Category Archives: chord progressions
I played a big part in developing and popularizing this cool MIDI-based software, that allows you to quickly do a lot of cool MIDI stuff. I last talked about it a few years ago, as there was a big update to version 2.5. Now, RC has been updated to version 3.1, with a new user interface, and many more features. I invite all of you (especially those of you who love MIDI composition) to check out the demo. It’s worth your time.
A little history:
RapidComposer was created by Attila Mezei, a Hungarian software developer. When RapidComposer began, it had a very rough start, because it crashed so much. But I discovered it, and saw its potential, so I emailed Attila, and offered to help him work a lot of the bugs out, and do a tutorial series on it, as well as help him develop phrases and new soundfonts which I created from scratch. I did all of this for version 2.5, and in exchange, Attila gave me a license for the full version of the software. RC 3.0 was released in spring 2016, and offered a lot more than 2.5.
Six years after RC debuted, its fanbase grew exponentially, and I am really happy for Mr. Mezei. He truly has created something amazing that no other software developer has done yet, and with so many features.
Check out some of the videos created by a very helpful member named “Yellukhan”:
Now, this guy uses RapidComposer, but with realistic virtual instruments from Kontakt and such… the built-in sounds when you download RapidComposer are soundfonts (created by Attila, and myself). They may not be very realistic, as you get the best sounds when RapidComposer is controlling virtual instruments such as Omnisphere, EZKeys, or any realistic Kontakt library (found in Native Instruments’ “KOMPLETE” series). But it’s pretty impressive, what RapidComposer can do… if you take the time with it. So again, check it out and let me know what you think! Comment below… especially if you’re a MIDI geek!
1. Get it done. Don’t make everything perfect.
Write all the time, and stop striving to reinvent the wheel. You’ll never write “In My Life” or “Fix You”. Neither will I. They’ve already been written. Just write. A lot. Daily. Slow and fast songs. Silly stupid songs. Serious ones. Get it done, and stop giving a damn what people think.
2. Get opinions from those you care about.
You made a 5-song digital EP? Awesome. Check in with friends. Send mp3s via email. “What do you think of the EP? Which song is your favorite? Am I onto something, here?”
Low-sung verses. Higher-sung choruses. Slow guitar strums with a fast beat. Or the opposite. Piano songs. Acoustic songs. Mix it up. Maybe a song entirely with bass guitar, sax, and drums (the band Morphine made a career of a similar sound).
4. Forget what you know.
Know a lot about music theory? Who cares? Forget about it, when you write. Detune your guitar into some weird altered tuning so you are forced to try new shapes with your fingers. Go into a sound in your keyboard that makes little sense. Don’t always run to the grand piano preset. Throw an effect pedal in between your keyboard and computer, and see what comes about. Experiment with a loop pedal. Take chances!
5. “I’m not as good as…”
Never compare yourself to others. Friends of mine are insanely talented. INSANELY. Their keyboard skills make me want to quit playing keys. Their singing voices are insanely trained. So what? I am not a trained singer, but I can sing, and harmonize. I can play basic piano stuff, but I cannot play difficult passages or songs. I can’t shred a blues solo, and my fingerpicking is capable, but nothing spectacular. Doesn’t matter. I focus on my strengths. Do the same for yourself.
6. Focus on the end result, the goal, the reason you do this.
Stop dissecting every step along the way when you’re writing and recording. “Too much string noise when my finger scraped the strings, there”… or “my voice cracked a little, in that part”…. “my harmony sounds a little weird, but ok…” Who cares?! Roll with it. Then listen to the song when it’s done, then make new decisions and choices. I wrote a song years ago. Recorded it in late 2014. It was cool, but I decided I hated it when listening to it again, last week. I changed the keyboard parts, and sped up the song while retaining the same key (thank you, computers). Now I love the song, and it’s infinitely better. Took two years to tweak it. Needed to give it a rest… listen, and then all the “here’s how I need to change it” brainstorming came out, within one listen of the song. I’ll release it soon… hopefully. End goal, right?
7. Be YOU.
Be yourself. Always. Stop singing like John Mayer or Ben Howard. Sing like YOU. I taught myself to sing listening to Green Day, Third Eye Blind, Ben Lee and Jimmy Eat World a lot in the late 90s. My voice is similar to theirs, and I love that. My songwriting style is similar, in some ways, too. It’s simple. It sounds like me. I can’t do Sigur Ros, and I can’t do Jason Mraz. I can’t do Bon Iver unless I’m playing with my vocal harmonizer pedal and lots of reverb. I fuck around, and roll with whatever sounds good to me. I love so many singers (and TONS of female singers, too) but I can’t do them. I can only do me.
8. Minimalist. Simplicity.
I saw an acoustic singer-songwriter a month ago. Too many fancy chords, rhythms, fancy-pants nonsense. His shit was forgettable. Then a few days later, I saw another dude. Lots of G and Cadd9 chords with a capo. His lyrics, delivery, and vibe of the song spoke to me way more intensely than the first guy.
Matthew Sweet wrote “Sick Of Myself” in 10 minutes. He thought it was a stupid song. Turned out to be one of his biggest hits, and he never regretted putting it on his 1995 album, “100% Fun.”
Jason Mraz… most of his really easy shit… A Beautiful Mess, I Won’t Give Up… SIMPLE AS HELL. And perfect. John Mayer’s “Gravity”? NO ONE CAN ARGUE HOW FUCKIN’ GREAT THAT SONG IS. Simple, and perfect. People like shit that they can just vibe to. They don’t need masturbatory musicianship. They want something that speaks to their souls. Make music like that, and change the world.
I can do shit solo. And often do. But I also come up with some great shit, working with people. Don’t be afraid to. It’s important.
10. Rest. Think. Watch TV. Read. Kill it, but chill, too.
Rest. Rest. Rest. REST. Stop working so hard. Hell, just yesterday, I killed it with my friend Mike. We tracked three new hip-hop songs to beats we threw together in a few hours. We shot a video session for YouTube. We shot video as he tracked vocals, so we can have material for YouTube. We ate food and talked about nutrition and working out. We took a break and hung out. But in 8 hours, we did a LOT, and killed it. Today, I plan on doing the same. But first, I needed four hours to chill, blog, and help all of YOU. Then I’m going to hit the studio hard and work on shit. It’s 5pm. I have til about midnight. I’ll get it all done, and I’ll take a break in between. Don’t forget to fucking REST. Seriously. Ok? Cool. Get to work. Or chill.
Have a tip to share? COMMENT!!! 🙂
Something that everyone who plays piano should work on improving is their left hand, especially when it comes to songwriting and pop accompaniment.
This page has a handful of great exercises to help people with pattern improvisation. Well worth a look, whether you read sheet music or not… if you don’t, just listen to the audio examples…. but it’s really helpful if you read music, though.
I’ve been so busy, so I apologize for not updating this blog as much as I used to… more good stuff coming soon…
Can’t remember if I wrote about this or not, but this is one of the most simple ways to extend the life of a progression, and help you finish a song faster. It’s called “telescoping.”
All it means is this— if you have a chord progression that’s one chord per bar for your verse, you can use this same chord progression for the chorus, but play each chord every two bars. Or four.
Am / / / – F / / / – C / / / – G / / / for the verse
Am / / / – / / / / – F / / / – / / / / – C / / / – / / / / – G / / / – / / / /
It’s easy, and it works. As long as the chorus vocals are entirely different from the verse, most people won’t know you recycled the same progression. It’s been done a million times, from top 40 music to the most obscure, lo-fi indie. How do I know? I study songs all the time, and I can learn chord progressions in seconds (oftentimes without even picking up an instrument).
The term “telescoping” comes from Rikky Rooksby, author of a handful of great songwriting books (I’ve mentioned them in this blog before).
Keep writing, and STAY CREATIVE AS ALWAYS.
I had a lesson with one of my students Zoe, who is exceptionally talented, intelligent, and cool. She’s been writing songs as long as she can remember, and asked me how to vary her latest song, as she wanted to get out of the rut she was in. So I wrote down a few things for her and demonstrated each thing… and then I photocopied the page, because I knew what I wrote down was pretty helpful.
Here it is:
1. Chord Substitution with complimentary chords
if you have a progression with Am, try FM7 instead, on the second pass (all of the notes from Am, plus F)
2. Chord substitution with out-of-key chords
If you have a progression with Am, try A or even B7, instead
3. “Walk-ups” or “walk-downs”
C, to G/B, to Am (think Landslide by Fleetwood Mac) or G, D/F#, Em
4. Chords higher up on the neck
Think triads, or open chords beyond fret 12
5. Repeated motif over the chord progression
You’ll need recording software for this… or a 2nd person. Have the 2nd person/track just arpeggiate a complimentary triad over your chord sequence. Easiest way to add texture to a song, and give it an extra boost of cool.
6. Changing the chords more frequently
This was Elliott Smith’s go-to thing, especially if it’s “much more frequently.” Almost all of his songs have a chord change every two beats, and sometimes even every beat, or every other word. Difficult to develop, but can really add sophistication to a song.
7. Adding a well-placed “gross” chord
Such as diminished, augmented, m7b5, or something completely unrelated (or hell, even just a simple dominant 7, if you avoid them in 99% of your songs).
8. Stay on a chord longer, but keep the same progression
Say your progression is Am / F / C / G. And each chord plays for a bar. Try staying on the Am for three bars, and then change to F / C / G on each beat of the 4th bar, and staying on G for an extra bar or something). This is a great technique.
9. Play the progression as triads, instead of open chords
Simple, but could be exactly what the song needs.
10. On the third line of your chorus, make an entirely different progression
Again, say your chorus is Am / F / C / G…. maybe on the 3rd line, use this progression instead: FM7 / FM7 / Cadd9 / Em7
Go write! And something I don’t say enough (or practice enough) that was coined by my good friend Mike “Wolf” Benson– “STAY CREATIVE AS ALWAYS!”
an experimental hip-hop album Mike and I released in 2013 (I did all the music/production… Mike is the vocalist/lyricist):
I’ve been heavily into the art and craft of songwriting since about 2003. The books I’ve found the most useful, and worth the money, are:
- Rikky Rooksby: How To Write Songs On Guitar (this is the best, hands-down)
- Rikky Rooksby: How To Write Songs On Keyboards (not as good, but still good)
- Rikky Rooksby: The Songwriting Sourcebook (a bit confusing at times, if you don’t know basic music theory, but a wealth of information/chord progressions/styles… amazing)
- Jimmy Kachulis: Songwriter’s Workshop: Melody (essential study guide… interactive!)
- Jimmy Kachulis: Songwriter’s Workshop: Harmony (essential, just as the first book… again, just as interactive)
- Michael Miller: Complete Idiot’s Guide To Music Theory, 2nd Edition (awesome and very easy to understand)
- Michael Miller: Complete Idiot’s Guide To Music Composition (very informative and fun to use/read)
- Robin A. Frederick: Shortcuts To Hit Songwriting (kind of expensive, and geared toward top 40 writing, but… LOTS of great tips… for chords, melodies, hooks, etc. Excellent book and the only of its kind).
Sorry for the late post, for those of you looking for holiday gift ideas… but, hopefully you give these a shot… either as a holiday gift or any time of year. Worth it, all of them!
Happy holidays, folks!
Everyone’s gotta learn their bar chords, without a doubt. They are essential, especially the shapes for F (which is also the shape of Bm), and B (which comes from the open A shape).
However, if you’re dead-set on not using bar chords (again, NOT recommended)…. try this…
key of C:
F is the only bar chord, but you can play it in triad form, on the top 3 treble strings (xxx211), or the top 4… xx3211)
key of G:
Bm is the only bar chord here, but you can also play it in triad form, on the top 3 treble strings (xxx432), or the top 4… xx4432)
key of C– use a capo with the “key of G shapes” (and avoiding the Bm shape entirely, thus ignoring chord iii, which isn’t always necessary in most chord progressions)
capo position: 5th
G shape– chord I (C)
Am shape– chord ii (Dm)
C shape– chord IV (F)
D shape– chord V (G)
Em shape– chord vi (Am)
key of G– use a capo with the “key of C shapes” (and avoiding the F shape entirely)
capo position: 7th
C shape– chord I (G)
Dm shape– chord ii (Am)
Em shape– chord iii (Bm)
D triad shape at the 12th fret (xxx12_13_12 — actual frets)– chord IV (C) or use F triad shape (xxx211 – frets relative to capo)
G shape– chord V (D)
Am shape– chord vi (Em)
using a capo in the key of E (without ever having to play a bar chord for the B chord, and including chord iii and chord vi, as triad forms)
capo position- 2nd
D shape– chord I (E)
Em shape– chord II (F#m)
minor triad shape (xxx222)– chord iii (G#m)
G shape– chord IV (A)
A shape– chord V (B)
minor triad shape (xxx432)– chord vi (C#m)
alternate key of E
capo- NOT USED
E shape– chord I (E)
minor triad shape (xxx222)– chord ii (F#m)
minor triad shape (xxx444)– chord iii (G#m)
A shape– chord IV (A)
major triad shape (xx444x)– chord V (B)
minor triad shape (xxx654)– chord vi (C#m)
Hope you guys and girls find this helpful…. especially for you beginners out there, eager to write songs. However, don’t neglect your bar chords! This is just a useful tool to pull out every now and then, when you’re feeling lazy or when your fingers hurt.
So I just did a lesson with a younger student who was absolutely dying to learn how to play “Let It Go”, from the Disney movie Frozen. Sung (and I guess played) by Idina Menzel (“Maureen” from RENT, and also the main girl in Wicked)…. immediately, I noticed the 6-4-1-5 progression in the key of Ab (F minor)….. but, with a slight twist in the very beginning…
The progression is 6-4-5…. with a II chord that feels/sounds like a Bsus4 to Bbm in bar 4.
Without getting too technical… my god, is this song catchy. It’s because of that insane 6-4-1-5 progression (in the chorus… as I – V – vi – IV), that has driven hit songs for over 50 years. Use it if you haven’t. I’ve found that this progression helps one come up with vocal melodies/lyrics almost instantly… it’s the magic of this progression, or ANY order you play it in:
vi – IV – I – V (Apologize by OneRepublic, this song’s chorus, and at least 947 other top 100 songs from the last ten years)
I – V – vi – IV (Let It Be by the Beatles, and every song The Axis of Awesome plays in the “Four Chord Song” YouTube video)
It’s overplayed, but it still rules the world.
Stumbled upon this while teaching one of my piano students this wonderful song– definitely worth a read.
Hi guys, I wanted to talk about a program I’ve helped improve over the last six months– RapidComposer by http://www.MusicDevelopments.com (a Hungarian company). I discovered it about a year and a half ago.
I work closely with the developer, in working out bugs, suggesting features and functionality improvements, and music theory consultation (the developer has no music experience, but wanted to create a program that helps users compose MIDI music insanely fast). I also re-wrote the 22-page manual from scratch (with new screenshots, etc). It’s now close to 70 pages.
We (and I use this term respectfully, as I feel like I’ve become a member of MusicDevelopments, because of how closely I’ve worked with the guy who conceived the program) are coming out with a major update to the program, on November 18th. 99% of the bugs/potential crashes have been worked out of the program, and many, many useful, fun features have been added.
I also do video tutorials for the program, and as of this writing (November 6th, 2013), I finished 11 videos. You can check them all out at my YouTube channel. Here’s a direct link to the Tutorial playlist:
There are a few more tutorial videos coming out (more about the Idea Tool, Phrase/Track Variations, RC as a plugin inside your DAW, and Drag-N-Drop functionality).
The developer and I feel that this program is insanely powerful, innovative, groundbreaking, etc. No other program out there works with midi phrases/motifs that conform to chords and harmony, in such a fast way. One program works similarly: “Synfire Pro” by Cognitone (which many have said is incredibly overpriced for what it does). I was one of the first paying customers of Cognitone software (I bought Harmony Navigator 1.0 back in 2007), and I never really found that program as useful or as fun/fast to use as RapidComposer. (And on a personal note, Cognitone has never really been that friendly, regarding questions about or problems with the program.)
So I am proud to be a part of MusicDevelopments and help the tiny company get out there, more. This software deserves to be a a go-to tool for electronic music producers, songwriters, and studio nerds. Additionally, you could use RC without having any keyboard-playing experience at all… in fact, we feel that it can be easily utilized by people who may be physically-restricted due to hand/wrist injuries, aging, or partial paralysis, who may love the very essence of music, composing, MIDI, etc… but never were able to put anything together, until now. In my tutorial videos, I throw together cool music ideas with just one hand- using my mouse, and hitting keystrokes to insert Phrases, never touching a MIDI keyboard at all. So again, not only is this program extremely powerful, but it is unique and can be used by all types of people, regardless of musical experience.
So do me a favor, and check out the major update on November 18th… you can download the demo for free (though the demo does not include the Idea Tool, or the new, awesome Melody Generator).
Thanks for following my blog, and especially, thanks for checking out RapidComposer!