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MartinT

Modern chord sequence in classical music

Posted on 30-Sep-12 11:58
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I was listening to songtrix version of Bachs Air From Suite in D (on the publications tab) and appreciated the point about modern chords and how well they suite classical music.  How does one arrive at these chords in the first place? Is it by ear, personal taste or does  one look at the  score.  This discussion is really about how to move from a musical recording of any piece of music (classical or pop) to something that can be played from a lead sheet on a guitar or keyboard.  The melody line may be easy, but picking the right chords is another matter.  There are two approaches I have used. One is to look at web sites for guitar chords and lyrics (chordie,E-chords etc).  The other is with the Chord Wizard in Band In A Box which is the only software I have come across with the ability to load a wave file and do a pretty good job of analyzing the chords.  I suppose another way is to load a midi file of the music and use midi to chord recognition software but this is often difficult with the problem of pickng out the best tracks to use etc etc.  Any help or advice on how to choose the right chords to match someone elses composition would be very useful.

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4-Oct-12 09:29
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Pennyland Music

Hello. Here's a good simple way of starting to put together some simple chord progressions for a song/tune. It's really aimed at someone with little knowledge of music but it assumes you know the 12 notes of th chromatic scale. It's long winded when described in writing, but stay with it as it's well worth it ...

First, find what key the song is in. In 95%+ instances, it's the last note of the song. Match it on your keyboard/guitar etc to work out what it is. Then draw a square box divided into nine internal squares in a 3x3 format. Put the key note into the top left square. Then work out the other two "primary" chords for that key. If you know the scale, they are simply the major chords formed around notes 4 and 5 of the scale. If you don't know the scale, note 4 is five semitones above the key note and 5 is two semitones higher than 4. Put 4 and 5 in the top middle and top right squares. Then  work out the "relative minor chords" of these three primary chords. The note that tells you the relative minor is 3 semitones below the major chords you just worked out. So for C you would get Am and for A you would get F#m. Put these in the middle row of squares under the corresponding major chords and show them as minor chords. Then work out the other 3 chords associated with the key. They have fancy names of supertonic, sub-mediant and mediant. Just think of them as the "cousin" chords as they are more distant members of the chord family for this key. They are simply the major versions of the minor chords you just wrote in the middle row. So for example if the minor chord is Am, the cousin chord is A(major). Write these under the minor chords along the bottom row of squares. You now have the 9 chords you need for that key. So if the key is C, the top row should be C, F and G; the middle row is Am, Dm and Em and the bottom row is A, D and E . Top row should be major chords, middle row should be minor chords and bottom row should be major chords (but their 7ths sometimes sound better).

You now have the simple task of matching these chords on a bar-by-bar basis to the tune. If they sound good with the melody for that bar (which is their job after all), it's the right chord. If it doesn't sound right, move on to the next. More by luck than by good judgement, these chords are pretty much in the order that they are likely to appear in the song, so it's a good idea to start with the top left (most likely) chord and work your way through to the bottom right (least likely) chord.

Two words of caution ...

First, not all songs end on their key-not (a good example is Yesterday which ends on E when played in the key of C) and not all songs work with just these 9 chords - some stray outside the box of 9. But most songs do work.

Secondly, if the song/tune is in a minor key, it's a bit more complicated. Work out the key by matching the last note as described above and put the key-note's minor chord in the left square of the middle row of your box of 9 squares. Then work out its "relative major" chord by taking the minor key-note note up 3 semitones (e.g. if you have Dm, its relative major is F(major) and put this in the top left hand square. Now work out the rest of the 9 chords as described earlier. It will work for 90%+ of songs but the order of probability of which chord you need changes. But for a minor key, the most likely chord is the minor key chord followed by the chord in the middle square then try the top right or bottom right and work your way methodically through all 9 chords. The matching process remains the same - simply match the chords on a bar-by-bar basis with the melody to see if they work well together. Bear in mind that sometimes a bar will need more than one chord - if so, the change usually occurs on the third beat of a 4:4 rhythm. Also note that you don't need to change chords every bar and you don't need to use all 9 chords for a song. Some songs get away with only 2 chords (Beatles' Love Me Do and Achey Breaky Heart.)

Have fun and let me know how you get on.

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5-Oct-12 06:57
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MartinT

Hi. Thanks for that.  I found it very helpful.  Just to check I have understood it correctly  the major 3x3  goes (in rows) I  IV  V , vi ii iii, VI II III,   and the minor 3x3 goes III VI VII, i iv v, I IV V.

I tried the minor key version with "Sealed with a kiss" by the Everly Brothers and it worked a treat.

What I hadn't realized before was the connection between the major scale and its relative minor scale which must have the same chords of course.  Why do the other major chords work like E in the key of C  or D in the key of Am?  I can hear why E works in Am because it has the leading note G# but what about the other major chords which have their third out of key.

Thanks for your help.
Martin

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6-Oct-12 11:44
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Pennyland Music

Hi,

Yes you've got it. Even with a minor key I tend to still work with the relative major key mentality and make up the box of 9 chords from the relative major as my starting point - just habit. I didn't know what your level of understanding was - hence the simple Janet-and-John language in the description so sorry if it sounded a bit patronising.

To answer your question about III and VI, I'm not sure why the A and E work in C - they just do when the music takes a certain direction. Good examples of this are Sweet Georgia Brown, Every Day (Buddy Holly) and Swinging on a Star. In fact these three go a bit further and the chords follow a sequence of 4ths outside the box of 9. Some begin their journey of 4ths starting on the Tonic (Every Day), others jump straight to somewhere else (Georgia Brown and Swinging on a Star) and use the sequence of 4ths to eventually resolve back into the Tonic. There is quite a number of 1930s - 1950s standards that follow the same kind of pattern and playing the dominant 7th rather than the simple triad often make them sound better.

I did mention that the box of 9 doesn't always work if the song is not so well behaved. I call such songs off-piste songs because it's just like a skier who likes to go off the piste for a bit of variation. But just like the skier, the song comes back on-piste again into the box of 9 after a few bars to avoid going over the proverbial cliff! For off-piste songs, the way I find the missing chords is to first ascertain that none of the 9 will work. Then I try to gauge whether the missing chord is major or minor simply by the flavour of the music. If it's major, I try major chords first followed by minor if I get it wrong but it doesn't really matter which way you go. I listen to what seems to be the most important note or notes in the bar with the missing chord. Then I look at the 3 major (or minor) triads that contain it. After all there are only three possible major and minor chords that contain the note I'm looking to cover. Two of the chords will usually be in the box of 9 and so it's usually the other one. A couple of songs to try this with are Words (Bee Gees), I only Wanna Be with You (Dusty Springfield), Unchained Melody and The More I see You.  When you have a set of triads that work, that's the time to add some added flavour and interest by trying extended chords to take away the blandness. Give this off-piste approach a whirl and let me know how you get on. Most of my students fine that it works a treat for them.

Naturally there are songs and tunes where this doesn't work because the melody notes you need to accompany are not part of a simple triad. One extreme example of this is Mr Sandman.

Hope all this lot helps and fills in some gaps.

Rgds, Pete

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