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One Chord Songs No Chord Progression

#1 User is offline   Yukon Icon

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 04:47 AM

There probably does't need to be a lot of discussion here, but there might be :)

To show the opposite end of chord progressions, so to speak, some songs are basically one chord. So there are no real chord changes.
Most songs like this have some sort of vamp played around the chord type, so one could theoretically claim that there were a few chords. But the ROOT never changes in these songs. They hand on one note.

Examples:
Chain of Fools - Aretha Franklin
Shakey Ground - The Temptations
Papa Was A Rolling Stone - The Temptations
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#2 User is offline   Monte Icon

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 09:40 AM

I wonder if one could do a one-chord song, but use the inversions of the chord, and play it in different octaves, and see how that works.
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Posted 26 August 2011 - 11:10 AM

Nothing wrong with them, in my view, so long as something is done with rhythm and harmony to maintain interest.

Arguably, rhythm is "king" these days, anyway.
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Posted 26 August 2011 - 12:22 PM

To bring up an old saying "if you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail", I think a lot of the time if you're a guitarist, every song looks like chords. IMHO conceptualizing these as "one chord songs" isn't very helpful - It is more helpful to think in terms of counterpoint [melody against a vamp/riff, which is essentially an ostinato], rather than melody against a chordal background (i.e., polyphony vs homophony). The ultimate stripped down popular song in this case is probaby Peggy Lee's "fever" where the only instrument with definite pitch is the bass [of course there is her singing]. When I looked at the thread on chord progressions, I was thinking that while conceptualizing Chords either numerically or alphabetically is clearly a handy mnemonic or analytic device, it distracts from the fact that a chord is composed of invidual notes (or voices) and the ear/brain doesn't really "hear" this as a chord but as a group of voices - especially when each note/voice is distinct timbrally [either in the classical SATB voices or even the different timbres of each individual guitar or piano string] and also audtory perception gives much more weighting to the outer than inner voices and tends to connect them into distinct melodic lines. At least to me, it's much more revealing to see this in staff (or piano roll) notation to figure out what happening with either counterpoint or harmonic progression
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#5 User is offline   Yukon Icon

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 12:41 PM

View Postneuroron, on 26 August 2011 - 11:22 AM, said:

To bring up an old saying "if you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail", I think a lot of the time if you're a guitarist, every song looks like chords. IMHO conceptualizing these as "one chord songs" isn't very helpful - It is more helpful to think in terms of counterpoint [melody against a vamp/riff, which is essentially an ostinato], rather than melody against a chordal background (i.e., polyphony vs homophony). The ultimate stripped down popular song in this case is probaby Peggy Lee's "fever" where the only instrument with definite pitch is the bass [of course there is her singing]. When I looked at the thread on chord progressions, I was thinking that while conceptualizing Chords either numerically or alphabetically is clearly a handy mnemonic or analytic device, it distracts from the fact that a chord is composed of invidual notes (or voices) and the ear/brain doesn't really "hear" this as a chord but as a group of voices - especially when each note/voice is distinct timbrally [either in the classical SATB voices or even the different timbres of each individual guitar or piano string] and also audtory perception gives much more weighting to the outer than inner voices and tends to connect them into distinct melodic lines. At least to me, it's much more revealing to see this in staff (or piano roll) notation to figure out what happening with either counterpoint or harmonic progression


The staff view is the ultimate view. The actual voicings, etc.. And that is VERY important.
Keep in mind though, that we can't put a complete arranging course into a few posts here.
I do think that conceptualizing the chords is very important. This stuff all comes down to what we hear.

As I've said in this forum many times, the main advantage to thinking of chords in numbers is to help your ear learn the sound of a progression, regardless of the key.
So for example, you learn the sound of a: IV #IVdim I/5 VIm7
So when you hear that #IVdim sound in another song, your ear/brain can learn to associate that with IV #IVdim, and not worry about the alphabet names in 12 keys.

Fever is a good example I hadn't thought of.

The main reason I started the topic, was to contrast a simple song with more complex songs. To make learning songwriters aware of the range of possibilities. And that each songwriter is totally in control of their song. They can go any direction they want to, from the most simple to the most complex. And that they should not feel bad if their song doesn't have a lot of complex chord progressions.

Thanks for contributing, neuroron.
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Posted 26 August 2011 - 12:46 PM

Ron's points made me think of something.

I suppose, normally, I don't actually play chords much. I do, however, conceptualise in terms of chords (probably because I can neither read or write music). This conceptualisation enable me to get my fingers into the right place to play the notes I want (and to play other notes from the base as I add or remove fingers).

So, I think chords (it helps me to remember), but I don't play them that much. I suspect this less true of someone who strums more than I do, but I wonder if it is common for keyboard players and finger-pickers. Hmm.

I also wonder if it is constraining. Double hmm. :)
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#7 User is offline   Yukon Icon

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 12:47 PM

View PostMonte, on 26 August 2011 - 08:40 AM, said:

I wonder if one could do a one-chord song, but use the inversions of the chord, and play it in different octaves, and see how that works.


Once certainly could do that. And as a matter of fact, that is what is usually done.
The song examples I use don't just mindlessly bang on one chord in one inversion. They all have melodic/harmonic enhancements around the root chord.
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#8 User is offline   Yukon Icon

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 12:50 PM

View PostAlistair S, on 26 August 2011 - 10:10 AM, said:

Nothing wrong with them, in my view, so long as something is done with rhythm and harmony to maintain interest.

Arguably, rhythm is "king" these days, anyway.


Most musical "experts" :), say rhythm is the most important element of music, and the foundation of music.
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#9 User is offline   Salley Gardens Icon

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 01:23 PM

View PostAlistair S, on 26 August 2011 - 11:46 AM, said:

So, I think chords (it helps me to remember), but I don't play them that much. I suspect this less true of someone who strums more than I do, but I wonder if it is common for keyboard players and finger-pickers. Hmm.

Actually, you *do* play the chords (I've heard you!). The different notes (voices) in a chord do not have to be played simultaneously. If the notes are played in a linear fashion, such as in finger picking, then you are still playing the chord. They do not have to be played in a certain order either (such as root first, third next, fifth, next, etc.). Any order will do, and they are still considered a chord. These are sometimes called arpeggiated chords, or arpeggios, or broken chords.

Also, not *all* of the notes in a chord has to be played...

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 01:26 PM

George Harrison's sitar songs "Love You To" and "Within You Without You" are essentially one chord songs but still have strong melodies and structure.
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Posted 26 August 2011 - 01:42 PM

Salley Gardens said:

Also, not *all* of the notes in a chord has to be played...

I think that needs to be repeated.
Loudly.
Maybe nailed on the wall.
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Posted 26 August 2011 - 01:54 PM

OK. Let me ask the dumb question (apart from, "Shouldn't it be "have" instead of "has".. ".. :ph34r: )

If you don't play all the notes in a chord, why is it considered to be that chord? Sometimes it could be one of a number of chords, surely? What if I play a note that isn't in that chord as part of the arpeggio? Maybe that doesn't matter.

Sorry, I know this is OT.

By the way, I like "broken chord" .. it sounds lyrical :)
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Posted 26 August 2011 - 01:55 PM

"When Doves Cry" --- obvious implied chord structure, never played. I loved playing that song in my heavy metal band back in the day.
Some covers, one original so far...my current band

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 02:56 PM

View PostAlistair S, on 26 August 2011 - 01:54 PM, said:

If you don't play all the notes in a chord, why is it considered to be that chord?


It's NOT really "that chord" it's an implied chord and people will notate the "implied chord" in the context of how it apparently functions. Think of all the extended chords used in in jazz and jazz guitarists rarely play more than a few notes at a time - In the key of G e.g. a guitarist playing an Am (A-C-E) with the bassist playing a D certainly implies a D9 with the third implied. In rock of course "power 5ths" are used all the time [the root and 5th only] with the third implied. As Lazz points out, it is often much more captivating to have the chord implied and the brain fills in the blanks - one of the real charms of the ukulele to me.

A more vexing question is this: Since a plucked string e.g. produces the entire harmonic series, why do we hear this as a note and not a chord? [even more vexing when you think of "notes" played by a tone wheel organ, like a B3].

RE: A thought about Salley's comment, how densely timed does an arpeggio have to be to perceive it as a chord? do the notes have to ring till the next note? and in fact the chords can be implied without arpeggiation in a monophonic melody, e.g. the Bach unaccompanied cello pieces.
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Posted 26 August 2011 - 03:16 PM

Alistair S said:

If you don't play all the notes in a chord, why is it considered to be that chord? Sometimes it could be one of a number of chords, surely?

For me, it would be generally that chord because of the job that it's doing (in 'functional' terms).
That is, whatever way your ear makes sense of it in terms of where those chords are heading.

If you pluck the notes C and F together, followed by the notes B and F together, and then B and E together, for example, I think that our ears would generally be able to recognise our old mate II-V-I in the key of C, economically sketched out using what are known as "shell-voicings" - using just the simplest essential defining tones of chord quality - the 3rd and the 7th - (that's the way that I'm used to it coming, anyway) - with the bass playing the root (and 5th) - and any other note choices made for the colour they add. The root movement defines the chord function that we hear. If the other two or three notes on top of it don't compromise our regular aural expectations, then that's what we hear happening. Even if we take Yukon's chromatic step-wise bass-route towards home (II-bII-I) the shell-voicings on top will be exactly the same and will readily conform to our ear-holes' comfort-food expectation of a II-V-I.

And, yes, the same notes could certainly be part of a number of alternative chords.
Fluid ambiguities of that very nature are the essence of Joni Mitchell's musical appeal in my opinion.
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Ron beat me to it - it's the brain wot fills in the blanks.
The trick I think lies in gaining confidence about what blanks you can consciously encourage to get filled-in.
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#16 User is offline   Salley Gardens Icon

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 03:32 PM

View PostAlistair S, on 26 August 2011 - 12:54 PM, said:

OK. Let ma ask the dumb question (apart from, "Shouldn't it be "have" instead of "has".. ".. :ph34r: )

My dear sir, I fully understand you are far more an expert in English than I (coming from Long Island!)... :)

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If you don't play all the notes in a chord, why is it considered to be that chord? Sometimes it could be one of a number of chords, surely?

I'll answer the second question first.
Yes, it could be one of a number of chords, however it depends on context. The same way the words "there", "their", and "they're" all sound the same, they are actually different words depending on context within the sentence.

The context we are generally speaking of here is the "circle of fifths chord progression" (not to be confused with just the "circle of fifths). (The name, "circle of fifths chord progression" is actually pretty confusing and, IMO, a very BAD name, because this progression is actually moving by fourths, but we're stuck with calling it the "circle of fifths chord progression" for reasons I'd rather not go into...). Anyway, this is the circle of fifths chord progression in a Major scale:

I IV vii° iii vi ii V I


As others have stated, all Western music, Pop or otherwise, is related to this progression (and its variations, and ways to move around in). The roman numerals in Upper Case are Major Chords. Notice, if you focus only on those, you have the I IV V I progression, which appears over and over in Pop music. This is probably the most used variation of the cycle of fifths chord progression.

So, in the context of the cycle of fifths chord progression, in the key of C, the IV chord would be an F major chord: FAC. If you were using the cycle of fifths progression in the key of F, that same set of notes, FAC, now becomes the I chord.

Now for the first question regarding *not* playing all the notes in a chord:
The example chords I used so far only consisted of three notes: the root note, (which names the chord), third above the root (aka: the third in that chord), and a third above the middle note (which is five notes above the root, aka: the fifth in that chord). These three pitches stacked in thirds on top of each other is the basis for "triadic" harmony.

By continuing to stack additional notes in thirds, we alter the original chord. If we stack another note on top of our F Major chord, one third above the last pitch, the notes become in that chord become F A C E. The newest pitch, "E" is an interval of a 7th from the original pitch, "F". This chord is thus named "F Major 7". By flattening the 7 degree (E) a half step (to Eb), so the notes are F A C Eb, the chord is now known as a Dominant Chord, in this case F7.

When we hear a Dominant chord, say F7 played with all the notes, F A C Eb, and one missing the Fifth of that chord, F A _ Eb, they sound the same to our ears. The reason for this has to do with acoustical physics, and the overtones generated, which I won't discuss further here. Suffice it to say, they sound the same. If it's easier to leave the fifth out when we play or compose music, we do. It is still called an F7 (or F Dominant) chord.

We could rearrange the chord, F A C Eb, stacking it in thirds, assuming other missing pitches, and name it a different chord: A C Eb G B D F. This might be called an A diminished 13 chord. The pitches wouldn't exactly be the same, as the "F" is actually tow octaves higher than the original "F". This "A diminished 13 chord" however, is cumbersome, and might not fit within the key signature being used within the music following the circle of fifths chord progression variation. (Other music theorists might come up with other chord names besides my example.)

Have I confused you further? Or does any of this make sense?


Quote

What if I play a note that isn't in that chord as part of the arpeggio? Maybe that doesn't matter.

That note is usually called a "passing tone", or sometimes it's part of the melody (which doesn't have to be part of the chord, but usually is.)

Quote

Sorry, I know this is OT.

I think your questions are spot on topic!

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By the way, I like "broken chord" .. it sounds lyrical :)

Me too.

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 05:08 PM

View PostYukon, on 27 August 2011 - 06:50 AM, said:

Most musical "experts" :), say rhythm is the most important element of music, and the foundation of music.

All music IS rhythm.What we perceive as pitch is merely very fast rhythm.




#18 User is offline   Alistair S Icon

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 07:44 PM

Ron. Lazz, Salley,

Thanks you for answering my dumb question, and in such depth. I may not have got all the nuances, but I got the drift (and that's good enough for me! :)

If I could ask another question..

I can become quite analytical, but it often operates in a different space from my creative space (it's just the way my brain works). My real interest is in knocking down barriers to my creativity - opening up new avenues, if you will. In your experience, to what extent does application to learning all this stuff help with that? Or is it just interesting for it's own sake?

I'm taking Lazz's comment, for example:

Quote

Fluid ambiguities of that very nature are the essence of Joni Mitchell's musical appeal in my opinion.
And she doesn't know what she's doing or what to call it either, Alistair.


Now that's nice - but I ain't no Joni Mitchell! (If only!)

How worthwhile is it to really dig into this stuff as opposed to messing around with, for example, new sounds until one say, "Oh, that's cool!" and sets out to create something around it?

Maybe I'm asking an impossible question to answer, but I think it's one in many people's heads.

Second, if the answer is that "Yes, it's worth it!" .. where would you start?

Simon - are you just taking about frequency of oscillation, or are you talking about perceived rhythm in the more general sense?
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Posted 26 August 2011 - 07:58 PM

Alistair S said:

if .... "Yes, it's worth it!" .. where would you start?

Start with finding a teacher.
Couple of hours should be enough to get on the right road - the rest of the journey will last a lifetime.
You know I'd only send you to the same guy.
Saves a lot of wasted time.
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and the second best to sing them"

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The relation and balance of the two arts is a problem that has to be resolved anew in every song that is composed.”

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#20 User is offline   Salley Gardens Icon

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 08:39 PM

View PostAlistair S, on 26 August 2011 - 06:44 PM, said:

I can become quite analytical, but it often operates in a different space from my creative space (it's just the way my brain works). My real interest is in knocking down barriers to my creativity - opening up new avenues, if you will. In your experience, to what extent does application to learning all this stuff help with that? Or is it just interesting for it's own sake?

(snip!)

How worthwhile is it to really dig into this stuff as opposed to messing around with, for example, new sounds until one say, "Oh, that's cool!" and sets out to create something around it?

Maybe I'm asking an impossible question to answer, but I think it's one in many people's heads.

First, I don't think any of your questions have been dumb. As for your questions above, you'll get as many answers as there are people.

Some people have a really good head for Music Theory, and can write music based on the theory. Some people write music intuitively, and when the music is theoretically analyzed, it all works out. Right now, all of the music you have written can be analyzed through the lens of a music theorist, and explained away perfectly well.

I had the same questions as you, and a whole lot less experience actually writing music. My creation style is like yours and Joni Mitchell: intuitive (although my output can't compare with either of you!) I was hoping learning music theory would give me a boost in my creative process, knocking down my barriers of ignorance, and that's why I decided to go to school to learn it.

In my case, going to school was a big intellectual investment as I learned the theory before I had much experience actually writing music. After six years in school, I'm now in the process disseminating what I learned and beginning to actually apply it to music making.

(I imagine many of my fellow students were able to apply their intellectual learning simultaneously with acquiring it. For the rest of us, we were too busy acquiring the knowledge to actually be very creative with it!)

Music Theory, by itself is certainly *not* interesting to learn for its own sake, unless you have a personality similar to someone who likes learning advanced mathematics for its own sake. (Not me!)

So learning music theory has been a huge investment in time, energy (and tuition) just so I have a new tool that gives me a heckuva lot more depth as I mess around with creating cool new sounds.

The bottom line, for me so far, is I'm only beginning to find out if it will truly facilitate this creative pursuit. My experience at college in learning music theory also involved other areas as music history, world music, and the opportunity to play instruments and music I could never have dreamed of! Now that I'm beginning to get some time to create with my new perspective in knowing more music theory, I'm enjoying the heck out of it. Only time will tell if I write better music, or am more prolific than I was before learning Music Theory.

Quote

Second, if the answer is that "Yes, it's worth it!" .. where would you start?

Well, you *don't* have to go back to college, unless you want to. You could start by getting a book such as "Music Theory for Dummies" (nothing personal...), or the online book Simon recommends.

The thing with learning Music Theory is, it isn't linear. There is a lot of dry knowledge that needs to be absorbed before it's really usable.

Things like memorizing the alphabet from A to G forwards and backwards, and from any starting point, will go a long way. Then learn it by thirds: ACEGBDEFA forwards and backwards, and from any starting point. Then move on to fourths: ADGCFBEA; then in fifth, sixths, and sevenths. This endeavor, which is part of music theory, will make anyone better on their instrument as they learn to do this while playing.

And it's typical to learn to play the piano at the same time as learning music theory, although you don't need to became a master at it.

You already know more music theory than you might suspect, and if you were to make a deliberate effort at learning more, you'd see where you current knowledge fits it.

#21 User is offline   Alistair S Icon

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Posted 27 August 2011 - 06:24 AM

Thanks, Lazz and Salley.

I tend to learn best when I can put what I have learned into practice and internalise it - so it takes a while! You've given me the impetus to get started again, though, and I'm grateful! :)
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#22 User is offline   feegis Icon

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Posted 27 August 2011 - 07:42 AM

The first cover I ever learned was Elvis Costello's "Big Boys". I was so proud. Later on I read that he wrote that song in an attempt to write an entire song on one chord. So much for pride. :P

:)

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Posted 27 August 2011 - 03:41 PM

View PostAlistair S, on 27 August 2011 - 06:24 AM, said:

Thanks, Lazz and Salley.

I tend to learn best when I can put what I have learned into practice and internalise it - so it takes a while! You've given me the impetus to get started again, though, and I'm grateful! :)

Alistair,

Let me play the contrarian here. While "lessons" have their place, realize that "music theory" is the attempted systemization of practice. The more exposure you have to practice the more you covertly systematize it yourself. the single most important thing in really absorbing the practice of music is REALLY LEARNING a lot of songs, especialy across genres. I think standards are the best place to start, even if that's not the type of music you're trying to write, because most of the guys that wrote these had good traditional training plus the street smarts developed toughing it out in the commercial market place. In a addition their songs formed a lot of at least the colective musical unconscious of a lot of the great rock-pop writers. Then if you want to delve into some of the specifics, working through a text (as opposed ti just reading) can be very satisfying - A number of years back I worked through Kent Kennan's Counterpoint text and learned a lot. also listening to pieces while looking at scores is insightful. You then really "think deeply" about how music works, rather than just accepting someone else's theory. Now, this does work better if you can read music - and many people shy away from this because they think it's hard - it's not, it's incredibly easy, albeit being able to read and write music is different from being able to sight read a piece - that can be hard, but to be able to basically read and write music shouldn't take long at all. It is good to be able to discuss these things with people that are experienced, open to argument and have thought deeply about them [which is NOT what most music teachers are]. Geral Eskelin's books "Lies my music teacher told me" and "The sounds of music: perception and notation" are provocative as is Dave Stewart's "Inside the Music - Guide to Composition" "For those who want to learn the inner workings of music without getting bogged down in a lot of fearsome technicalities," - this is basically his sequel to "The MusicianÕs Guide to Reading & Writing Music." There are three very little books in the Harvard Poetics Lectures series that are incredibly insghtful and pretty easy going, those by Igor Stravinsky, Leodard Bernstein and Aaron Copland. Etc, etc - but clearly, learning a bunch of standards is IMHO the best entry into a broader understanding of music structure - Ron
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#24 User is offline   Alistair S Icon

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Posted 27 August 2011 - 08:18 PM

Thanks, Ron.

You know, I started out learning covers and quickly started writing my own stuff (because I couldn't play all of the songs I loved). However, it did teach me new things and I do occasionally do it still.

I need to do more of that, too. I learn a lot from it. Thanks for the reminder!
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#25 User is offline   Kenneth Bradshaw Icon

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Posted 28 August 2011 - 11:52 PM

Isn't Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man" a one chord song?

Fever, by the way, has a key change about half way through. But isn't that fantastic drumming. I messed up a concert once trying to imitate that drummer.

#26 User is offline   Yukon Icon

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Posted 29 August 2011 - 01:31 AM

View PostKenneth Bradshaw, on 28 August 2011 - 10:52 PM, said:

Isn't Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man" a one chord song?

Fever, by the way, has a key change about half way through. But isn't that fantastic drumming. I messed up a concert once trying to imitate that drummer.


I believe Fever does a 1/2 step modulation at least twice, if not 3 times.
And yes, Bo Diddly had a lot of one chord change songs.
I used to play Who Do You Love back in the day. That is a one chord change song.
I actually got to play a one night gig with Bo Diddly in about 1975 or 76. We basically vamped on one chord for the whole set :).
I asked Bo where he came up with the interesting lyrics for Who Do You Love. You know like:
I walk 47 miles of bad road
Got a cobra snake for a nectie
Got a chimney up on top made from a human skull, etc..
He said that he grew up in St. Louis, in the inner city. And he was laying on his bed with the window open, and the children outside were playing an "insult" game. A lot like the rap artists do now. And most of his lyrics for Who Do You Love were directly from those insults the kids were saying.
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#27 User is offline   Salley Gardens Icon

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Posted 29 August 2011 - 10:32 AM

View PostYukon, on 29 August 2011 - 12:31 AM, said:

I asked Bo where he came up with the interesting lyrics for Who Do You Love. You know like:
I walk 47 miles of bad road
Got a cobra snake for a nectie
Got a chimney up on top made from a human skull, etc..
He said that he grew up in St. Louis, in the inner city. And he was laying on his bed with the window open, and the children outside were playing an "insult" game. A lot like the rap artists do now. And most of his lyrics for Who Do You Love were directly from those insults the kids were saying.

What a great story!

#28 User is offline   kesha Icon

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 12:58 AM

:) won't u get the same sound/melody if u played it in different octaves? just a question.

View PostMonte, on 26 August 2011 - 09:40 AM, said:

I wonder if one could do a one-chord song, but use the inversions of the chord, and play it in different octaves, and see how that works.


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