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.

Advertisements

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!

Songwriting 101: Curiosity

Greetings! It’s been a busy month starting up a new band and beginning to wrap up school, but I’m back with a third installment of my songwriting 101 series! This time I’ll be going over another Electronica song I finished a couple weeks back titled “Curiosity.” Let’s get right into it!

Curiosity is a medium to fast tempo song rocking at 140 BPM. For this song I wanted to incorporate a variety of different elements: ambient pads, natural sounding piano, pizzicato synth, organic percussion loops and soft vocals. The collaboration of these elements resulted in a mellow electropop song which was something I’ve been interested in writing for a while.

To begin, I started by creating an ambient pad progression which can be heard from the beginning of the song and played throughout in entirety. The ambient pitches I use are (B, E, F#, G#) which I retrieved from the major scale of B using the infamous I, IV, V, and VI chords. These chords (The Power of 4 Chords) lay the foundation for the song and create an uplifting and emotive feeling.

Next, I incorporated a simple piano lick to go over the ambient progression for both the verse and chorus parts. The piano is ultimately what gives the song the mid to fast range tempo and further provides a strong backbone for the melodic parts yet to be added. With the backbone completed, I went on to create the song structure.

When first listening to this song one might guess I’m using the song structure ABABCB, but it’s actually a bit more complex than that. I would classify this song as ABAABBCBBD. The reason for this is because both the verse and chorus are double in length after (0:54). The greatest advantage of this song structure is that it gives a glimpse of the entire song early on (AB) and then it expands in more detail as it goes on (AABB). Finally there’s (C) which is just the ambient pad and vocals, the chorus once again, and (D) the outro of the song. You can hear the outro of the song with the change of percussion at (3:12) and the zoning out of multiple instruments.

With the song structure in place, I could focus on defining the main parts of the song: the verse (A) and chorus (B). For the beginning two verses, I wanted to define them by three things: the ambient progression, the piano lick and the vocal melody. The final verse includes these three traits as well, but adds percussion into the mix which you can hear at (1:22).

To define the chorus, in addition to the three elements and percussion, I added a second percussion element and two sampled melodic synth parts. Check out SamplePhonics for some great sample packs to add some flavor into your music. In addition, in order to focus purely on the instrumentation and let it shine, I removed all vocals from the chorus.

As per my usual songwriting habits, I finished with writing the lyrics:

Let’s lose our normality
And get a taste of insanity
Why do I flee from this feeling?
That world is calling

Everyone’s the same
Can’t seem to escape from their old ways
Free will’s to blame
But we weren’t born to regret anything

Forever and ever we live our lives on fire
Facetious desire we hold our dreams up high
One more step until I’m free
One last breath to breathe

Funny how the truth works out
When you open your mind and see
You can’t believe the simple things
If you have a bit of curiosity

This was an incredibly personal song to write. It’s a song about failure, passion, love and understanding. It’s a song about evolving as a person and reflecting on that growth. My goal as always, however, is to leave the interpretation up to the listener. To be perfectly honest, this has been one of my favorite songs to write lyrically in a while. I think my words reveal exactly what I wanted to say. That wraps up this songwriting 101 for the day. Until next time!