It’s easy to play a few chords that sound nice together. But those chord progressions are really bland, cos there’s no spice in them. So in this video, you’ll learn how to transform your progressions with one super spicy chord. But first… tea!
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French group DIRTYPHONICS just dropped their new single “Rise from the Dead”, which boasts two powerful hacks that make the chord progression seriously stand out. Firstly, they play each chord one note at a time (known as an “arpeggio”), which makes their progression sound like a melody. Secondly (and this is the hack you’ve been waiting for), they make the third chord in their progression super spicy, which builds a ton of tension that totally captivates you. And then when that tension is resolved with the fourth chord, you feel so amazingly satisfied! So, what chord can create this level of spicy sorcery? A diminished chord. But, this ain’t no ordinary run-of-the-mill diminished chord. No, this is a non-diatonic diminished chord! What the hell is that? Well you see, both the major and minor keys contain a diminished chord. And yes, that diminished chord is somewhat spicy and will create some tension, but, as it’s in the key (known as “diatonic”), its tension is somewhat limited. So in order to create that next-level tension that Dirtyphonics are bringing, you need to not only use a diminished chord, but a diminished chord that’s not in your key (known as “non-diatonic” or “chromatic”).
Alright, now you’re gonna learn how to use this theory to make your own version, and what you see on the screen right now is our version that we made earlier. So, start by setting up four bars of 4/4, with your grid set to 1/16 notes, and your tempo set to 75 BPM. The Dirtyphonics track is in the key of F minor, but we actually used A minor for our example, because A minor consists of only white notes, which means it’s easy to distinguish between the diatonic notes (i.e. in the key) which are white, and the non-diatonic notes (i.e. not in the key) which are black.
Step 1 - Chords
Dirtyphonics’ chords are based on a classic (and therefore, overused) minor key chord progression, which starts on the I (Am), and then drops down to the ♭VI (Fmaj), and then goes up to the ♭VII (Gmaj). And with such a friendly and familiar starting point, Dirtyphonics are able to throw in a mega dissonant chord, without the progression ending up too spicy. Here’s how they do it. They insert a non-diatonic diminished chord in between the two friendly major chords, which softens the spiciness of that non-diatonic diminished chord. And the chord we’re gonna insert there, is F♯dim*. And that F♯dim also creates these awesome ascending semitone steps, which add even more tension. And, notice how the Fmaj and F♯dim chords only have one different note, which makes that chord change super smooth, even though it’s such a spicy chord!
*If you’re interested in where F♯dim comes from: It’s a borrowed chord (i.e. a chord borrowed from a parallel mode) from A Dorian.
Step 2 - Arpeggios
Right, now that you’ve got your block chords, it’s time to break ‘em up into arpeggios, so let’s start with the first chord, Am. And Dirtyphonics break up the chords in their intro into 1/16 note arpeggios, in a very common grouping of 8+8. But, when they bring this chord progression back later in the song (at 2:08, if you wanna check it out), they do something very clever: they play their 1/16 note arpeggios in the unusual grouping of 6+6+4. And just for fun, we played ours in the unusual grouping of 7+4+4+1, but you can use whatever grouping you like for your arpeggios. And once you’ve worked out a grouping you like for your first chord, then apply that to the rest of your chords, like this. And lastly, for some extra melodic interest, and to add to the climbing feel of these arpeggios, we moved one of these high root notes of each chord up to the next note in the scale.
Right, now that you’ve got one section down, how do you write more sections for it, and then, how do you transition between those sections, and turn 'em into a song? Great questions, and if this is something you need help with, then check out our cutting-edge online apprenticeship course, where you’ll literally learn every step of the music making process, and most importantly, you’ll learn how to finish your songs! You’ll also gain access to our private network, which is a safe online space (i.e. social media platform) exclusively for our 600+ apprentices from 50+ countries. Our Network is a super supportive place for you to ask theory questions, share your music, get feedback, meet like-minded music makers, and collaborate! If all this sounds useful to you, then head on over to our Online Apprenticeship page now.
Kate & Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony)
Music Teachers & Producers in Vancouver BC, Canada
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Hack Music Theory is a pioneering DAW method for making great music that stands out, so you can move and grow your audience! Taught by award-winning music lecturer Ray Harmony, and his protégé wife Kate Harmony, from their studio in Vancouver BC, Canada. Ray is the author of critically-acclaimed book series "Hack Music Theory", and has made music with Serj Tankian (System of a Down), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad), Ihsahn (Emperor), Kool Keith (Ultramagnetic MCs), Madchild (Swollen Members), and many more! Kate has the highest grade distinction in Popular Music Theory from the London College of Music, and is the only person on the planet who's been trained by Ray to teach his method. On that note, the "Hack Music Theory" YouTube channel teaches relevant and instantly-usable music theory for producers, DAW users, and all other music makers (songwriters, singers, guitarists, bassists, drummers, etc.) in all genres, from EDM to R&B, pop to hip-hop, reggae to rock, electronic to metal (and yes, we djefinitely djent!).
© 2019 Revolution Harmony
Revolution Harmony is Ray Harmony & Kate Harmony
All content (script & music) in video by Revolution Harmony
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