How To Write Rock Chord Progressions On Guitar
Above is a video that I have up there on youtube that looks at a great and simple way to get guitar students into writing their own original music. In a nutshell if you want to write an effective "Rock" (as opposed to pop) chord progression all you need to do is hang Major chords onto each degree of a pentatonic minor scale and move between them. The video looks at the best keys to do it in and provides a simple theoretical framework for the whole thing
What about other styles?
Below I look at the "diatonic" system of harmony (where you can build a specific chord on each degree of any major scale and then move freely between them). This material on this page covers almost all Rock, Pop, Country, Funk, Punk, Blues, Souls and Disco tunes and if developed further is the basis for Jazz too. It provides guitar students with a framework for understanding how the same chord progressions turn up time and time again in popular music (just in loads of different keys so you don't really realise that they are the same) and this material can provide a great "jumping off point" for guitar players looking to create their own songs and progressions
How to teach songwriting skills to guitar students
We are guitar teachers. We earn money teaching the guitar. Thats what we are all about. That is what people pay us for and expect us to do. Its all very simple but if you look a little deeper into the motivation of our students (and ourselves) perhaps guitar teaching is only one of the things that we can get paid for.
Very few people take up the guitar determined that they will never write a song but the reality is that most people who play the guitar do not write songs (or not ones they are prepared to show to anyone else anyway). Songwriting can seem like a bit of a "black art" and the impression can form that the only people who can do it are a select group of artistic and inspired individuals who have the "keys to the kingdom"
The (fortunate) reality is that the technical elements of writing songs (song structure, melody and harmony) are not too difficult for any guitar student who has made it to the intermediate stage (where they can form and move between the eight chords that any beginner should learn first
The remainder of this page is concerned with helping us to help our students to understand enough about how the chordal (harmonic) element of songwriting works that they will not be be intimidated by the whole idea. We start with an introduction to the "Four Chord Trick" in the ("guitar friendly") key of G
The "Four Chord Trick" in the "Guitar Friendly" key of G
The reason that we use the key of G to introduce beginners to songwriting is that by the time a student is capable of moving between the eight chords that they should learn first in time to a backing track then they are at the ideal stage to start to use those chords creatively to come up with their own music. There is no minimum requirement in terms of skill and technique than this.
I know (and I'm sure you do too) a whole load of really good guitar players who can fly all over the neck of the instrument, spend just about all of their time and money on guitars, have "excellent" musical taste which seems to consist of music made by a bunch of men (and it is normally men) who can play even faster than they can but who nobody else seems to have heard of. They have put the hours in yet they seem reluctant to engage with something as (seemingly) simple as writing a song using just a few well chosen chords
I am not trying to start a fight here and would stress that some of my favourite music is made by men who can play (much much) faster than me but the reality is that most "civilians" (non musicians) are much more impressed by a good song than they are by somebody who can solder the strings to the frets with the heat generated by their hypersonic digits. Record sales figures and concert attendances would appear to lend credence to my statement
Another thing to bear in mind as a teacher is that no matter what the ambition of your beginner student is he or she is not going to get the call from Dream Theatre without many years (decades even?) of dedicated technical and theoretical endeavour during which time they will most probably get sidetracked by work, education, marriage, divorce, kids, jobs, facebook, beer and just about anything else that can eat your life before you have got to live it.
Musical "excellence" is a worthy goal (in fact we have a load of guitar teaching materials aimed at intermediate or advanced players
) and I would hate you to think that I'm suggesting that you dont encourage your students to work on the technical and theoretical concepts that will lift them above the herd (thats one of the things that they pay you for) but if guitar teachers pass up on the chance to instill in our students the belief that they can make a worthwhile contribution to original music even at a relatively early stage of what (if it didn't make a little bit of sick come into my mouth) we could call their "guitar playing journey" then we might not be doing our job as well as we think we are
The "Four Chord Trick" see the student worksheet that you can download in the graphic above
which is a great introduction to music theory on the guitar because from the word go the study of theory becomes useful to the student. All too often the study of music theory is tilted too far towards "theory" and not far enough toward "music"
The four chord trick can be divided into three simple steps.........
Step 1: Find the notes of the (G) Major Scale
Help your student to identify and record the notes of the G Major Scale and draw their attention to the concept of "whole-step" (two fret) and "half-step" (one fret) intervals. This is important as all major scales follow the same (W-W-H-W-W-W-H) sequence of intervals so by developing the ability to work out the chords of the "four chord trick" from the notes of the G Major scale they will be doing the preparation for working out the chords in other keys on the guitar
Step 2: Hang Major Chords on the first (root), fourth and fifth notes of the scale
Step 3: Hang a minor chord on the sixth note of the scale
Its as simple as that
The above worksheets that come as part of the teachwombat materials all deal with what are generally thought of as being the most "guitar friendly" keys. They are regarded as being that way because to a greater or lesser extent they heavily feature chords that can be played using open strings. Having said that the "four chord trick" in any other key than G will require a player to use at least one bar chord so they do not work as well for a beginner
Generally speaking people who write music on guitar tend to gravitate towards the "sharp keys" because they exploit some of the natural features of the instrument but of course the other keys (the flat keys) are every bit as valid and useful in other circumstances (such as playing with brass instruments or individual singers who operate better in particular keys where capos often come into play)
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