Songwriting II - Creating Harmony

Before you start writing...

Take a look at this Power Point on harmony and the corresponding video where I explain the slides. Here you will learn about the different types of chords in any key, and how they function.

Practice identifying chord types in different keys. For a challenge, change the settings to include inversions.

Practice building chord types in different keys.

Writing Harmony

The next step in our songwriting process is creating a harmonic outline

1. Choose a key or "sound world": By no means does your song need to stay entirely in one key. That said, when you're starting a new song it helps to choose a key to constrain your chord options. You may want to refer to the Music Theory II presentation that describes the mood of each key and choose one that matches the themes in your lyrics. Or, if you have some piano or guitar knowledge, play progressions in different keys and pick one that you like. If you don't have or cannot play an instrument, Garage Band is a great tool. You can open up the built in keyboard or guitar, change the key in settings, and use the "smart guitar" or "smart piano" function to play around with chords.

2. Try different progressions: You can refer to the common chord progressions to start, or just mess around with different progressions until you find one that you like. You could also forget about the chord progressions all together and simply play clusters of notes (you can figure out what the names of these chords are later). Experiment with chords not within the key or chromatic passing chords, or keep it simple. Write down whatever progressions that you like in whatever notation makes sense to you. I suggest writing 3 or more progressions that have 3-6 chords each (and of course, a chord can and will appear in multiple progressions).

3. Assign progressions: Now that you have a few progressions that you like, assign a progression to each lyric section. You may use one progression as an instrumental introduction or interlude, another for verses, and another for choruses. Remember that you can incorporate slight variations and chord substitutions (ex. adding a 7th, exchanging a I chord for a vi chord, etc.) in these progressions as you're refining your song. 

4. Play with timing: Play your progression in different time signatures and decide which fits best with your progression and lyrics. Try different harmonic rhythms (the rate at which chords change). Chords usually change either every 2 or 4 beats, but you can try additional variations. As you're doing this and reading through your lyrics, vocal rhythms and melodies may come to mind. If you have an idea, write it down so that you can develop it in "Songwriting III - Writing Melody."