I’m always playing around with different chords. Whether it’s chord substitutions, inversions, or voicings I get inspired by the sound they create. Here are a few of my favorites

Voicing

I love 7/9 chords. I end up using them everywhere. If you don’t know 7/9 chords they are super easy and, properly used, can give a ton of character to the chord. You can make the 7 or the 9 of the chord sharp or flat depending on the key or the progression to the next chord.

Here is a guitar version

C79Chord-Gtr

And here is a piano version

C79chord-Piano

I used 7/9 chords all the time.  The song “From the Mountain” uses them everywhere!!!

Inversions

Taking a simple 7/9 chord and inverting the chord is a transformation that adds complexity, depth and tension.    Once you start to invert the chord you can also start to consider dropping one of the voicings.   I will generally try to drop the root and play the third inversion.   So instead of the chord starting on the 1 or root of the chord, I start on the 5 of the chord.   With a C chord that would mean inverting to have the G note in the bottom of the chord

Here is the C7/9 with 3rd inversion

C79chord-piano-3rd inversion

Substitutions

Lastly, I will try chord substitutions throughout a new song for inspiration.   A chord substitution simply uses one note that is in the key of the song and playing a chord from a different key that also has that same note

Let say we are in the key of G and playing a G major chord.  The melody line is centered on the B note.

CMaj 1st inversion

While the melody note is still on B, you can substitute the B major chord for a dramatic change.

BMay 1st inversion

Then you can quickly invert the B chord to the 3rd inversion to add tension

BMay 3rd inversion

This chord will very nicely resolve to E minor or even E major to completely change the key of the song.   I like to use chord substitutions in the bridge of a song.   Check out an example of this on the song “Februarys Moon” at 1:30.  I go from a B minor chord to an E major (instead of E minor).

Writing a song is not like following a well marked trail, there are literally hundreds of ways you can go. However, the western musical scale only has twelve notes and the majority of songs have only a few chords. But that framework has produced millions of songs.

A songwriter gets a hint of a musical or lyrical idea and takes it somewhere. Being a songwriter I have often sought after information that would help me in my endeavors. I have found four methods for writing songs

Pure inspiration: This is the luckiest and easiest method. The words and music come at the same time. Generally the songwriter hears the song in her mind and grabs an instrument. The entire song comes fast and furious. It feels like it was given to you.

Words first: The idea for lyrical content is there and a poem is written. The cadence and meter of the lyric drive how the music must follow. Often times the song writer has to modify the lyrics in the chorus or bridge to help make sense of how the music matches.

Music first: The songwriter has a great musical idea and a general framework of the song. Then the words come. Many songwriters write lyrics or phrases that they will reference in times like this. The songwriter searches for a lyric that matches the mood or vibe of the song.

Potpourri: Lastly the writer might have a hook or chorus complete with word and music but needs the rest of the song. During the songwriting process they have to mine the feeling of what is already written to write the other parts of the song. I essentially built the song “From the Mountain” using this method.

There you have it. These are the most common methods I have found for writing songs.