So you’re a budding singer/songwriter but you’re feeling slightly hindered by your slight lack of musical ability on an instrument to help you navigate the songs you wish to write?

Fear not my dear friend. I wish to impart some stunning thoughts with you that might let you just relax your mind from that worry, and just get on doing what you want to do.

The thing is, a good song just doesn’t need a million chords.

Here are some examples of some arguably very good songs, that actually require the use of one chord. What they do possess, whilst utilising the heck out of that one chord, is a whole lot of other stuff that you may well be able to create just with your own imagination and not a life’s worth of musical studying and deliberation.

Things like: a smoking bass line, , great rhythm & pace, a stellar melody, stunning harmonies, a golden hook, a solid performance and a great lyric.

Hold your horses now. Don’t stress about all of that though. You’ve got to start somewhere. Check out these examples and see what I mean, and then I’ll think of some exercises to get your poppadoms crispy.

Our first stunning One Chord song is the Queen of Soul herself, Ms Aretha Franklin, singing Chain of Fools. That is a whole lot of A minor.

Another song is Mr Bill Wither’s song “Who Is He (and what is he to you)”.

You see what I’m getting at with that smoking bass line thing right?

Ok, now, the list of two chord songs is veritably endless. But here’s a few just to get you thinking… (I’m going to try and cover a few different genres here).

Lively Up Yourself – Bob Marley

Feelin’ Alright – Joe Cocker

Save Me – Jem

Horse with no Name – America

Everyday People – Sly and the Family Stone

 

Ok, you get the idea.

Songs don’t need to have heaps of chords to be great songs.

So, here’s some ideas to get your ideas going, I hope, for some songwriting.

 

Exercise 1.1

Go back through the songs that you enjoyed listed above and when you listen back to them this time, try focusing on, listening to and singing the bass line. Then try it listening and then singing to the drums and the rhythm.

Try vocalising and improvising your own simple little bass line. If you have an instrument handy, just try figuring out how to play the bass line you’re singing. My suggestion is to keep it simple and make the rhythm your friend, i.e. focus more on playing something with only a few notes solidly in time rather than trying to play lots of notes and loosing the timing.

Record your ideas and review them, now and later.

Exercise 1.2

Go to a keyboard or piano and familiarise yourself with just the black notes, beginning on the Eb note. To play from Eb to Eb you will be playing the notes

Eb, Gb, Ab, Bb, Db and Eb.

These are the notes of the Minor Pentatonic Scale.

1, b3, 4, 5, b7, 8.

Try making up a simple bass line using these notes. If you want to get tricky, try playing the bass line with your left hand and playing the chord Eb minor with your right, but don’t stress.

I’d love you to try playing the bass line you have made up, and then having a go at improvising a melody and/or lyric to go with it. Perhaps using some of the words you have created in a past exercise, or just make up silly words for now and focus on the melody or vice versa.

Record your ideas and review them, now and later.

Exercise 1.3

Try your skill at some beat boxing. Listen to the song examples above and try singing the bass drum, snare drum and high hats. You may or may not find yourself using the sound “b” for the bass drum, “p” for the snare drum, and “t” for the high hats.

So sing these sounds along with  a song above, and then start adding beats and sounds and/or leaving some out. Have fun, play with it, laugh at yourself. Try to find yourself a groove that you like and then record it to review.

When you record your idea, imagine that it is a verse and a chorus, so record enough of it so that you can then play with some melodic ideas along with it later.

 

So, I hope these exercises have started a little idea that may grow into something more with a little nurturing.

But the moral of the story is, don’t worry if you’re not a maestro on an instrument. So long as you have a little inspiration and a desire to try to create, nothing should stop you from the unique songwriting ability that you possess from all of the musical and environmental influences that have brought you to this spot, right here, right now, looking at this screen.