A Songwriter’s Arsenal

A dim Chord

One chord, two chords, three chords, more, I’ve got a five chord song and I want more for sure.  HUH?  Well it’s true.  I can only write so many three chord songs before I get stale.  I’ve been stale before and it is not pretty.  I’ve been studying chord progressions to expand my options, and I am getting excited!  I am expanding my songwriter‘s arsenal.  Nothing like throwing in an extra chord here and there to ramp up the tension in a song.  A few years ago I had to throw in an A diminished chord between an A chord and a B7 chord, and I struggled and struggled to get teh changes smooth.  Learning is never easy for me, but it is always chock=full of possibilitity.

In the Americana/Honky Tonk/Rockabilly/Country Jazz genres in which I write, I use mostly three-chord progressions.  This usually works fine, but there are always times when it simply cries out for another chord to rise the interest level of a phrase.  That’s what my new area of study is about.

A couple of years ago I took a critique/workshop presented by Bay Area/Nashville songwriter, Steve Seskin (he has something like seven number one recordings by some really well known artists), and I was asked why I would take a course from another songwriter.  My answer was, why not?  The implication was that I was too good to take in information from anyone.  The truth is no one is ever that good.

There are naive individuals out there who in their innocence actually believe it is possible to develop their own style without study, to become really great without learning from others, to pull themselves to greatness by building on their limitations.  Well, no study equals ignorance, not learning equals not learning, and trying to build on limitations just means more limitations.

So after thirty-seven years of songwriting, I figure, if I’m lucky, I’ll have another fifteen years of learning to do–I repeat, if I’m lucky.  In the meantime, I’ll keep learning and challenging myself, and writing.  It can only expand my arsenal of ways-to-approach-a-song.


2 thoughts on “A Songwriter’s Arsenal

  1. Howdy Hilary. Yessir, you hit the nail right on the head about more than a few things. Foremost (in my mind), is that some people expect to create great art without studying other great artists. I ran into that when I was studying poetry in college. You’d be surprise (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how many aspiring writers don’t read other writers. In music and songwriting I think it’s even worse. There are a lot of songwriters I pay close attention to that are completely out of my genre. And, I swear, I’m about sick of Tom Waits impersonators. Anyway, don’t wanna hog yer blog with my opinion and observations…keep spreadin’ the gospel!

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