Songwriting 101: Lovedrug

Today I’ll be going over a song I wrote a couple years ago titled Lovedrug. This particular piece is a great example of how simplicity in songwriting can be effective. It uses the popular I, IV, V, vi chords which I previously discussed here. If you haven’t already, I recommend reading that article first in order to get a better understanding of chord relationships and why these chords work so well together. Let’s jump right in!

Lovedrug is in D# Major and is divided into two main sections using the following chords:

Verse: D# Major (I) – A# Major (V) – C Minor (vi) – G# Major (IV)

Chorus: D# Major (I) – C Minor (vi)

These chords can be very tricky to play on guitar, but there’s something we can do to make it more straightforward. We can place a capo on the 8th fret which allows us to play these chords in the open position. This makes the song easier to play because it allows us to use basic chord shapes. In practice, you could then use the following shapes:

Verse: G Major – D Major – E Minor – C Major

Chorus: G Major – E Minor

For those that are unfamiliar, these shapes look like this:

chordprogression2

 

 

 

Something to note is that we can easily transcribe songs to a different key while still using these same chord shapes by simply moving the capo up or down the neck. The reason I chose to use the key of D# Major (8th fret capo) for this particular song was because it was the best fit for my vocals. It’s often a good practice to experiment with your songs in different keys. While inexperienced singers may be limited with the keys they can use, it can provide a great deal of flexibility and even new ideas for how singers can perform the melody.  For Lovedrug I also experimented with using G Major and A# Major throughout the songwriting process.

Next let’s look at the song structure. I would categorize this song as ABABCBBC. Looking at each letter: A represents the verse, B represents the chorus, and C represents the bridge. My favorite part of Lovedrug was the chorus because the melody was particularly catchy, and therefore I wanted to emphasize this part of the song. To do this, I simply made it the most prominent part by repeating it four times in total. The only difference between the bridge and the verse is that the bridge uses a guitar riff instead of the verse melody.

Finally let’s take a look at the lyrics and melody:

I love to watch you squirm
Every time you lie
Feel the way it hurts

You get me high then you bring me down
Don’t know why I ever stick around
Hate to say, hate to say it now
Just a drug, just a drug, just a drug to me

Why did the fire die?
I want to watch it burn
Every single time

You get me high then you bring me down
Don’t know why I ever stick around
Hate to say, hate to say it now
Just a drug, just a drug, just a drug to me

The song is about an addiction to an unhealthy relationship. It highlights how we irrationally glorify the honeymoon phase with a partner and use it to justify lies and bad behavior. The lyrics are simple and easy to understand, but often times that’s exactly what a song needs to demonstrate its message clearly. I think I can accomplished that with this song.

For the melody I started with the simple idea of walking up a scale for the word “high” and walking down the same scale for the word “down.” After trying several variations I finally came up with the one I liked most. From there, I made several iterations of it and eventually picked one that ended up being the verse melody. Melody writing is often just coming up with 20 different ways to sing a single word- and then ultimately picking your favorite and expanding it.

Well that about wraps up Lovedrug. If you take anything away from this lesson I hope it’s that simplicity can do wonders with the right touch. It’s something you should always consider during the songwriting process because you may regretfully add too much. Thanks for reading.

The Power of 4 Chords

If you haven’t already, watch the video above. Odd isn’t it? How can 4 chords create so many different songs? What are these magical four chords and how do they work?

Before we can answer those questions, we need to have a basic understanding of music theory. In western music there are a total of 12 notes. These notes have intervals of half steps and together form the Chromatic scale. After the twelve notes the pattern repeats:

Beginning with the chromatic scale, we can then derive other scale formulas. The two most popular being the major scale and the natural minor scale. These scales are defined by a pattern of whole steps [W] and half steps [H]. Whole steps are simply two half steps. Both of these scales consist of 7 of the 12 total notes and begins with a root note [R].

Major Scale: R, W, W, H, W, W, W, H

Natural Minor Scale: R, W, H, W, W, H, W, W

Now let’s look at these scales in practice. For example, C Major Scale and A Minor Scale:

C Major Scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C

A Minor Scale: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A

For the purpose of this exercise, I’ve purposefully chosen two scales that don’t use any sharps or flats, however, you may apply major and minor scales to any of the other notes which would incorporate sharps/flats to varying degrees. Next, let’s assign Roman numerals to each of the notes. For the key of C Major, this would look like this:

C = I – D = ii – E = iii – F = IV – G = V – A = vi – B = VII (note: the upper/lowercase)

And for the Key of A Minor:

A = i – B = II – C = III – D = iv – E = v – F = VI – G = VII (note: the upper/lowercase)

Now that we’ve selected a couple of keys and have assigned roman numerals to each of their notes, let’s figure out what those four chords are! In music theory, numbers I, IV and V have a relationship called harmony. It is these numbers (1, 4 and 5) that determine 3/4 of the four chords used in the video above.

In order to go from notes to chords, we simply apply each note to it’s corresponding key. So for the C major scale, the chords I, IV, and V would be C Major, F Major, and G Major. For the A Minor scale, the chords i, iv and v would be A Minor, D Minor, and E Minor. You should think of numbers I, IV and V like x, y and z variables in math- they change based on the key they are in.

The process of changing these variables to different keys is known as transposing. This is often done to accompany the singers voice- and is exactly what the Axis of Awesome do in the video.

Below is the key of C Major transposed to a number of other keys:

[IMG]

So what about the last chord? The last chord is the number VI (major) or vi (minor). Number VI is unique from the other chords in that it uses the opposite chord type. So for example in C Major, the vi (notice this is lowercase) would be an A minor chord rather than an A major chord. In contrast, in A Minor, the VI (uppercase) would be C major.

The VI distinguishes itself by giving contrast to the other three chords and ultimately helps create an emotional appeal. And that’s exactly why these chords are used so much in popular music. Something else to note is that in the video these chords are played in the same progression throughout (I – V – vi – IV). You can change the order of these chords, switch between them multiple times, or even add some new chords to the mix to create an almost endless number of possibilities.

Another important thing to note, which I don’t think many beginning songwriters realize, is that chord progressions are not protected by copyright. Melody and some other music elements are (I will discuss this more in depth in a future post).

Understanding how these four chords interact can substantially improve your songwriting abilities and how to compose with other musicians. Happy writing!