For the purposes of this series, I’ve been encouraging you to think of the major chords as light and the minor chords as shadow. There are many other ways to looks at chord progressions, but in the next few articles, we’re going to focus on this metaphor and see how it can help us in our songwriting. The interplay of light and shadow will help us create interest, contrast, depth, and surprise in our songs.
In this article, we’ll be exploring the power of the iii to shift the mood of our song. We’ll also be looking for the first time at the idea of musical phrases, questions, and answers. All of this in the form of a very simple exercise. BACKGROUND At this point, you’ve hopefully started to get a pretty solid grasp of the chords available in a single key. We have already