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Breaking Your Music Down To Make It Simpler!

What you should get from this technique:

After this session, you should be able to take any standard chord progression, (that you've created) and turn it into something a little more intricate and a little more interesting. Anybody (after a bit of practice) can just hammer away at a few chords, but it can sometimes be a little boring to just strum away, or bang away. Also, the problem with just banging away at a bunch of chords, is that it lacks dynamics, and can sound a little boring and repetitive. With this technique, it allows you to add more space, variety, and colour to your music.

So what do we do?

Ok, let's begin by taking a simple, random chord progression.

Let's pick Am, Em, Am, and F.

We can easily just play these chords as they come, but we want to make something a little more interesting here! Something I use a lot, and have used to very good effect, is breaking the chord down, and taking one of the notes out so you're ONLY playing two notes from the chord. I'll demonstrate how I would do it on this chord progression.

As we've already discussed, each chord is normally made using a minimum of three notes. A root (1), a 3 rd, and a 5 th. Again, we could elaborate here and make it a lot more complex, but for the purposes of this course we don't need to. Let's look at each chord in turn, and I’ll show you how I’ve broken it down (you can hear how I’ve done this on the audio that is coming soon).

Am: This chord consists of the notes A (1), C (3), and E (5). So instead of taking the whole chord, we’ll remove the 5 th, and just play the A, and the C like so:

Then we’ll take the next chord, which is the Em. The notes in the Em chord are (you should already know this by now, I hope you do), E (root), G (3 rd), and B (5 th). Again we’re going to lose the 5 th, and just play the E, and the G. Here it is again:

 

Back to the Am, however this time, we don’t want to have the same sound as the previous Am chord, because we’re trying to keep the sound varied at this point. So what are we going to do? We’re going to play an inversion (an inversion is simply a different order using the same notes) of the chord.

So we’ll use the same two notes, A, and C, however, to keep things from getting boring, this time we’ll play the C as the lower note, and the A as the higher note like so:

And now we finish on the F Major. Just for continuity, we’ll again play the root note and the third, so in this example, we’ll play the F and the A. To make it sound even more varied, we’re going to play out of the octave here, like we did in the E minor example. So the F is lower, and the A is higher.

Now if you play that, you’ll see how different it sounds to just strumming or playing full chords, and how it opens the sound up and creates more space. This is even more valuable when playing in larger groups, as full chords being hammered all the time can muddy the sound of the band/group.

Let’s have another go. This time we’re going to use the same technique, but we want as little movement as possible. We’re going to find the notes that correspond in each chord, and try and keep them going throughout the variation.

We’ll use the chord sequence D, G, C, and G. Let’s examine the chords in a little more detail.

The notes contained within a D Major chord are as follows:

D F# A

The notes contained within a G Major chord are as follows:

G B D

Notice that the D note is found in both D Major and the G Major, so we’re going to keep that note going on BOTH chords.

Now we come to the C Major and G Major chords. The notes within C Major are:

C E G

And to remind us again, in G, we have:

G B D

So this time, let’s keep the G going as in this example:

C Major:

G Major:

This time, we did it slightly differently, and used the G note on TOP instead of on the bottom. This is an easy way of making your life easier, by minimising the amount of movement you have to do on your instrument.

So by using this technique, it should now have become clear how you can take a simple (or complex) chord progression, and turn it into something with a little more space, colour, texture, and variety.

By finding which notes correspond to different chords, it makes it easy to find various positions to play in, and also means you can economise the amount of work you need to do in order to create a nice sounding sequence.

What we’ve covered:

We’ve covered taking a chord, and breaking it down to add more space to the sound. Also, taking a whole chord progression and doing the same, and even making sure we play different inversions when chords are repeated, to ensure a variety of sound (and to keep it interesting).

Exercises:

  • Take either a chord progression you know well, or one that you’ve written yourself, and A) Look at what notes correspond within each chord, and B) break it down and simplify it.
  • Do the same above exercise with a whole song, and link up all the parts to create a totally different sound, incorporating verses, choruses, and other parts. Make sure the sound is smooth, with transitions between sections that are easy on the ear.

 

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If you have any questions, please contact me on my e-mail at:

simon@how-to-write-music.com

Copyright Simon Smith 2007. All rights reserved. 


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