Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Minor Fourth Chord

Posted on March 30, 2016 by songtive

funny girl student with glasses reading books

Today we’re gonna learn about a curious chord progression that you all can identify in a wide number of popular songs. We are talking about the use of a minor fourth degree (IVm) that adds a melancholic feeling to the phrases’ endings – which we already discussed with the name of cadences.

There are many examples in the music literature using this little cadential chord progression, let’s take a look:

  • The Beatles – Blackbird
  • Green Day – Wake Me Up When September Ends
  • Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Doris Day – Dream a Little Dream of Me
  • Santo & Johnny – Sleepwalk

As you can see there are plenty of songs and different musical genres on the list using this small but effective chord progression!

Building a IVm Progression

This progression is made out of 2 chords: a IV chord from a major key that will be turned into a minor chord flattening its third (one fret lower/one key lower) and the I chord from the same major key. This process of altering the original IV chord is also called “borrowing”, because they do not belong to that major key’s original triads – which we discussed in a previous article. However, it can be expanded in multiple ways as we will see. Let’s check it out in detail:

  1. Identify the IV chord of a major key: You get one major key to practice and identify the IV chord (a major one) and break it into chord tones.
  2. Flat the Third: Once you got the chord tones forming the IV chord, it’s time to turn it into a minor chord by lowering the third down one half-step. If you have a C major chord (C – E – G) and you low its third down one half step it will become C – Eb –G, therefore turning it into a minor chord.
  3. Close the Progression: The next step is to bring the chord progression to an end by placing the I chord – but not limited to – right after the IVm chord; this will give us a conclusion feeling – which is what makes it work.

Three easy steps to make it sound and put into use right now! Let’s take it for a test drive:

“Sleepwalk” by Santo & Johnny

We are going to explore the possibilities of our just-learned chord progression by break it popular hit ‘Sleepwalk’ into its chord progression and analyze how the IVm chord is working in there!
Let’s take a listen:

Even when it is a mostly solo performance on a lap steel guitar, we can hear an underlying chord progression played by rhythm guitar on the background:

At 0:19 we can hear that melancholic and sweet feeling the Fm chord gives to the whole progression. Let’s get into details according to the process we learned:

  1. Identify the IV chord of a major key: Since the song starts and finish with a C major chord, we can positively assume it is written in the C major key. We identify the IV chord – that being F major – and break it into its chord tones: F – A – C.
  2. Flat the Third: Since we already know how the IV chord in C major key is formed, we flat its third to turn it into a minor chord: F – Ab – C.
  3. Close the Progression: Even when we discussed that the I chord is next in line, that principle can be expanded with the purpose of enlarging the chord progression. After the IVm chord (F minor) follows a V7 chord (G7) that will act as a leading chord to C major, since it contains the leading tone of the C major key – a B note.

Going Beyond

When it comes to learning chord progressions and harmonic principles, which is what we’re doing, the most convenient way to understand them is to explore diverse keys. This will give you a different view and a mastery of all keys, which will make you a resourceful composer!

Use our Songtive app to explore all the possibilities! Let’s transpose the ‘Sleepwalk’ progression and try it around another major keys. Remember to use the Songtive Transpose feature for easy transposition:

In D major key:

In F major key:

You can check out our most popular app Piano Companion which helps you to better understand chords and scales.

4 Ways to Develop Instrumental Solos

Posted on March 23, 2016 by songtive


This time we will get some new resources to our composition toolbox. We will learn how to focus the creation of an instrumental solo – be it for guitar, piano, bass or any other instrument. But enough talk, let’s check it out!

The Resources

The musical resources we are going to discuss can be applied to any genre or style you like, because they won’t affect the singularities of any of them. You can list them in this way:

  1. Arpeggios
  2. Thirds & Sixths
  3. Passing Tones
  4. Chord/Scale relationship

The most important thing to keep in mind is that all of them work within the harmony; this means you have to use them being careful of the chord tones! That’s it! 4 powerful tips will really get you to start developing really nice signature solos for you. Let’s get into the details:

1. Arpeggios

Arpeggios are the way in which chords are broken into their chord tones and rearranged. Let’s take the following chord progression for example:

And break it into their chord tones:

Bm: B – D – F#
F#: F# – A# – C#
A: A – C# – E
E: E – G# – B
G: G – B – D
D: D – F# – A
Em: E – G – B

This is the chord progression for Hotel California by The Eagles. When you take those notes and combine them in a creative way, playing along with the chords behind, you get an epic solo! Check it out:

Thanks to YouTube user hutgreen for his great performance!

The arpeggios start at 1:29, take a good look at how only the chord tones are used during each change of the harmony behind it.

2. Thirds & Sixths

When you already have a melody and you’d like to add some interest to it, or you’d like to sound fresh and can’t-go-wrong in terms of harmony, using thirds and/or sixths below or above the melody will be an excellent choice. Thirds and/or sixths tend to sound good because they are consonant with the notes they part from.

If you’re doing a run like the B – D – B – A – G like the one at 1:18, and add up the thirds below them: G – B – G – F# – E, you will get a beautiful harmonization of the main melody!

3. Passing Tones

If all the melodies were based entirely in chord tones it would be really dull doesn’t it? So we will add some “outside” notes that will color our solo adding a singing quality to it! How? Just place one note “passing” between two chord tones! Let’s see another example:

At 2:46 the solo starts with a G – C – B and a C major chord behind it. The B note doesn’t belong to the C major chord tones’ but hitting it right after a note that does adds a nice color effect. Then it goes C – D – E behind a C major chord again, the D note keeps the melody singing!

4. Chord/Scale Relationship

Remember all those scale patterns you learned? Major scales, minor scales, minor pentatonic scales? It’s time to put them to use!
The ideal way to use those patterns is to apply the one that contains the notes of the chord we are playing above and experiment with different rhythms and positions! For those piano players out there: let’s take the A minor pentatonic pattern from Piano Companion as an example:

The notes are, from left to right: A – C –D – E – G – A and it repeats again on the remaining keys.

Check out how the Stairway to Heaven solo starts at 0:13 using E as the first note (chord tone of A minor) and A as the closing one at 0:16. Both notes right on the pentatonic pattern you already know, but giving relevance to the chord tones!

Now that you own these awesome resources it’s time to create your perfect solo using Songtive! Get your melody tool and use the Piano Companion tool to experiment with the music I am sure is sounding in your head!

A Melody that Fits into a Chord Progression

Posted on March 20, 2016 by songtive

This time we are reviewing one of the most interesting topics regarding music theory that you can use right now: how to make a melody that fits into the chord progression. One of the things that puzzled me when I was new to composing is how can I deliberately know – not by ear only – which notes are “right” or “wrong” when it comes to guitar solos, piano solos, melodies for my voice and such stuff. I just went to play any scale formula I knew over the chord progression and hoped it to run alright…which not always did, obviously!

A Trip Down to Memory Lane

Remember when we talked about the chord tones for every scale? For each scale, you can build a chord over each note via overlapping thirds in it. Let’s take a look at it in C major:

G       A       B       C     D     E        F        G
E       F       G       A     B     C        D        E
C       D       E       F     G     A        B        C 
I      IIm     IIIm     IV    V    VIm     VIIdim     I

Also each note (and chord) will be called tonal degree in order to know their position among the given scale.

Once you know what notes belong to what chords, it will be easier to determine which notes are appropriate to put in, see where I am going here?

The Chord-Melody Theory

The Chord-Melody Theory is a musical resource that relies on the chord tones to make a choice when it comes to what notes are “right”! The process is quite simple, and I’m sure you will find it helpful:

  • Make sure you got the chord progression right and break it down into chord tones
  • “Right” notes for a melody will be those that are also a chord tone
  • “Wrong” notes for a melody will be those that are not a chord tone, creating an effect called dissonance
  • Passing tones are “wrong” notes placed beside a chord tone, thus bypassing the dissonance they create!

This way, we can realize how fairly easy is to create a melody or guitar solo if you master your chords and chord tones, so make it a no-brainer for yourself taking a time to practice and learn the chords of every major and minor key and the chord tones they are made of!

Let’s Practice!

Have a good listen to Kansas’ famous classic Dust in the Wind, which is also in C major, for our lesson:

Now let’s take the chord progression for the first line of the verse – 0:20 to 0:30 – and analyze it through the Chord-Melody Theory:

1.- Get the chord progression

2.- Let’s break it down into chord tones:

  • C major: C – E – G
  • G major: G – B – D
  • A minor: A – C – E

Songtive helps you to do that by highlighting chord notes in the Melody editor as shown below:

Moment’s gone: D and E notes for the melody. D does not belong to A minor chord tones, but E note does! And since D is placed besides, it will be considered as a passing tone…making it sounds good!

How can I use it?

Well, it is time to get to the Songtive app and use our lesson!

  • Enter the and start a new song (or for better sound quality use our iPhone/iPad/Android app)
  • At the Song preferences tab select a key – I’m using C major for discussion purpose – select a time signature and sidescroll the metronome for setting the beat.
  • In the line below just input any C major progression you like
  • Go the Melody icon and start to select your notes for each chord!
  • Keep in mind the Chord-Melody Theory when choosing your melody notes
  • Experiment all around it so you can come up with a new song!