chords

image showing the circle of 5ths

How to use the Circle of Fifths to write songs

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.)

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Neel, Bruce, Jordan, Vanessa, and Phil

Jordan Paul returns with some awesome ambient sitar sounds

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 parts of a sitar
  • how to play the sitar
  • Indian music
  • taking sitar lessons
  • ambient music
  • improvisation in the studio

Contact Jordan Paul

Artist website:
http://www.jordanpaul.ca

Twitter:
http://www.twitter.com/jordanpaulmusic

Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/jordanpaulmusic

YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/jordanpaulmusic

SoundCloud / MySpace:
http://www.soundcloud.com/jordanpaulmusic

Listen to the groovy program

Neel, Bruce, Melanie, Vanessa, and Phil

All about the pre-chorus

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.

We talked about:

  • How the pre-chorus relates to song structure
  • How is a pre-chorus different from a bridge?
  • How it amps up the energy
  • How is the pre-chorus different from the verse and the chorus?
  • Neel and Adi’s co-writing process for Light Your Way – check out Neel’s blog post on this

Download the lyrics for:

Listen to the show

See the live performance

Phil, Vanessa, Stacey, Bruce, and Neel

Waxing poetic with Stacey Dowswell

Singer-songwriter Stacey Dowswell joined us to talk about her literature-inspired and poetic take on songwriting with two original songs, Ties that Bind and Wax Wings. We talked about:

  • Poetic vs. more straight forward lyrics
  • How to add complexity to a simple 1-4-5 chord progression
  • How to incorporate a cliche
  • Contrast and space
  • Using dynamics in your performance
  • The benefits of noodling around to start a song

Check out Stacey’s EP release show at The Painted Lady in Toronto on June 15, 2017!

Listen to the show

Download the lyrics for Ties that Bind and Wax Wings.

Watch the live performance

Connect with Stacey

Artist website:
http://www.staceydowswell.com

Twitter:
http://www.twitter.com/staceydowswell

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/StaceyDowswellMusic/

YouTube:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCP0H6OEQCUyg1Fq3rXe7doA

Dave, Patrick, Phil, Vanessa, and Bruce

Patrick Ballantyne – master songwriter

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:

  • “Hit-a-month” project
  • 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)
  • Kickstarter, Go Fund Me, FACTOR
  • Lifting a song through chord progressions
  • Natural or loads of experience?
  • Rhymezone.com for alternative rhymes

Listen to the show here

Neel, Sarah, Charlotte, Vanessa, Phil, and Patrick,

Commanding pop songwriting with the Command Sisters

Young pop sensations the Command Sisters (Charlotte and Sarah) joined us to talk about writing as a sibling duo and working with producers. Patrick Ballantyne filled in for Bruce.

We also talked about:

  • how to write a 2-chord song
  • the musical Book of Mormon
  • whether to repeat lyrics in each chorus
  • the challenge of writing direct lyrics vs. abstract lyrics
  • when editing, do you change the lyrics or the melody?

Download the lyrics for the songs, Back To You and Low Profile.

Listen to the show

Watch the live performances

Connect with the Command Sisters

Command Sisters website

Facebook

Instagram

Twitter

youTube

Joel, Phil, Carmen, Emily, and Bruce

Doin’ that Blues Thang with Emily Mac

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)
  • how songwriting is like working a muscle
  • Stevie Nicks
  • Muscle Shoals
  • Carmen’s (best ever) explanation for millennial whoops in pop songs: “You have to write lyrics that a drunk person can sing”
  • opportunuties for changes through lyrics, arrangements, and musical centres
  • why you should hold back if you’re a strong singer

Listen to the whole show:

Connect with Emily:

Website

Instagram

Twitter

youTube

Facebook

Neel, Bruce, Vanessa, Braeden, and Phil

Why work with a producer? with Braeden Mitchell

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
  • how co-writing helps create a better song
  • working with Oh Susanna
  • how to meet other song writers (at shows just say, “hello, I loved your song”)
  • Braeden’s upcoming EP release show at the Dakota Tavern
  • Murphy’s Law’s of Songwriting

Listen to the complete show

Follow along with the lyric sheets

Glory Days

Everyday Girl

Watch the performance videos

Connect with Braeden

Website

Twitter

Facebook

youTube

Instagram

Soundcloud

Neel, Bruce, Jeremy, Vanessa, Phil, and Etain

Writing blue-eyed soul with Jeremy Voltz

Crazy talented Jeremy Voltz joined us with his Stevie Wonder inspired, but totally original songs, In the Clear and Wrong With Me.

We talked about:

Listen to the show

Download the lyrics

In the Clear

Wrong with Me

Watch the live performances

Connect with Jeremy

Artist website:
http://jeremyvoltz.com

Twitter:
http://twitter.com/jervoltz

Facebook:
http://facebook.com/jeremyvoltzmusic

YouTube:
http://youtube.com/user/yardapeJV

SoundCloud / MySpace:
http://soundcloud.com/jeremy-voltz

Neel, Etain, Vanessa, Phil, Patrick, Alon and Ivan posing

Electronic music creation with Audio Insurgency

Toronto-based virtuoso electronic music duo Audio Insurgency joined us for a second time to talk about their latest projects, including an album of inventive video game music covers.

Audio Insurgency is made up of Alon Rodovinsky and Ivan Popov. The guys previously appeared on Song Talk Radio in early 2016.

Patrick Ballantyne filled in for Bruce for this show. Thanks Patrick!

We talked about:

  • song writing vs. music creation
  • orchestral-like arrangements
  • how you know when your song is done (hint: song structure is the key)
  • the roles between Alon as composer and Ivan as producer and sound engineer
  • using a melody note outside the chord to open up a section of the song
  • ways to come up with your title for an instrumental piece
  • whether or not to change your tonal center in a dance song
  • The 440Hz vs 432Hz tuning debate

Listen to the show: