After a busy and sometimes exhausting week of teaching and recording projects one thing I do look forward to doing on the weekend is helping my wife prepare a home cooked meal.
Fortunately, Pippa is a wonderful cook so my job is to help gather the herbs etc., from our modest herb garden; one thing I have learned from hanging out in the kitchen is that cooking is similar to music making in that it’s all about getting the ‘right’ balance, too much of any one thing can spoil the dish … in music it’s all about getting the ‘right’ balance between tension and release.
So with that in mind I’d like to let you in on a big secret that the top players use to spice up their chord progressions and capture their listener’s attention …
Many guitarist are aware that a large number of popular songs use only a handful of standard chord progressions, the trick is to strengthen these ‘vanilla progressions’ so that they galvanize the listeners attention in such a way that the listener wraps their ears around the song and don’t want to let go.
Here’s some working examples for you to consider…
The standard 1 – 5 – 6 – 4 chord progression is used as the basic progression for songs such as …
Push – Matchbox Twenty
No Woman No Cry – Bob Marley
You’re Beautiful – James Blunt
Ignoring the fact that these songs are recorded in different keys, if we where to play all these songs in the key of “G” the basic chord progression would be …
G – D – Em – C
The three second trick … means you have to captivate the listener within the first one or two bars …
This is where it’s all won or lost, one of the keys to capturing the listeners attention is the semitone (preferably in the bass); nothing stops a listener in their tracks more than hearing a semitone.
If a semitone is planted in the music early on in the composition it’s guaranteed to get the desired effect.
How do we apply this concept to our G – D – Em – C progression?
Examine the notes contained in each chord and look for opportunities to connect the chords via using a semitone in the bass if possible.
Hence our G – D – Em – C progression could be strengthened by altering the second chord to a D/F#; by doing this we have created a semitone movement in the bass between the first chord “G” and the “F#” note (in the D/F# chord).
G – D – Em – C
G – D/F# – Em – C
Notice how the second version draws us into the music.