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songwriting question!!! (in a rut)


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Hi guys,


I wanted ask anyone out there for some advice about how to make my songs more interesting.


Heres the thing. I write lots and lots of songs. I like the melodies I come up with, but invariably all of my chords are standard major/minor triads (or sometimes just 5th chords). Essently what i want to do is "JAZZ" up my songs (I AM EXTREMELY SORRY for using that term, becuase i know quite a bit about jazz but i just couldnt think of another word to describe what i mean).


I started by trying to add minor7ths and major 7ths into my progressions, but that doesnt really fit with my melodies. Are there any other techniques out there to essentially transform straight pop/rock songs into that jazz/rock type genre.


I am a big fan of Sting (around Dream of Blue Turtles). And thats the sort vibe/feel I am trying to go for.

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What about 6ths and 9ths?


I like to build chords in my right hand on the 3rd or 5th of the chord when I am initially looking for a more dissonant sound. Then I invert it, move it, etc. to fit the voiceleading better.


Also, one thing that I am doing alot more with my stuff - pedal tones in the bass. Try to move the bass notes down or up by half steps or whole steps, no matter what the chord changes are. For instance if you have a G | D | Emin | C progression, the bass can move down G, F#, E. As long as the bass is using SOME sort of chord tones. You wouldn't want an F# under a C chord.


And I'm just a beginner. These other jazz pros will have you contemplating the rationality of a #13 in the context of the Lydian mode while playing 60's surf music. :D I just try to keep it simple.

Amateur Hack
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Hi Sudeep,

just a few tips to get the juices flowing:


If you're bored with the sound of straight major and minor triads, but find plain seventh chords (major sevenths, minor sevenths, etc.) unfitting for your music, try these other sounds:


Sus2 or sus4. Instead of a plain major or minor triad, try to move the third to the second or fourth degree, without resolving it. For example, instead of C-E-G or C-Eb-G, try C-D-G, or C-F-G (all examples bottom to top).


Put ninths (seconds) in your triads. C-D-E-G or C-D-Eb-G.


Now try to put the third on the bass for some of the chords: E-C-D-G or Eb-C-D-G


Apply sus2 or sus4 to seventh chords. C-D-G-Bb or C-F-G-Bb


Try the "root next door": A straight C triad, for example, but with an added D or F in the bass.


Straight quartal chords: C-F-Bb, G-C-F, etc. If you look closely, these are inversions of sus2 and sus4 triads.


Try these solutions in various keys, till you get a feel for how they sound, then try to build successions.


Hope this gives you a few ideas. However, remember that chords are like colors in motions - it's their progression that makes harmony alive.



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Are you familar with Gospel style chords? There's a whole body of theory in there that you won't get from a standard Jazz book. You will find some of the devices there (and in classical texts) but not really presented as a coherent whole. (If anyone can point to a Jazz book that does do this, please respond as I want a copy - for that matter any good reference works are of interest)


Here are some devices that you may be able to add to your bag of tricks:


Interrupt a cadence by raising the root of a seventh chord a semitone to get a diminished chord before resolving. (I-IV and IV I) especially)


Approach a chord via a diminished chord a semitone below (it acts as a dominant)


Sub the flat VI chord (eg Ab in key of C) for the IV (F in key of C)


Augmented VI and III chords moving to the I and IV respectively (I think - not at a piano to check).


Sprinkle flat 5s and sharp 9s to taste.


Experiment with the minor -maj 7 chord (eg Cm(maj7) = C Eb G B.


Not in this style, but another thing to try is chords not from the current scale. Any given note or few notes belongs to lots of scales, so you can harmonize them with the chords from those scales. Its fun to take a simple tune like "Mary had a little lamb" or "some colored rose from Texas" and see what you can do to murder it. Check out Dick Wellstood's version of Jingle Bells for a fine example (available in transcription but I don't have the deets to hand)

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The chord voicings Sting used for "Fortress Around Your Heart" remind me a little of those found in Bossa Nova and MPB (i.e. Brazilian pop music).


Try listening to some of the great Brazilian singer/songwriters:

Antonio Carlos Jobim

Caetano Veloso

Ivan Lins

Gilberto Gil

Joao Gilberto

Chico Buarque

Milton Nascimento

Djavan (check out "Bird of Paradise" which is very pop-oriented & has songs in English)


There are TONS of great "jazzy" chord change ideas to be found there.

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Originally posted by sudeep:

I am a big fan of Sting (around Dream of Blue Turtles). And thats the sort vibe/feel I am trying to go for.

In addition to the excellent suggestions already made here, you might consider some unusual modulations. (Verse in C, Chorus in F#m for example. Then add the 9ths, sus stuff to soften the brashness of the transitions.)


Do you have a favorite key? Have you tried writing in keys that are not close to your favorite or are related in unusual ways to it?





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Another thing that may help...


...since your harmonic structure sounds fairly tonic...do what Sting does sometimes and mess with the position of the bass note. Stick the 3rd, 5th, or even the 7th in the bass. Even a seemingly simple tune I-IV-V type tune can be 'sweetened' using subtle placement of the bass note in your voicings.


I also like Carlo's idea of introducing suspensions/quartal harmony. Something else really cool using both ideas is to impose the 3rd of a chord in the left hand while playing a sus4 or quartal voicing in the right. Mmmmmm, tasty!


Let us hear some of your stuff!!!

Weasels ripped my flesh. Rzzzzzzz.
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Remember that whatever ideas you try, they need to fit in (generally) with the song's general harmonic structure & style; you can't just shoe-horn elements together. [Forgive me if that seems too obvious.]

Also consider trying this approach: take a single tune/melody & reduce the harmony to its bare bones. Then work through it, trying ---one at a time---various substitutions/extensions. It may be helpful to record these sesions to hear them later in different moods or to see how other listeners respond.

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