Chord Changes

Making subtle changes to your initial chord progression can often point your embryonic song in a new, unexpected direction. Here we explore some of these chord-swapping strategies, using your recorder to determine which combination works best

Posted in The Weekly on June 10, 2024 by

Whenever a classic song comes on, we might assume that the melody and chord structure arrived in one fell swoop, and there are times when these “bolt-from-the-blue” moments really do happen. However, the wealth of early demos and outtakes available on box sets, YouTube and elsewhere over the years proves that many of these gems required a fair amount of tinkering before they achieved greatness.

Which is why you should never settle for the first chord progression idea you hit upon—in fact, sometimes slightly shifting the order of the chords, using relative minors, trying different inversions, or even experimenting with capos and dropped tunings can often point your embryonic song in a new, unexpected direction. Here we explore some of these chord-swapping strategies, and how to use your recorder to stack various backing ideas to help determine which combination works best for the song at hand.

Using different chords. Let’s say you’ve come up with a framework for a progression to underpin the main verse and chorus melody. As you probably know, changing even one or two of the chords for a plausible alternative can have a pronounced impact on the feel and sound of any given section. Once you’ve determined how the melody should go, try laying down several different progression variations on separate tracks, then audition each one to determine which set of chords seems to work best.

Mix it up. Which brings us to another handy tool—using your editing facility to play around with different combinations of chords throughout. For instance, if you varied the progression on one part of the song but, upon listening back, you liked the earlier sequence better, you can just copy the preferred version to the other parts of the song (and using a click track to keep the tempo steady will make this and other editing operations that much easier). On the other hand, bear in mind that there are no real rules when it comes to chords, meaning that the sequence you used on the first verse doesn’t necessarily have to be duplicated on the following sets of verses.

Using alternate instruments. You can also try playing around with chords using different types of instruments. For instance, taking the chords you’ve worked out on guitar and transferring them to a piano, organ or synth may suggest certain inversions or chord clusters that may be more difficult to play on a stringed instrument. And of course, the sound of a keyboard will also bring a much different feel to the song as a whole. Once again, take a few spare tracks and experiment with various instrument alternatives—sometimes using a little of each can make for an interesting contrast.

Varying pitch and tempo. Can you easily sing the song in its current key? Just because you started in G, for instance, doesn’t mean you have to be locked there. Once again, using your sound editor you can experiment by dropping or raising the pitch a semitone, a whole tone or more to see if a key change is in order. While you’re at it, you can try making a similar adjustment to the song’s tempo by gradually altering the speed or beats per minute (BPM) up or down a percentage point or two. While even freeware like Audacity has gotten very good at such maneuvers, listen out for any anomalies that can occur when altering a WAV file in this manner. If you feel like the song needs to be faster, slower or in another key, sometimes it’s best to just start over from scratch.

SOURCEThe Weekly TAGS Advice


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