..Can be a MASSIVE time saver.
This month's post originated in a dep gig some time back in 2014, when I was asked to stand in with my old friends in https://www.facebook.com/covernote.liveband/ - but you know me, I like to mull things over.
One of the songs I'd been asked to learn was the Will.I.Am track “Happy”, and I've got to admit, I struggled a bit at first – I found the first chord, Cm, without an issue, but just couldn't find what followed it. Certainly, none of the diatonic chords I tried fitted the bill and I found myself at a loss – so I did what I normally do in these circumstances, and ditch the guitar in favour of the keyboard.
Well, actually, here me out. Now, as guitar players, we tend to be quite lazy with chords. Talk to most guitarists about triads and inversions, even quite experienced ones, and you're most likely to be met with a blank stare and a “huh”? Whereas keyboard players will learn these things in the first couple of months. This is for a couple of reasons: on guitar, we think in terms of shapes- “play a D shape on these frets here”- and this largely boils down to the fact that it's a lot trickier to see which note is which on a fretboard as opposed to a keyboard. There's also the slightly embarrassing “90/10” issue – for most guitarists (and yes, I am equally guilty of this), we will spend 90% of our playing time playing rhythm and 10% playing lead... however when it comes to practicing, we spend 90% of our time on lead ideas, and 10% practicing rhythm. Chords and inversions simply aren't as fun and satisfying to practice as blitzing sweep arpeggio runs, tapping, or wailing blues solos.
But **** me, they aren't half useful.
Five minutes later, I had the chord sequence – Cm, G, Bb F. G – the missing chord was a G. Not a change you'd gravitate to on guitar, but an easy one to make sense of on the keyboard. All you have to do is look at the connecting notes between the chords:
Cm – C, Eb, G. Invert it so that the C is at the top: Eb, G , C
G – G, B, D. Invert so that the B is at the top: D, G, B. Notice that the top note (the melody note) has dropped by a semitone. Also note that both chords share a common note – G.
Bb – Bb, D, F. Invert so that Bb is at the top: D, F, Bb. Notice that the top note (the melody note) has dropped by a semitone again. Also note that both chords share a common note – D
F – F, A, C. Invert so that Bb is at the top: D, F, Bb. Notice that the top note (the melody note) has dropped by a semitone again. Also note that both chords share a common note – F
When you see this on a keyboard, it's easy to figure out how this sequence came together. And when you know the sequence, it's easy to figure out a part based on triad voicings and feeling out what everyone else in the band – bass, keyboards, second guitar, brass section is doing.
Moral of the story – different instruments inspire different approaches to composition. This is a positive – you couldn't write “Bohemian Rhapsody” on guitar, but equally you couldn't realistically write “Tie Your Mother Down” on keyboard. So next time you're struggling to break out of a compositional rut, or trying to fathom the chord sequence from hell, step back and try a different approach. A decent keyboard can be had on eBay for £50 or so, and it's well worth the investment. And it's the same 12 notes, whether you're picking, strumming, blowing or pressing them....