Insert your custom message here. close ×

Craft 3: Working with Chords


Experimenting with chord relationships is part of the craft process. Why does a chord sound better going to one chord more than another? Why does a chord relationship work in one song, but not in another?


Answers to these questions don’t emerge right away. You might have to wait for the next song. Or you might never get an answer. Or the “answer” might come in the form of an insight that has nothing to do with the question. Just ask the questions. Things will happen. You’ll get better.


Developing skill means trying things out to see what works.



Different chord shapes

The most common chord progression in the world is C major to G major. How many C chords do you know? How many G chords? If you only know one of each, then you only have one choice for a progression. If you know two C chords (I’ll call them C1 and C2; same chord, different shape) and one G chord, you have two choices. If you know two of each, you have a total of four choices: C1 to G1; C2 to G1; C1 to G2; C2 to G2.


And there’s a lot more than two of each. Here’s a link to major triads shapes.


Trying things out means doing the work to see what the possibilities are. Working with the possibilities develops skill. This is craft.

Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus

Craft 2: Material and Technique

Writing music is like digging clay out of a riverbank so that you can make a pot.  The first draft is a lump of clay. As you begin to shape it, the material suggests things to you. The way it develops takes you down paths you wouldn’t have thought about. The music teaches you. You develop skill with the materials.


A precise understanding of the materials we use to make stuff, and of the techniques we use to make it is necessary for good work to emerge. In music, the materials are pitches, rhythms, timbre, etc. Technique is the ways that you manipulate the material. Having no technique means you wind up doing the same thing over and over again. Actually, that describes having one technique. Having no technique means you can’t do anything.

Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus


I use songwriting to approach the next few posts on craft, but they relate to whatever you’re making.


Craft is that thing you do when you want to make things better; it exists for the sake of clear communication. The clearer the expression, the more effective the piece.


Honesty or clarity

Some artists are more interested in what they think of as the honesty of the first draft. But when you look at your work and consider how and why you make it, it tends to get better. Being self-critical is an act of courage. You usually find out that you’re not as good as you thought you were. When you see that, you either quit, or you get better.


You have to decide if the honesty of the first draft is more important than clarity. Often this honesty is about you, not about producing your best work. These two things don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand.


Getting better

Anything that we do can be made better. Craft means looking at what you’ve made and asking how and why it’s been made that way.


For songwriting the question sound like this: Why is that chord on the third beat and not the fourth? Why am I playing this part loud and that part soft? Are there places where I should stop playing? Would a different rhythm work better here? How does the verse relate to the chorus? Should it be different? The same? It’s not that much different for concert music.


As you write, questions arise. Don’t ignore them. Write them down if you don’t have an immediate answer. This is part of the artistic process. This process can be difficult because it makes you feel stupid if you don’t have an answer right away. The answer will come. It just might not come when you expect.


And remember. The process only makes you feel stupid if you believe the lie that before you can be a good musician you have to be talented (as if being a good musician doesn’t take work). This is backwards. Becoming talented takes hard work. And this involves craft, which involves the development of skill.

Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus

1 2