Experiment with Sound
So youâ€™ve written a great vocal melody and some killer lyricsâ€”but the chords youâ€™re playing sound boring. How can you shake things up a bit? Check out these tips from experienced songwriters.
Tune down.You can lower the tuning of all the strings a half step or a whole step to put the guitar into a less familiar range while still being able to play normal fingerings. When I was a beginning guitarist trying to learn â€śYesterday,â€ť I wish Iâ€™d known that Paul McCartney was playing in standard tuning down a whole step. Instead of wrestling, as I was, with F and Bb barre chords, he used easy key-of-G shapes that sounded in the key of F. Since then Iâ€™ve been repeatedly surprised to learn how many songs were written in lowered tunings, from John Fogerty classics (â€śProud Mary,â€ť â€śBad Moon Rising,â€ť â€śFortunate Sonâ€ť) to more recent tracks by Keller Williams and Ben Harper.
Tweak the Chords.â€śItâ€™s amazing how much cooler it gets when you change one note in a chord,â€ť Sean Watkins once said in a conversation with his then-band mates in Nickel Creek. His guitar parts often use modal chords (with no third) and suspensions that add a nice openness to the sound. Check out the difÂferences between Examples 1a and 1b, and between Examples 2a and 2b, to hear how a one-finger change in a chord makes a big impact.
Excerpted from Songwriting Basics: 21 Songwriting Tips from the Masters