Songwriting With Chords

By Devlon Horne
In Feb 11, 2018

It could be said that songs consist of only three things and they are namely melody, lyric and chords. Let’s have a look at how to focus on the use of guitar chord changes in the songwriting process and, how you can use them to make your songs communicate more powerfully.

Let’s Add Some Chords

When you’re adding chords to a new song you get to decide on the chord root and also the Key of the song (C, G, F# or whatever), the chord type (major minor; m7, 7, 69 etc) and when in the song each chord change should happen. The first two are pretty easy to explain and to use. Every guitarist should have a chord vocabulary and if you want to use new and exotic chords. You can consult a chord book for some help. Perhaps even make up shapes by trial and error. The rest of you lucky guys should consult your Guitar Excellence Guitar Hero 🙂

It’s the placement of each chord that sometimes takes a bit more work. Many new and beginner songwriters change the chords every bar on the bar. They strum a chord for two or perhaps four beats then move into the next chord. Sometimes the whole song consists of the same four-chord loop over and over and over again. They can include Am G F G C G Am F Am C G D or even the old 1980s staple, C Am F G. Using the same chord loop throughout is a perfectly good way of writing a song and includes four-chord classics.

Song Examples:

  • Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower
  • U2’s With Or Without You
  • Ben E King’s Stand By Me
  • Coldplay’s Viva La Vida

beginner open chords

Let’s Get Started

The simplest change you can make is to vary the loops using a different sequence for verse and chorus. For example, Green Day’s Boulevard Of Broken Dreams uses Em G D A for the verse, then C G D Em for the chorus. The chords don’t always have to change on the bar – you can do it on any beat of the bar. One method that songwriters use to ‘spice up’ a sequence is to include an additional chord change on the half-bar (beat 3 if you’re in 4/4 time). Say you’ve decided you’re going to write a 4/4 verse section that uses the chords of E, G, D and A, the most obvious starting point would be to strum each chord for a bar each. This creates a four-bar loop that you’d then repeat.

Song Writing Examples

Strum the E for two bars, the G for one bar, then the D and A for two beats each. Not only is this less predictable, it’s more likely to encourage your brain to write a more interesting melody. Here is another variation. Strum the E for three beats, then change to the G on the count of four and throughout the second bar. This is sometimes called a ‘push’ chord change. Then play the D chord from the start of bar 3, changing to the A only for the final two beats of bar 4.

The term we use to refer to how often the chords change is called `harmonic rhythm’, and it’s a very useful tool for the songwriter. This is because it’s one of the ways we control the listener’s sense of ‘pace’ and momentum in the song.  Remember guys there is no limit to the variations you can put with these chord changes. So just keep rolling them out till you get that number 1 on iTunes!

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*Has over 10 000 hours teaching experience *He has played locally and abroad for original & cover bands *Has biceps 3 times the size of an acoustic guitar's fretboard radius *Graduated top of his class at Damelin Contemporary School of Music

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