A blank canvas is something a lot of us will have been faced with at some poitn in our lives. Whether that’s the blank Word document that this article started life as, or a two-chord vamp on a gig that you have to groove or solo over, it’s still a starting point from which, given the right tools, you can make incredible things happen.
Now I’m just as daunted by an empty space that needs filling as the next person. I recently set out to write all the music for my new album – Theatre By The Sea – and spent a good portion of the initial time I’d set aside for writing not coming up with much. But just to give you a look behind the scenes of writing one of the compositions on the new album, I have not only given you a complete chart of the chord changes and melody to go with this column, but there’s also a video, which was the starting point of this song, on my Youtube channel, taken from videobasslessons.tv (free for you to watch).
You can stream or download the song ‘Erdnase’ for free at my website, which will give you the finished product, melody and all. And you can check out the Youtube video ‘Creating simple chord changes and practice ideas’ to see how trial and error in my practice routine led to quite a solid composition that I felt was deserving of filling up that blank canvas. I’ve also included the chords that led me to start searching for what eventually became ‘Erdnase’ (example one), and from that you can transpose this idea into all keys and totally expand your harmonic and melodic vocabulary from just a few simple chord outlines. And when I say simple, I mean simple.
Example one is a concept for approaching a minor chord in all its three inversions from the dominant chord of that key. In this case the key is C minor so the dominant, or V chord, is G. You adjust the inversions for both the tonic (C minor) and the dominant (G7) as you go. To approach the C minor in its root position I’m using a G triad in its first inversion, then C minor first inversion is approached by G triad in its second inversion, and probably the hardest of the chord voicings to play technique-wise is the C minor triad in its second inversion being approached by G7 – actually its ‘fourth’ inversion.
Because the G chord in its root position and the C minor chord in its second inversion have the same root note (G), I wanted to use F in root for the G chord to give it some movement. Again, with all of this stuff, check out the video and take things slowly.
The first two chords of the song are the same as example 1, and the second two chords are exactly the same shape but a minor third lower. I experimented, as you’ll hear in the video, with just moving the shapes of the first two chords of example one around the instrument until they clicked melodically. I hadn’t played those combinations of notes like that before, and by experimenting I was able to come across a sound that was new to my ear, and something I felt would make the basis of a cool composition. Notice also, that when the song goes to the B section, there are many similarities of root motion. When you look just at the bass notes of each chord you’ll see lots of chromatic approach notes such as the first two bars of the B section. Eb/G going to Ab minor. It’s the same shape as the first two bars of the song, just down a major third this time.
This should be a pretty good example of how a single root motion of a half step can go such a long when you develop it through different keys. And it’s ultimately led to a song I’m very proud to have on the album. Have fun with this, try and write your own song using this idea, and don’t forget to check out the transformation of the idea from the video lesson, into the fully fledged song on the album.