Monthly Archives: March 2012

SONGWRITING: the 2-chord song

Two perfect songs, 3 decades apart.

First, Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” (1977)  Fmaj7 and G major, every other bar (these two chords for 90% of the song… they added an Am in the interlude part around 2 minutes):


Then, Minipop’s “Ask Me A Question” (2007)  B major and E major, every other bar… the ENTIRE song. And it’s fucking BRILLIANT.


Sometimes, it’s all you need. The layers, the lyrics, the vocal melodies all make these songs masterpieces.





SONGWRITING: the Dominant-Tonic Relationship

No matter what style of music you like, you’ve heard the Dominant-Tonic chord change SOMEwhere in the song, especially if it’s a catchy tune.

Just what IS the Dominant-Tonic Relationship? It’s when one chord wants to move to another SO BADLY… oftentimes at the end of a song section. It’s a predictable chord change, but a necessary one. It “wraps up” the melodies that came before it and brings the chord progression back “home”.


“So, which chords?”


Ah… well, you should re-read this post (the first one I made on this blog) that talks about chords that fit together in a song.

After you read that post, let’s give a few special names to certain chords in the key of C major.


Chords in C Major

C Dm Em F G Am & Bdim. The Bdim is hardly used in pop and rock music, so we’re going to “kill” it, and just stick with the first 6 chords in the key of C: C, Dm, Em, F, G, and Am.

Classical music and blues (and ALL rock/pop music) use the following three chords the most in a progression: the I, the IV, and the V (C, F, and G, respectively).

The I chord is called the TONIC. The IV chord is called the SUB-DOMINANT. The V chord is called the DOMINANT.


See where I’m going with this?


The Dominant-Tonic Relationship is when chord V resolves to chord I. Oftentimes, chord V is the last chord of a song section (such as a chorus)…  then, chord I is the first chord of the part that follows it. So in essence, the Dominant chord (chord V) precedes the Tonic chord (chord I) to summarize the melody/idea of the song… bring the chord progression back “home”…. and most importantly, it makes your ears very happy.


Perfect examples of chord V resolving to chord I:

  • the intro of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles. It starts with a C to D sequence back and forth… then holding the D…. then FINALLY, when the verse begins, your ears are happy, and guess what… it’s chord I (the song is in G major, so naturally, G begins the verse).
  • (A lesser-known example): the fantastic song the mid-90s, “Soulmate” by No Use For A Name (one of the best melodic punk bands, ever)… the end of the chorus where he says “stuck by your side since you were born” is a chord V resolving to chord I (Eb to Ab). It happens at 35 to 37 seconds in… and also 1:11 to 1:13 “you thought that you were wrong… you were right.” And then, the very end of the bridge (and into the solo) is probably where it’s most noticeable, with the undeniable hook “What that means, you’ll never have a clue!” (1:37 to 1:39)…. Perfect punk song that drifts a little out of key here and there (adding chords that don’t belong) but also sticking to the tried-and-true I, IV, V which makes all the best melodic punk songs. All the best melodic punk songs do the V-I change…. the Dominant-Tonic Relationship… SOMEWHERE in the song (EVERY song!)
  • Colbie Caillat’s wonderfully bittersweet “Realize” also does it… from the end of the pre-chorus, to the start of the chorus is a fine Dominant-Tonic change. Capo on the 6th fret… it’s basically a D shape held for a bit… and then resolving to G when she starts singing the chorus (the actual chords are Ab to Db in that part). Happens for the first time at 47 seconds to 50 seconds:


So, to summarize… USE IT! It makes your ears happy.

SONGWRITING: Avoid watching videos by Ehow / Expert Village!

And now for something completely different….

Usually I like to be as helpful as possible, but sometimes it’s important to know what NOT to watch or study…. and Expert Village/eHow is the worst…. shit…. ever.

Seriously. How can one website or LARGE group of people collectively be idiots, when it comes to showing people how to write songs, play piano, play guitar, or record at home (or the myriad of other things they supposedly “teach”)? Expert Village is the dictionary definition of “ironic”, which is why I think they changed their name to “eHow” instead of Expert Village.

I have watched many of their videos, and the ratio of actual informative/helpful videos to utter nonsense/stupidity is pretty crazy… I think with all the videos I’ve watched of theirs since they became prominent on the internet (around 2006), one out of every 40 videos is somewhat helpful. Here are a few of the less helpful ones I’ve seen (to give you a good laugh):

This starts decently… as he explains the counting well, but then when he plays, he’s not playing in 5/4. He’s playing in 4/4!

First – his toms are set up horribly… secondly, he can’t play for shit, and third… he is trying to “adjust” something near the tambourine WITH HIS STICK……. It makes you wonder if these people are really acting… but the sad thing is, they’re not!

Awful. It helps to stay in key when you’re working melodies out, missy (that’s what the guitar is for).

His gear (Orange cabinet, the Tele, and a Taylor acoustic/electric not seen in this particular video) is a thousand times more valuable than his advice.

Mumbling, meandering… and that riff he’s showing off with to “summarize” the video is annoying and soulless. Oh, and you forgot to mention pull-offs, idiot.

So yeah…. don’t take any of the eHow/Expert Village videos seriously… AT ALL. Just watch them for a good laugh!

RECORDING: Things to remember BEFORE you record.

Some basic tips before you embark on recording a song in your home studio:

1. TUNE YOUR GUITAR. Essential. Out of tune guitars ruin all recordings… period. Sometimes you can get away with an ever-so-slightly out-of-tune guitar (like, VERY slightly… one or two strings)… but, overall, make sure this shit is in tune, for every single take or overdub.

2. LYRIC SHEET or CHORD CHART. Extremely helpful. If you have trouble memorizing your arrangement, a chord chart is quite handy. Lyric sheets are basically essential when tracking vocals. Get a music stand… a folding one is less than $20. You’ll thank me.

3. NOTES & IDEAS FOR THE SONG. Take notes if you have any vision on where you want the song to go, such as “try to put a shaker in this part” – or “tambourine hits during the chorus” or… “add a rock organ behind the guitar chords in the bridge”… or “these few lines need vocal harmonies”….. if you have the basic arrangement idea planned out fully, you never know how much adding simple things (percussion, other instruments) may enhance the song and make it even better than you thought. For a great example of how tiny things can REALLY enhance an already awesome song, see Pomplamoose on YouTube.

4. VOCAL WARM-UPS / LIGHT DIET. When you’re getting ready to track vocals, make sure you eat light throughout the day, and healthily. Never sing when you first wake up… your voice is much, much too rough and tired, even though you might be fully awake and ready. Definitely do vocal warm-ups (talk with a vocal instructor if you don’t know the proper ones to do… or search YouTube for basic exercises)… the best time to track vocals is in the evening on a weekend (Saturday night or so), when you are relaxed… first day off from working all week… totally in the right mindframe. I’ve done my best vocal recordings on weekend nights when I was fully relaxed and in the zone.

5. RELAX! Recording yourself can be a pain in the ass and very frustrating. Tripping over cables, moving your mouse everywhere, adjusting the mics, and, if you’re like me… you usually shoot video of yourself recording the songs (like Pomplamoose, Jack Conte, Lauren O’Connell, Ryan Lerman and ANY “videosong” artists do) Take deep breaths and be pro about the whole process. If you fuck up, brush it off and try another take. If you really need a break, then take one.. but don’t get yourself distracted during your break. Take a walk, stretch or play with your pet or something, but no matter what, stay focused, and be pro. Another good tip— make sure your computer/recording setup is ready to go and you have no problems with it… the smoother your computer is running, the happier you’ll be, and the better your session will go.

6. NO DISTRACTIONS. Turn off your cell phone. Disable your wireless on your laptop or whichever computer you use to access the internet (I don’t have my main recording computer online at all, because I don’t want viruses or anything). Close your email program and make sure no one is planning on “just dropping by to say hi”… focus, focus, focus. Get in the mindset… put the headphones on, and just go. You’ll be surprised at how much shit you can actually GET DONE, when you put the headphones on and do it… and eliminate all the distractions beforehand.