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6 Ways to Dress Up a Simple Chord Progression

April 8, 2013 Leave a comment

Hi there, how are you doing?

This time I took the liberty to share another person’s post… Because it’s valuable for those starting to compose or arranging. See ya next Monday! :)

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting Blog

Here’s how to make a simple progression more interesting, while leaving the original progression intact.

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GuitaristI’m a big fan of keeping things relatively simple with regard to chord progressions in the pop genre. That’s certainly not to say that I don’t like complexity – I do! But more often than not, songwriters think they’re writing a complex chord progression when in fact they’re simply using those chords incorrectly.

Keeping things simple doesn’t mean that you can’t use some very interesting chord substitutes. Today, I want to focus on what could arguably be called the simplest (yet harmonically strongest) 3-chord progression we can use: I-IV-V-I (C-F-G-C)

One simple way to dress this progression up is to insert interesting chords between the ones that make up the backbone of the progression…

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The Cure’s Formula.

April 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Hi there, how have you been?

The band The Cure is going to play here in São Paulo next Saturday and hopefully I’ll be there… :P In the mean time I’m here to share an article by me for my Brazillian blog :)


Robert Smith by Gabriela Andrade.

Robert Smith by Gabriela Andrade. :) (Click it to go to her Flickr)

In the preparations for the show that’s going to happen here in São Paulo next Saturday I’ve been listening to all The Cure albums again… And finally, as an almost-old man :P, I seemed to have figured out what makes the band special.

The “A” side (at least for the band itself and the fans, since it’s the most… regular way for them to make music) is easier to understand/analyze: a the Doors rehash 10 years later, a… liquid melancholy that drenches their music through the guitar layers, the draggin’ vocals, delays & reverbs, the odd synths, the never-ending intros, the minor tones, the non-definite conclusions… I mean, in the end of the day the song (technically speaking) doesn’t matter that much; the structure, the lyrics, everything else is surpassed by a certain mood. When it comes to this “side” a regular Cure fan can set a random playlist of pretty much any album and be happy (? lol) with any sample of that feeling coming out.

(Example: “The Forest”, from their 2nd album: “Seventeen Seconds, 1980.)

But… That would only make The Cure a band among others. For the good or the bad this “mood” in not a Cure’s exclusive. Joy Division has it, Siouxie and the Banshees has it… Late 70s was favorable for such sounds to flourish, it seems.

(Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, 1980; Siouxies’s “Metal Postcard”, 1978)

Proceeding… lol What makes those guys unique is their “B” side–curiously the “A” side for the media because those tracks are easier to listen to… And they’re only easier because they SOUND (wrongly) happier! lol A more upbeat rhythm, major chords, a more melodic riff/lick… Strangely you can sing pretty much anything disguised that way. lol

(Super-nasty, absurd thematic disguised as pop-song: Oingo Boingo’s “Little Girls”, 1981.)

What’s good about all this in the “Cure case” is how naturally those particular songs fit into their repertory. They’re just another perpective of the same thing instead of being completely new stories… The Smiths has reached that later too; and Belle & Sebastian ultimately got the bottom line in the matter. But in both cases the transition from one side to another is smoother, not so polarized as it happens to be with The Cure.

(Smiths’ “The Boy with the Thorn in His Side”, 1985. Belle & Sebastian’s “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying”, 1996.)

It’s all the same, I concede. :P But the idea–aware or not–is awesome. And knowing all that may help you to realize if what you like is the furry surface or the cold interior. :)

(B/A sides: “Boys Don’t Cry”, 1979; “In Between Days” and my favorite one “Close to Me”, 1985.)

Bowie’s Hat Full of Tricks

October 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Hi there, how are you doing?

Time to talk about one of my favorite songs from one of the most unique artists around the globe: “Quicksand”, by David Bowie.

I won’t even start to itch questions on the confuse lyrics here since it describes a wide variety of issues–from Occultism to Nazism, from Nietzsche to science–and Bowie himself states he was about to lose it (“I’m sinking in the quicksand / of my thought / And I ain’t got the power anymore”) but I’ll stick to the anti-climax chorus (“Don’t believe in yourself”) and its harmony. lol

Bowie can be unpredictable in many ways but I always get impressed by his unusual solutions when it comes to harmony. And by analising this particular block we can start to understand his approach on the matter.

The deal here is to drag out-of-the-box chords in by doing some small tweaks into regular chords. It works as tension points that keep the harmony from resolving and allow him to jump to a completely new place if he wants to. “Quicksand” is a nice study case since it’s all about diminished seventh chords.

Here we can see what an “ordinary” chords progression would be for the given melody (2/4):

A E F#m B7 E C#m Bm B7 A F#m Esus4 E

In this case B7 would provide tension enough for the melody to work fine and thing could run somewhat smoothly.

But Mr. Bowie wanted to go one step further and decided to force more tension points inside it with the above-mentioned diminished guys:

A E F#m Cº7 E A#º7 Bm D#º7 A F#m Esus4 E

The result is formidable. The final chords progressions feels much more epic and emotional–and the suspension caused by that Esus4 near the end only sums up to that overall feeling.

Take a listen and see (hear) for yourself how it does behave. It’s a beautiful song no matter what you think about the lyrics matter.

Have an awesome week, see ya!

Me and The Beatles

September 19, 2011 1 comment

Hi there, how are you all doing?

This week while talking to a girl who’s digging The Beatles deeper right now I was trying to recall my first impressions on the Fab Four. And it’s kinda funny to realize I’ve got to them by the back door…

Of course, I did listen to The Beatles from the day I was born just like pretty much everyone else: “Yesterday”, “Hey Jude”, “Help” and many others are simply part of pop culture for some time now and you just can’t avoid ’em–even if you wanted to. :P But the first time I really linked ’em to a song that caught my attention was around 1994 (I was fourteen) with the “missing tape” of “Free As A Bird”, which was followed by the hypnotic music video and the highly promoted “Anthology” collection release. The song has triggered some… I don’t really know, an… epic feeling inside me. It felt like something ethereal, otherworldly. Today I can recognize most of the “sources” to these feelings: the easy-going vocals, George’s slide, the 1½ raise in the music’s tone (from A to C)… But at the time it was only plain overwhelming.

You can easily imagine how I spent one of my first paychecks with the damn expensive Anthology 1 album after listening to that. lol And that’s how I got to love the Beatles apparently the wrong way, by listening to their B-Sides… Let me share my favorite ones here. :)

Obviously the formerly-cited “Free As A Bird”:

Three songs from their first audition for Deca Records: two lighthearted Coasters’ covers (“Three Cool Cats” and “The Sheik of Araby”) and the one that allowed me to see an unpredictable relationship between my deeply-rooted boleros and rock’n roll, “Like Dreamers Do”.

“Love Me Do” (which actually made me BUY a C harmonica just to learn it lol):

The prodigal–creativity wise–recording of “Please Please Me”:

And the punchy bassline in “I Saw Her Sanding There”, courtesy of Sir Paul McCartney–an easy choice for me for a favorite Beatle. lol

Of course, there’s plenty more to The Beatles. I’ve been discovering and re-discovering their gems since then (my favorite of all time is “Eleanor Rigby”, just in case you want to know) and what’s most amazing about The Beatles is that there’s REALLY something to everyone when you get to know them.

It’s just interesting to notice a 14-years old boy getting stomped by something despite being late 30 years–and feeling the same way other 14-years old boys/girls did at their own time.

See ya, have a nice week!

Experimental Music: How To? :P

Good night, how are you doing?

A couple days ago I was listening to the already-classic Björk’s album Vespertine (released in 2001) while thinking about this: how can such experimental music be so loaded with emotion and manage to reach (and touch) so many different people around the globe? (Just like me in Brazil, far from being an Icelander… :P)

Of course there’s not a simple single answer to that. For a start I would put some of this into vocals arrangement’s account (since the human voice is the only absolutely unanimous musical instrument in the world and every culture can relate to choirs in a way or another); maybe there’s some more to delegate to the variety of “rhythmic cells” you can find within a single song from her–I mean, there’s something for everyone in those recordings (rhythmically speaking), even if one’s not really getting the big picture while listening to it.

But going even further with that, what makes her music amazing–aside her one-of-a-kind of a voice–is that the final result is always greater than the sum of its parts.

And that’s the way to go when you’re trying to make some musical experiments: not only to drop random noise all over the piece but making them “talk” to each other, giving each click, blip or note a role.

Despite sounding like a mess sometimes :P Björk’s music is always structured under restrict rules. I’ll use “Undo” (because it’s my favorite one from this album and that’s it lol) as an example to make some points.

From the very beginning we can notice how widely varied the rhythmic cells here can be. The two sentences that form the chorus behave as if they were proposing two different “angles” on the same object… Take a look:

Compare the first system (sentence) to the second and you'll see how they're in fact two different "shots" from the same thing.

Beautiful, isn’t it? Even if you can’t read music. :P Take a listen to it clean along with the metronome:

Undo (voice)

And then other elements start to “unfold”… lol Each one giving us a new piece of info, never being redundant–and exactly due to that a listener can never rely on an isolated fragment to understand what’s going on. It’s the whole that makes it what it is.

The same goes for the harmony. The arrangement takes a lot of time to decide if the key is B Flat Maj or G minor… :P No, not really. It takes some time to reveal the truth–what happens only at 2:22 when the chorus makes a full-force appearence. (It’s B Flat Major, by the way.)

I could speak a lot more on what happens here but really, if you got the setup behind this you can understand everything almost to the end… And I say almost because there’s a little appart piece of harmony yet to be shown. A very emotional and unexpected one. It’s achieved by an amazing use of voices conduction inside the chords, and it’s so beautiful that I decided to make a small recording with an acoustic guitar to show it better: :P

Bjork – Undo (Ending)

It’s a very subtle and delicate chords progression (Bb6, Bb6#11, Dsus4dom9,  Dsus4dom) done by changing small “bricks” into the chords like this:

Bb-G-Bb-F to

Bb-G-Bb-E to

D-G-C-E to

D-G-C-D

I must say this is some nice Brazillian harmony. :P If you don’t believe me take a listen to this rock song from a Brazillian band:

Lanterna dos afogados (Os Paralamas do Sucesso)

Well, what more can I say? I urge you to listen to Björk’s album… :P There’s a lot to learn–and feel–there.

See ya, have a nice week! :)

Shostakovich: A Brave New World

June 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Hi there, good night, how are you doing?

As another part of my formerly-mentioned composition studies at OMiD we’re starting to give a couple classical pieces a critical listen for some analysis… And here’s the first one, Shostakovich’s String Quartet no. 8 in C minor, op. 110 (1.Mov.).

(Give it a listen on Kosice Quartet’s interpretation)

There’s so much to point here (sheet), but I can’t even start without mentioning his obsessive use of a “musical signature”, the DSCH motif. Putting it short “DSCH” stands for the compositor’s name in German musical notation, like “D. (Dimitri) Schostakovich”. Those letter translated to musical notes give you a somewhat somber sequence which permeate his entire work: D, E flat, C, B natural.

Another very interesting–and confusing–feature here is how it starts with an anacrusis in order to make you take some time to really get what is happening regarding rhythm.

And as the composition goes other sharp movements will continue to appear and turn things more and more interesting: an unexpected Db from the cello at bar 6 as the violins reveal its 3rd Major; an emotional F at bar 8 with a delayed 3rd Major as well; another strong harmonic point at 13 with a forced, natural signed E; followed by a complete abandon of harmonics from 16 on–since the melodic variations were already presented before and now can walk on their own legs…

Man, I didn’t even scratched the 1st minute. lol The 2nd movement is absolutely striking, but we all know there’s not a chance for me to get there here… :P Well, just give it all a listen, I have too much homework to do here. ;)

Good week, enjoy the music.

Crysis 2: New York, New York…

April 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Well, under normal circumstances I wouldn’t be the first guy up to endorse America’s americanism… lol Or maybe I should say America centrism… You know what I’m talking about, no offense here at this point but it can be tiring for someone (like me) from another part of the world, you know.

But this time I’m here to praise an awesome musical job on that matter; and such an unexpected one too. I’m talking about the version of “New York, New York” delivered by B.o.B. for the EA recently released game Crysis 2.

I’m not into the plot, not into the genre, not into pretty much anything regarding the title itself, but man… The job done with this especific theme has unavoidably grabbed my attention. And I thought it was a good opportunity to analise WHY it works so well.

What makes this so strong is the boldness to mess with such an American cultural icon like that song, “New York, New York”. And the work is so solid that it manages to set the standard into an entire new mood but still leaving something to be recognized there.

I would like to point out three characteristics of the work done in the main theme to try to get things clear:

1) Tempo. This isn’t the main change of course, but just by dropping the tempo a little the theme gets a little more “cooler”.

2) Tonality and relative major/minor. Now here we’ve got a strong show of how the new version became more gloomy. The guys there shifted the tonality from D Major to b minor… Which allowed ’em to keep the original melody without changing it since both tonalities are relative to each other. Naturally, the minor version sounds more introspective and such.

3) Messing with the “meter”. This one is a very interesting and somewhat subtle change. By getting the final section of the theme and making it being divided more… roughly? the rhythm sounds more solemn and martial–less skipping, one could say. lol

I’m going to place a couple pics (from some scratch music sheets) and a couple sample recordings just to illustrate what I’m trying to present here.

And because I’m a nice guy too. -.-

Original version:

Faster, happier, skipping version. :)

NY NY (Original) Audio Sample

New version:

Slower, gloomier, badass version. -.-

NY NY (New Version) Audio Sample

It’s hard to know whose merit the work is here–B.o.B. himself? The producer?–but still it’s a very nice piece of music and we should enjoy it leaving all biases behind. :)

Here you’ve got some TV spot featuring the mentioned theme–and the cut here was especially generous with the music:

Take your time to listen to it all, hope you had enjoyed it, see you next week. ;)

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