I know many of you don’t care for music theory. It’s clinical, it’s boring, and it sucks the soul out of songwriting. Well, news flash: you’re using music theory whether or not you intend to. For myself, I know my theory pretty well, as I learned it at young age. I couldn’t tell you if I’m playing in a Mixolydian or Phrygian mode, though, except that it’s fun to throw “Phrygian” into normal conversation.
Case in point: the Circle of Fifths (the Circle). Download a hi-res copy here. I’ve been asked before if a certain chord progression is an example of the Circle of Fifths. The question is missing the point. The Circle of Fifths isn’t a technique like modulation or chord substitution. It’s a way of understanding the essential elements of western music: the notes, the intervals, the chords, and the relationships between them.
It’s the relationships between chords that make a chord progression. Referring to the Circle of Fifths can help you discover interesting chord progressions, particularly when you’re stuck for what the next chord wants to be.
Just like clockwork
The Circle looks much like a clock. Just like there are 12 hours on a clock, there are 12 notes on the Circle. (If you haven’t downloaded a copy yet, you’ll want to so you can refer to it as you read the rest of this article.)
Jordan Paul returned to the Song Talk Radio studio on Gould Street in Toronto with a surprise – a beautifully handcrafted sitar. And he played it! In this detour from his usual singer/songwriter explorations, Jordan Paul combines samples with his own sitar playing to create mesmerizing melodies and soundscapes. In this fascinating program you’ll learn about:
The show you’ve all been waiting for…or maybe that was just Neel. The Song Talk Radio Team tackles the subject of the pre-chorus; what it is, what it does for a song, and why have one? Singer/songwriter Melanie Peterson joined us to perform one of her songs as an example, “Been So Long.” To add a few more examples to the mix, Phil brought “Buddy Holly“, a short catchy tune by Weezer, Bruce brought Beige Shelter‘s latest release “Light Your Way” (by Adi Aman and Neel Modi), , and Neel presented “Head Like a Hole” by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails.
Popular guest co-host and guest on Song Talk Radio, Patrick Ballantyne dropped by the studio to share two of his well-crafted songs. “Where Things Used to Be” is great example of the skillful combination of melody, structure, and lyrics to evoke a strong feeling of longing in the listener. Listen to the bridge in particular and the completely surprising chord on the word “dreams”. Patrick’s song “Plans” starts with a great line, “In California there are dates in the trees…” and connects to “dates on my calendar”. The message of a man who sees that he must change is both poignant and honest. As we discussed the tunes, we talked about:
Having a manager
How tasty an E flat chord can be in the key of G
The use of “pause” in songwriting
Co-writing and collaboration
Ticket sales and merchandise (how to make money in music)
Emily Mac is a singer-songwriter and a regular at our Songwriter’s Roundtable Meetup. She joined us with piano player Joel to perform and talk about two of her songs, Back to the Rhythm and When It’s Gone. Special guest host Carmen Toth filled in for Neel. We talked about:
how learning to play an instrument helps to ground your accapella writing
why it’s good to be the stupidest person in the room (when collaborating)
Braeden Mitchell returned to Song Talk Radio for his third visit and contributed to a very lively and informative discussion of songwriting and recording. He shared two songs with us, Glory Days and Everyday Girl, both from his upcoming EP release. We talked about:
moving from a pop-rock sound to a folk-country style
a producer’s influence on approach, arrangements, structure, and more
why perform songs in a club to “test-drive” them before recording