The most popular method of songwriting is to first create the harmony or chord progression for the song and then write the melody. A harmony is defined as the combination of simultaneous musical notes in a chord. By creating the chord progression first, the melody notes that work are limited, which makes it easier to write a melody. In popular music often the entire song consists of 4 chords repeated throughout the entire song.
If you haven’t watched Axis of Awesome Four Chord Song then drop everything now and head over to YouTube to check it out. The performance is entertaining and although they are taking liberties with many of the songs it highlights how one chord progression (1-5-6-4) can give rise to so many variations.
To start your own song with harmony simply pick a chord progression. You can copy the chord progression from your favourite band, roll dice, or pull numbers out of a hat to give you the framework to build your first song on. Play the chord progression on loop on your favourite instrument or digital tool, and in real time sing melody notes that match with the chords being played. (PSA: Don’t do this where anyone else can hear you! This is one of those fragile creative acts that requires privacy to allow you to fully express yourself without any fear of ridicule.)
As before, make sure that you have a way to record or otherwise capture your new melody. It is very easy to immediately forget your million-dollar melody as soon as you have sung it once. If you want to get fancier, choose a different progression for the verse
and chorus, but you don’t have to. In fact, one of the wonderful things about writing songs is that there are no rules that can’t be broken. Maroon 5 used the harmonic sequence of Pachelbel's Canon (1-5-6-3-4-1-4-5) for their song “Memories”.
The back of Noisy Clan’s Decoder: Circle of Fifths provides the perfect tool for composing your own song. We have added 12 different chord progressions to get you playing.
Pick a progression you like, choose a key to play in, and match the numbers in your progression with the numbers on the front below the chord names. Remember, any chord progression will work with any key.
Here at Noisy Clan, our ethos is to encourage more play, whether that be songwriting, singing in the shower, or picking up your dusty guitar for five minutes.
James Clear* argues that to form good habits we need to differentiate between motion and action.
“When you're in motion, you’re planning and strategizing…but they don't produce a result. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behaviour that will deliver an outcome”.
Therefore, the more mistakes you make and the more songs you write, the more you will learn, and the better you will get. Befriend the fear of failure, it's there to push you to do better. Now, go and write that song!
*James Clear is author of Atomic Habits. The book the Noisy Clan team is currently reading for this month's book club, as you can see, it's already changed my life (and I am only half way through)! For those who are interested, chapter 11 is pretty relevant when it comes to producing effective results through quantity rather than quality.