Songwriting SOS

Recently I was getting ready for a trip to Japan and was looking for something to read on the plane. After failing to find anything interesting at the local bookstore, I decided to go through what I already had at home. I ended up grabbing this issue of Sound on Sound from 2011 and I am glad that I did.

In it there is a brilliant article about music theory as it relates to songwriting/production. Here are some of the highlights for me:

• Try using chords from the relative minor/major
• Try using chords from the parallel key (e.g. move from chords in C major to chords in C minor)
• Temporarily switch to harmonic minor
• Use modes as different starting points. E.g. A Dorian where the A Minor chord becomes the i chord and everything is built on the notes from A Dorian (#6)
• Inversions – try different chord voicings, try voice leading as you move from chord to chord
• Schoenberg’s “chart of the regions”/parallel major/minor keys and closely related keys

• Key change to a semitone above while on the V chord
• Adding a new bass note below a triad to create an extended chord, e.g. Ab/F to make F minor 7
• Change the harmonic function of a chord. E.g. Am could be the root of Am or chord ii in G or it could be chord iii in F (see chord wheel for options)
• Modulate up a Semitone
• Can go to any parallel key for any chord in the progression
• Shared notes – e.g. sustain a note, “A”, as you switch other notes from other chords (Ace, dfA, fAc, etc)
• Play the pentatonic scale of the IV chord against the I chord. E.g. E Major Pent against A Major or F Major Pent against a progression in C Dorian

Thanks to Kate Ockenden and Sound On Sound for the great article!