Composing (Writing Original Music) for 21st Century and Beyond        © 2003 Ryo Kawasaki


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A) Seed or basic ideas

        A-1) Natural ideas

        A-2) Improvisation

B) Theoretical and Intellectual Composing

                C) Types

D) Learning and imitating

E) How to get started

F) Methods to use

    F1) Starting from Chord or Chord progression

           F1-1) Diatonic Scale

           F1-2) Vamps

           F1-3) Starting the song or vamp other chords than C from C diatonic chords

     F2) Composition Using Minor Scale, Minor Key and Minor chord as Tonic (tonal center)

     F3) Modulation and advanced usage of Major chords using key shift and pedal tones

     F4) Usage of Dominant 7 chords

     F5) Usage of Diminish Chords

     F6) Usage of suspended chords

     F7) Blues Chord and utilizing them for compositions

     F8) Usage of perfect fourth cycle

     F9) Modal approach

     F10) Using Bass note or Bass pattern as a starting point

     F11) Using different Bass note other than root of the chord

     F12) Using advanced harmonies for Jazz, Brazilian and semi-classical compositions

           F12-A) About Altered Scale and Dominant 7 alt Chord

     F13) Using Melody or Motif as a starting point

G) How to write melodies over given progression or vamp?

H) Sections and Structure

I)  Let’s write a song! (Actual practice)

J) Arrangement with Intro, Ending and instrumentation

K) How to incorporate improvisation into the song

L) Rehearsing the song for live performance or Recording session

M) Producing the song into the recorded format

N) Composing using computer as a tool

O) Copyright, Publishing and intellectual property

P) Different ways to get paid for your composition

               Q) Glossary for general musical terminology





                Art work by ©2003 Carlos Devizia




There are many methods to write original music. A simple song could be written in a matter of minutes or it might take weeks/months to develop and complete one piece of music that is satisfactory to the composer's ears. It is then ready to be published and heard or played by others.

Here are some methods I have been using to write my songs with a hope that they may somehow help you when you get stuck. A song is somehow like daily life itself:

      • Start (Birth or Home)
      • Development (growth, excitement or trip)
      • Back Home (Completion, Peace)

It can also end up somewhere else other than where you started, as long as there’s some kind of resolution to the end of the piece. It can also be represented like a road map: How to get to the destination from the starting point. One way or another, it is some kind of time travel experience to complete your mission once you get started. The mission is to make it an interesting trip, so that people want to listen to it again and again.

A)    Seed or basic ideas


A-1) Natural ideas

This means that some melodic ideas come from out of nowhere. They just start to ring in your head while walking, taking a shower or trying to fall sleep. When it happens, it is advisable to somehow record as much as you can in some form. The easiest way is to hum or whistle that melody in to any kind of recordable device. It is like remembering a dream, it is not that easy to remember entirely what you heard in your head. I used to call my own answering machine when I thought of something new while walking on the city streets. Somehow the rhythm of walking and the environmental sounds in the city or nature enables me to think of some musical ideas. This short seed of a song might later be used as any part of a new song. It may find its way into any one of these: The Intro, Hook, Verse, Chorus, Back ground Riffs or Bass Line. It could even be further developed in to more sophisticated form of idea.

A-2) Improvisation

This does not necessarily mean a strict sense of jazz improvisation. It means you play around or fiddle around with any kind of musical instrument including your own voice or even a computer program to create something that makes musical sense to your own satisfaction so as to become any part of your musical piece. It really does not matter how simple or complicated as long as it satisfies and amuses you. Just do not try to play any piece of music you already know. The whole point here is to enjoy the connection between your creative energy and whatever the instrument is that you’re using at that time. Try to apply whatever musical knowledge, skill or feeling you have while producing the sound. It could be a repetitious two or three note motif, a groove/ interesting bass line, or even a simple vamp. Alternatively, it could be very sophisticated and complete. The result is up to your musical knowledge, skill/experience. A good song is a good song, no matter how simple it may be, and once you find something you like, please be sure to record it using any available method. The important thing is to be able to retrieve or reproduce it later.

B)    Theoretical and Intellectual Composing:


This is more professional way of composing, you have to have quite profound knowledge of music theories in many different fields and elements in music, including harmonies, rhythms, range of instruments etc, more your knowledge is diverse, you may write music in variety of styles. However, the most important factor is you and your feel for the music, these theories and knowledge are nothing but tools for you to use them so that you can compose it more efficiently and professionally. In this workshop, I will focus more in to this way of composing so that you will not run out of the ideas when you need to write new piece of music for the given project or assignment with dead lines or specific requirements.

C)    Types :


It is always advisable to know in beforehand that what type of music you are about to write prior to engaging to the work of composing. If you are hired for writing music for the particular project, event, film or writing music for already written lyrics, normally your client, employer or co-writer has quite clear picture what kind of music they want to hear. However, if it is for your own project without any particular road map, the first thing you may want to do is to organize your ideas and divide the entire project in to different types of music. Normally, any type of musical project or event requires between 30 minutes to 90 minutes of music as a whole divided by many different types of music as songs or segments, unless you were asked to write less for whatever the reasons are.

It is also easier to compose if you know what or whom you’re writing the music for so that you can establish feel and emotional connection with each music you are about to write. It is exactly the same as writing any literature, you have to have some kind of subject to write about, and then you can organize your thoughts or feelings by having that direction.

For my own music, I normally use places I visited or lived, people I care about or respect, things or pets I love and care, memories, dedication, tribute or some sort of my inner quest, hope, beliefs as a theme to write each piece of music. Sometime music comes first or these subjects comes first and vice versa and it really does not matter which comes first, at the end they will somehow be connected and makes sense as a unique statement. Sometime I also write a particular musician(s) in mind to perform that piece and it gives me many ideas and inspiration by writing in that way.

Types of music can be basically divided in to its speed (tempo), and sound textures or instrumentations. It can be also divided that how much of each piece of music consists of improvisation, or entirely written from the beginning to the end.

These basic types can be further divided in to various known forms or genre of music as you see in record stores; Classical, Jazz, fusion-Jazz, Latin, Spanish, African, Afro-Cuban, Caribbean, Mexican, reggae, Brazilian, Folk, Indian, Rock, R&B, Soul, Funk, Hip-Hop, Electronica, Disco, House, Techno, New Age, Landscape, different traditional or ethnic music from all over the world and some of them would mix all different sorts of music in to one.

Within all these different types of music, the tempo(beat) will be pronounced in each unique way to identify their characteristic nature, it could be called groove, swing or simply as beat. The tempo can normally has a range of 40BPM(Beat per Minute) to 300BPM. Our healthy walking pace is around 110-125BPM, so naturally these tempo is becoming as the center of the tempo for most of music. Some music, classical in particular, the tempo or meter (beats contained in each measure) is not steady at all compared to most of modern popular music, which are basically constructed on steady tempo from the beginning to the end of the song.

However, many of music we write or hear are interchangeable within these different kinds of musical style or grooves by applying clever arrangement by shifting the beat of each note within the original composition to fit with the new groove. In other words, some Rock song can be played in salsa or jazz beat and vise versa.

I found that setting the right tempo to fit with the chosen groove for the given song is the most important element to make that song sounds good and feel good as well as joy to play especially as a performer. In other words, if you want to play the same song in different tempo, you may have to somehow find the new type of groove in order to make it work. The biggest challenge for the conductors for classical music is to find the correct tempo for each movement or section by imagining how the composer intended them to be, since if the tempo is wrong, the music will not sound good as it was originally intended to be.

D)    Learning and imitating:


We all learn from the others, so it is recommended to have wide variety of studying about how others write, especially the ones grabbed your heart by listening to them. Standard Jazz, Latin fake books, various sheet music for Pop, Rock, R&B  and Soul music are available for such study. Particularly, it is good to know and be familiar with how Beatles, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Burt Bacharach, Stevie Wonder and Antonio Carlos Jobim, wrote their songs, the way to structure, usage of different type of harmonies and so forth, these are the samples of good modern music and composers. We also must not forget that Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Chick Corea and Joe Zavinul are note worthy composers paved new ways for modern compositions. Also, there are great resources in classical music as well, Bach already invented the usage for the most of modern harmonies how they fit together or to make it work, I also study Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky and various classical guitar music transcriptions as well and of course there are many others to be mentioned. It is also good to find out the choices of good songs by great players such as pianist Bill Evans, trumpeter Miles Davis, saxophonist John Coltrane, many historical jazz singers and so on, they’re not just only great players, but be able to find great compositions to play or sing on aside form their own.

There are few practices which may help developing your composing skills. One is whenever you are about to learn the new song which you like but  written by the others, always approach to that song as if you are writing that song and do not jump on to the music from the first bar of the music. Instead, you may want to study the structure of that song first, especially with lengthy classical piece and you may find out some challenging piece to understand how tonality moves around and that is why certain harmonies are placed at specific points in that piece, or you may discover some relationship between chords how they work together which you never knew it before. In this way, you can be connected to that piece much faster than tracing the notes on the paper from the first beat and trying to memorizing it forcefully. Knowing the structure makes you very comfortable with that piece and helps you learn faster, since you know what comes next and why it goes there. Sometime I even find some sophisticated classical piece was not that complicated as I felt while I was listening to it once I divided the sections of entire piece and understood the structure. Another thing I used to do was to make my own  listening tape with the selections of my favorite pieces by various artists/composers or by the same artist/composer but from different albums or performances, it is like how DJs put together their programs. It is a good practice to structure music to put something works together for your pleasure so that you will develop the ideas about producing your own CD or programming your concert. And above all, to help your composing or arrangement skill by developing your ear in this way.  Lastly, try to grab the chord progression, bass lines, drum patterns and structure of the song as much as you can when you hear some song you like on radio, TV, at friend’s party or whatever, and it will help you to develop your ear and knowledge about different types of music.

E)     How to get started:


This workshop is not prepared or aimed to teach music theory, therefore I will not explain each musical term what it is and I assume that participants or readers have basic knowledge of each musical terminology, such as chord symbols/names, scales, time signatures, key signatures, notations and basic ability to read and write the music and at least capable of playing one chord instrument sufficient enough to express your ideas such as keyboard or guitar, or using the computer to do the same otherwise. Though, I am intending to attach some glossary for musical terms at the end of this textbook.

In the meantime, I’ve found good instructive online site for music theory for your reference at: and I will add such site as I encounter in the future.

It is also preferable that you have some kind of singing experience such as being a part of school choir etc, so that at least you have an ability to sing in tune and find appropriate note or melodic movement when you hear certain chord, chord progression and bass line and it enhances your ability to create melodies without using specific instrument especially when you intend to write widely acceptable simpler songs such as pop songs. However, in this workshop, I am focusing more for the compositions to be written with some improvisation in our mind, to provide nice base to improvise on the given song. You can compose at anywhere using anything, but most important thing is that you can always keep record of them either on paper, audio recorder, computer for the later retrieve and please do not take anything lightly even if whatever you came up with does not sound good enough according to your expectation or standard, since you cannot be objective enough to make that kind of judgment right after you came up with your new idea. If you don’t like it, just keep it in the file and check them out few months or few years later, you may surprise yourself listening to what you did in the past. I also cannot teach or show you how to create your own melody, melody is like your own face, only your parents could have done it with specific combination of DNA. I can only show you how to search your own melody something makes musical sense and many different ways to create the background for your own melody so that it can be easily created or discovered than shooting in the dark.

 F) Methods to use:

Everything starts from one, so the primary effort should be made to find out where to begin. We can start from a single note, phrase, chord or Bass pattern. The choice of key must also be selected, if you already hear something in your head, we can start form there in that key whatever you’re hearing. Later, it can be transposed to the different key if necessary depending on what instrument or singer will take the lead.

 F1) Starting from Chord or Chord progression:

Let’s say that we start from chord C. C is a triad, (consists 3 notes; C, E, and G) and a major chord. Where can we go from here?

 F1-1) Diatonic Scale:

C diatonic scale is C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C nothing but to use these 8 notes within each octave, no accidentals. White keys only on piano keyboard.

If you use these notes as bass notes for forth coming diatonic chord progression, they could become:

C,  Dm or Dm7, Em or Em7, F, G or G7, Am or Am7,  G/B (G over B) or G7/B (G7 over B) and Bm7(b5) or Dm/B (D Minor over B).

Most common and natural sounding progressions using these diatonic chords can be :

C -> Dm  or C -> Dm7  (I -> IIm or IIm7)

C -> Em   or C -> Em7   (I -> IIIm or IIIm7)

C -> F                            (I -> IV)

C -> G                            (I -> V)

C -> Am  or C -> Am7    (I -> VIm or Vim7)

C -> G7                          (I -> V7)


Either two beats each or four beats each(one measure each) or you can try more inventive way to place each chord on different beat if it works and sounds musical.

Now, even from these simple two chord diatonic progression as a starting point, it can go and develop in to countless variations. Or, some of these chord progressions could be even considered good enough to write entire song on just these two chords! These diatonic progressions are typically found on Mexican, Calypso, African and even in some Cuban music, also some sophisticated variation has often used in American Pop/Rock songs started in late 50’s to the present.

F1-2) Vamps:

Vamp is basically a rhythmical music loop, as short as one bar and as long as 4 bars repetitious loop based on singular unique groove. Either it could be one to several chords of progression or one simple bass pattern based on one or two chords. Finding and knowing all the effective vamps may be the main key focal point for composing modern music as well as for this workshop. This knowledge will become bread and butter when you need to write a new music professionally within limited time frame. Vamps are the most commonly used method in contemporary music, when you listen to Hip-hop or club music, these music are basically constructed on nothing but Vamps. Anything exceeds 5 bars progression is normally considered as a section instead of Vamp.

Among samples of two chords progressions above, there is one complete chord progression which can be used as a vamp and be able to write entire song over these two chords. Which is the last progression, C -> G7. The reason it works is because both chords progresses in complete form of tension, release and resolution by themselves without any help from other chords. G7 as a dominant chord, it will satisfy its mission to be resolved on 4th above or 5th below tonic chord, which is C. C is also satisfied comfortably releasing its tension by moving diatonically to 5th chord G7. C is a tonic chord and even though it has a stable harmonic structure, it has a tendency for moving to some another chord if it was used rhythmically unless it was resolved through dominant chord G7. You will find it very difficult by keep strumming C triad chord only and find any musical sense out of it to write any meaningful song, it has to go somewhere. Only time it might work is when it is used as drone without any specific rhythm and such successful example can be heard on Miles Davis’s “In a Silent Way”. On the other hand, since G7 chord is a dominant chord, you can even make entire song just based on this one chord and it can used as a Vamp as well. We’ll get in to this more in depth later, since it is not in the criteria of C diatonic scale. At any rate, the usage of this simplest progression can be heard on Flamenco music, Caribbean, African and some Country and Western Music.

If you combine this with the third sample of progression C -> F above and make it as C -> F -> G7, the loop of progression will become much more stronger and complete 2 bars vamp as C (2 beats) -> F(2 beats) -> G7( 4beats, syncopated from the end of 4th beat in previous bar). (Fig 1.)


                                                Fig. 1


One of the best successful examples of the usage of this progression is the song called “La Bamba”

Clip1:  La Bamba_1

Clip2:  La Bamba_2

And probably most of you’re familiar with this song when you hear it. (Fig.2).


                                                                Fig.2     Listen


All the other diatonic movements of chords above still need some other chords to be added in order to resolve back to tonic C to sounds musical, so that we can create a workable Vamp. There is no space or time to go through all the different possibilities, but in order to get some ideas, I will show you some common way of developing them to become as workable progression as well as for the useful Vamp.

Let’s see at the third one, C -> Em progression. If you strum guitar or play piano with two or four beats of each chord, it does not sound complete progression, does it? It still wants to go somewhere else. How about F? Made sense? But it is still incomplete and it does not resolve back to C yet. So, let’s add G chord following F to make entire progression as C -> Em -> F -> G -> , either two beats or four beats on each chord.

Here we go! Now it sounds good enough to write a verse of some simple pop/rock song over this progression.

Next, take a look at the 5th one with C -> Am, the same as previous one, it does not sound complete as a loop or vamp, does it? Unlikely to the previous one with C -> Em, this is a bit stronger connection to become as a vamp, may be good enough as an intro for the song  to set the song up, however, it is not quite strong enough to write a verse over it.

So, how about adding Dm7 -> G7 after them as C -> Am -> Dm7 -> G7 ? I think it works really nicely. Probably, now you’ve realized that you’ve heard tens or hundreds of pop/rock songs using this progression over and over again. The first song I remember using this progression is “Diana”

Clip: Diana

 by  Paul Anka  in 50’s, also Latin hit song called “Perfidia” about the same time.

Clip1:  Perfidia_1 

Clip2:  Perfidia_2


How about the first sample of C -> Dm?


This movement is rather subtle progression compare to the others above, however, it is commonly used as a starting point for ascending or descending diatonic scale linearly. Such examples are:


C -> Dm -> Em -> Dm   Two beats or four beats each and repeats as a Vamp.


It works rather well in jazzy environment instead of using raw triads by adding tension note to each chord as an effective vamp or section,

Thus:  CMaj7 -> Dm7 -> Em7 -> Dm7


Lastly, Bm7(b5) (half diminish) is even though a part of the C diatonic scale family, it is hardly used within C diatonic chord progression, it is more effective chord to resolve in to Am chord via E7(b9). Bm7(b5) -> E7(b9) -> Am, it will be explained later at the Minor scale section as well as in Jazz/Brazilian section.


F1-3) Starting the song or vamp other chords than C from C diatonic chords.


This will probably be the most natural quest after getting familiar with C diatonic scale and chords. And the answer is of course you can start from any other chords, however, at this point we must stick with strictly within C diatonic scale for creating vamp or song,  and in other words we are not going to modulate the key yet at his point. The Modulation and Key change will be described later in the other section. So, even if we start from Dm, F, G, Am, the progression must still remain in C major key at this practice.


Here are few useful examples of Vamps:.


Dm -> Am  (Four beats each, two bars vamp). Bridge of song “Favera” by A.C. Jobim

Dm -> G7  (Four beats each, two bars vamp)

Dm7 -> Em7 (Four beats each, two bars vamp)

Dm -> G (Four beats each, two bars vamp)

Dm -> G -> Am -> F(Four beats each, four bars vamp)

Em -> F(Four beats each, two bars vamp)

Em -> F -> G -> F -> Em -> F -> G -> Am(Four beats each, eight bars section)

Em -> Am(Four beats each, two bars vamp)

F(2beats) -> G(2beats) -> C(4beats, two bars vamp)

F -> C(Four beats each, two bars vamp)

F -> Em(Four beats each, two bars vamp)

F -> Em -> F -> G((Four beats each, four bars vamp)

G -> Am((Four beats each, two bars vamp)

G -> F -> Em -> F(Two beats each, two bars vamp)

Am -> G -> F -> G(Four beats each, four bars vamp) or two beats each

Am -> Em -> F -> G(Four beats each, four bars vamp)


Well, there’s more and experiment them by yourself what works for the moods you’re seeking with your song. It is just a matter of combinations and your ears to decide if you like how it sounds or not. Playing in different tempo will give you different impressions and colors as well.


F2) Composition Using Minor Scale, Minor Key and Minor chord as Tonic(tonal center):


Minor scales found within C diatonic scales are:


D Dorian       D,E,F,G,A,B,C,D      Dm or Dm7 as a tonic chord within C diatonic scale

E Phrygian     E,F,G,A,B,C,D,E      Em or Em7 as a tonic chord within C diatonic scale

A Aeolian      A,B,C,D,E,F,G,A      Am or Am7 as a tonic chord within C diatonic scale


Even though, they produce the moods of Minor (Dark) characteristics compare to C major scale (C Ionian), they’re consisted with exactly the same notes as C Major scale.


The typical usages of these chords to create useful Vamps are:


Dm7 -> G7  or Jazzy interpretation would be Dm9 -> G13 (Normally 4 beats each and the second bar is syncopated from the end of 4th beats of previous bar).

Dm7 -> Em7 (4 beats each and the second bar is syncopated from the end of 4th beats of previous bar)

Em -> FMaj7(4 beats each and the second bar is syncopated from the end of 4th beats of previous bar)

Am -> G (4 beats each and the second bar is syncopated from the end of 4th beats of previous bar)

Am(4beats) -> G(4 beats syncopated from the end of 4th beats of previous bar) -> Am(4beats) -> F(2 beats syncopated from the end of 4th beats of previous bar) -> F(1 beat on 3rd beat of 4th measure) -> G( 1beat on 4th beat of 4th measure)


These are quite effective and strong Vamps and you can almost write the entire song based on these Vamps with little twist or modulations especially with Jazzy or Funky groove behind it. Or, you can use more Afro oriented beats such as 6/8 time signature instead of 4/4 to make them even more exciting.


Am7 -> Dm7 or Am9 -> Dm9 (4 beats each and the second bar is syncopated from the end of 4th beats of previous bar)


is also quite strong Vamp, at least to create intro or some section of the piece.


Now, the above usages of Minor chords are not exactly writing music in Minor key in a strict sense, they’re more utilizing the method of Jazz Modes exists within C diatonic scale. There is only one authentic Minor key share the same key signature with C major scale, which is A Minor.


A minor scale : A,B,C,D,E,F,G,A


However, there’re another two types of minor scales exists within this key according to Classic theory, the one is;


A minor harmonic scale : A,B,C,D,E,F,G#,A


Or, A minor melodic scale :  Ascending : A,B,C,D,E,F#,G#,A    Descending: A,G,F,E,D,C,B,A (The same as the original scale)


Then we can take a look at this A Minor key from more melodic angle staying away from strict C diatonic scale, since the dominant chord in order to resolve to A minor chord harmonically is E7 (E, G#, B, D) and it no longer shares the same notes as C diatonic scale since the note G# is presented within this movement or progression.


Utilizing this new option, we can further create effective Vamps resolving to Am chord.


Am -> G -> F -> E7 (2 beats or 4 beats each)


This progression is probably originated in Spanish Flamenco music as well as related Gypsy traditional folk songs, however, this progression is the most widely used progression in writing contemporary pop/rock and many Latin, Afro-Cuban songs in the last 50 years.


Here are more useful vamps utilizing E7 chord in key of A Minor


Am -> E7 (2 beats or 4 beats each) Can’t get wrong with this one!

Am -> Dm -> E7 -> Am (2 beats or 4 beats each) This one is very strong.

Am -> Dm -> Am -> E7 (2 beats or 4 beats each)

Am -> E7 -> E7 -> Am  (2 beats or 4 beats each), Very typical in Cuban, Latin music

Am -> F -> G -> E7 (2 beats or 4 beats each) Easy to write Pop/Rock song

Am -> C -> F -> E7 (2 beats or 4 beats each)

Am -> C -> Dm -> E7 (2 beats or 4 beats each)


Now, if we look at A minor melodic scale, we can even involve the chords with F# within the chord, such as D triad (D,F#,A), D7(D,F#,A,C),Bm(B,D,F#), Bm7(B,D,F#,A) and it broadens the variety of possibilities to find progression and Vamps within A Minor Key.


Am -> D (2 beats or 4 beats each)

Am7 -> D7 (2 beats or 4 beats each)

Am (4 beats) -> D (2 beats) -> E7 (2 beats)

Am -> C -> D -> E7(2 beats or 4 beats each)

Am -> C -> D -> F -> Am -> E7(2 beats each) -> Am(4 beats)  “House of Rising Sun”

Am -> Bm (2 beats or 4 beats each)

Am7 -> Bm7 (2 beats or 4 beats each)


Some Jazzy or Brazilian types of usage could be:


Am6(4 beats) -> Bm7(b5)(2beats) -> E7(#9)(1 beat) -> E7(b9)(1 beat)


I bet that you can find more useful progressions or Vamps and please experiment what else you can find. As you may have realized, there are more possibilities of workable vamps can be created in Minor key than in Major key and that is why many of contemporary funk or Latin pop songs may be written in Minor keys. However, there are many ways to manipulate Major chords once you stay away from diatonic scale using the concept of key change or pedal tones to create effective musical Vamps adheres the happier mood of Major chords or Major keys.


F3) Modulation, advanced usage of Major chords using key shift and pedal tones.


Interesting characteristic of Major triad (fundamental three notes chord with tonic, third and fifth) chord is that they can transposed to any key one after another randomly with in 12 chromatic tonality exists within each octave and keep musical sense or you can place these different base note beneath each triad to create harmonic tension. Modulation basically means that we change the key(tonality) of the song section by section. (moves one diatonic scale to another diatonic scale bears different key signature)


Chromatic Scale or notes within each Octave are;




For example, you can create a sequence of triad chords in any combinations among this chromatic scale with utilizing your musical ears by applying different length on each chord to create useful vamps:


C -> A#(Bb) (4 beats each)

C -> D#(Eb) -> F -> G (2 beats or 4 beats each)

C -> B -> A#(Bb) -> A

C -> E -> F(4 beats each) -> F(2 beats) -> F(1 beat) -> G(1 beat)

F -> G -> Bb -> C(2 beats each syncopated at the end of 2nd beat)


Once you get a feel for how it works, then placing some minor chords and dominant 7th chords in between them, it will give you even countless varieties of workable progressions.


C -> E7 -> Am(4 beats each) -> F(2 beats) -> F(1 beat) -> G(1 beat)

This one was modulated twice from Key C to Key Am then returned to Key C


Em -> Am -> D7 -> G(4 beats each)

This one was modulated twice from Key Em to Key G then returned to Key Em


Em -> A7 -> D -> C -> G -> C -> F -> F(4 beats each)

This one was modulated two times from Key D to Key C then returned to Key D


Also, using pedal tone (drone kind of single bass note through out the progression) would give different moods and characteristics


D -> G/D -> C/D -> D

Eb/D -> D

D -> C/D -> D -> Eb/D


Another interesting usage is going back and forth Major and Minor Chord for the same Bass note.


A -> A -> Am -> Am  or AMaj7 -> AMaj7 -> Am7(9) -> Am7(9)  and this one can be further substituted by AMaj7 -> G13 -> FMaj7 -> Bm11 progression.


Also,  Am -> Am+7 -> Am7 -> Am6  and  Am -> Am+ -> Am6 -> Am+   are effective ways of breaking up Am chord with interesting chromatic inner voice or bass movement to add some color or inspire different kind of melody.  The latter example can be heard on the theme song for James Bond movie  


Major 7th chord, Dominant 7th chord and Minor 7th chord also can be used within diatonic scale or jump to another key to make effective Vamp.


CMaj7 -> BbMaj7

CMaj7 -> FMaj7

CMaj7 -> DMaj7 -> CMaj7 -> BbMaj7

Am7 -> G-7

Am7 -> Bm7 -> Cm7 -> Bm7

Am7 -> D9 -> Gm7 -> C9

Am7 -> G7

C7 -> F7

D7 -> C7

C7 -> F7 -> D7 -> G7


Typical I -> VI -> II -> V


C -> A7 -> Dm7 -> G7


Jazzy usage of the same progression


CMaj7 -> A7(b9) -> Dm9 -> G7(b9)

CMaj7 -> Eb9 -> Dm9 -> Db9


Substitute CMaj7 with Em7


Em7 -> A7(b9) -> Dm7 -> G7(b9)


Spanish progression alternated using dominant 7th chords


F-7 -> Eb7 -> Db7 -> C7


Jazzy cadence using Spanish turn around


Am7(4 beats) -> F9(2 beats) -> E9 (2 beats)


Well, these samples should provide you enough starting point to discover your own useful Vamps, basically you can go to anywhere as you please and the hardest point is how to connect tem in cohesive way so that everything you put together sounds like part of the same song. Sometime, simpler is better and save different ideas for the next song or use it as a part of the arrangement such as for Intro and ending, instead of body of the song.


F4) Usage of Dominant 7 chords


There are three fundamental characteristics in Dominant 7 chords. One is that it has strong tendency to be resolved to either 4th above, 5th below or half step below major or minor tonic chord. 2nd characteristic is that any dominant 7 chords can follow literally any other major, minor or dominant chords regardless of previous key. And the 3rd characteristic is that Dominant 7 chord can stand by its self to produce meaningful vamp without chord progression with proper rhythmic usage with effective bass pattern.


The first characteristic is handy when we need a modulation to change the key momentarily within the song.


C7 can be resolved to:


C7 -> F

C7 -> B

C7 -> Fm

C7 -> Bm


The second characteristic can be illustrated by following samples:


C -> C7

C -> C#7(Db7)

C -> D7

C -> D#7(Eb7)

C -> E7

C -> F7

C -> F#7(Gb7)

C -> G7

C -> G#7(Ab7)

C -> A7

C -> A#7(Bb7)

C -> B7


C7 -> C7

C7 -> C#7(Db7)

C7 -> D7

C7 -> D#7(Eb7)

C7 -> E7

C7 -> F7

C7 -> F#7(Gb7)

C7 -> G7

C7 -> G#7(Ab7)

C7 -> A7

C7 -> A#7(Bb7)

C7 -> B7


Cm -> C7

Cm -> C#7(Db7)

Cm -> D7

Cm -> D#7(Eb7)

Cm -> E7

Cm -> F7

Cm -> F#7(Gb7)

Cm -> G7

Cm -> G#7(Ab7)

Cm -> A7

Cm -> A#7(Bb7)

Cm -> B7


Cm7 -> C7

Cm7 -> C#7(Db7)

Cm7 -> D7

Cm7 -> D#7(Eb7)

Cm7 -> E7

Cm7 -> F7

Cm7 -> F#7(Gb7)

Cm7 -> G7

Cm7 -> G#7(Ab7)

Cm7 -> A7

Cm7 -> A#7(Bb7)

Cm7 -> B7


However, some of these connections will require thoughtful chord progression with proper melody to make it work musically while others are widely used progressions and some of them would even work as two chord vamp as already mentioned in previous sections.


Example of creating vamps:


C -> C7 -> F -> Fm

C -> C#7(Db7): This can work as two chords Vamp

C -> D7 -> D-7 -> G7

C -> D#7(Eb7) -> D-7 -> G7

C -> E7 -> Dm7 -> G7 

C -> F7: This can work as two chords Vamp

C -> F#7(Gb7) -> Eb7(4 beats each) -> D7(2 beats) -> Db7(2 beats)

C -> G7: This can work as two chords Vamp

C(4 beats) -> G#7(Ab7)(2 beats) -> G7(2 beats)

C -> A7 -> Dm7 -> G7

C -> A#7(Bb7): This can work as two chords Vamp

C -> B7 -> D-7 -> G7


Though, some of them are more useful for further developments used as a modulation to create a section instead of creating a vamp.


C -> E7 -> A7 -> D-7 -> (2 measures each)  First 8 bars of Standard song “All of Me” Listen to a clip 

C -> B7 -> Bb -> A7 ->    First 8bars of Standard song “Dream” (Listen to a clip) or French song “Man and Woman”(Use Maj7 instead of triads) as

CMaj7 -> B7 -> BbMaj7 -> A7 -> DMaj7 Listen to Original Clip from Soundtrack.


The third characteristic can be further discussed at Bass pattern section.


F5) Usage of Diminish Chords:


Diminish chords are four notes assembled with minor third interval within a octave range and bears no tonal characteristic and often used as a substitute for dominant 7th chords or minor 7th chords within the given progression in order to add alternative harmonic character or, to create interesting bass movements or approaching note at the top of each chord in the progression .


Cdim or Co is 4 notes chord consists C,Eb,F#,A  and since all these notes share the same interval, Cdim, Ebdim, F#dim, Adim are the same chord but bears the different bass note represented by each chord name.


Also, there are only three basic diminish chords exist because of its nature and they are:


Cdim, C#dim and Ddim with subsequent other three diminish chords in each as explained above consists the same notes.


For example, simple C -> A7 -> Dm7 -> G7 progression can be converted using diminish chords as the following;


C -> Bbdim -> Dm7/A -> Abdim  It is basically the same progression, but the bass movement becomes rather interesting as it becomes  C -> Bb -> A -> Ab 


Or it can be C -> C#dim -> Dm7 -> G7  presenting chromatically ascending bass notes.


Another sample is that  C -> C7 -> F -> Fm can be converted to  C -> C7 -> F -> F#dim to make it sounds more exciting and brighter using F -> F# bass note transition instead of A -> Ab inner voice transition seen in F -> Fm.


Diminish chords can also comfortably jump around entire chromatic domain of octave. You can call any diminish chord one after the another if you want. One composer I know of extensively used diminish chords for his compositions is Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.


F6) Usage of suspended chords


Suspended chords are the chords consists additional one note along with root note and its fifth note other than major or minor chords.


In other words, we already know what C (C,E,G) or Cm (C, Eb, G) major, minor triads are, but what happens if we only keep C & G and adding another diatonic note one at a time to make new chords? And that is what suspended chords are.


Csus2   C,D,G

Csus3   C,E,G  which is C chord, so we don’t need this one

Csus4   C,F,G

Csus5   C,G,G since it consists only two notes, it is not a chord yet, Chord requires to have more than three separated notes.

Csus6   C,G,A

Csus7   C,G,B


They do not represent any major or minor characteristics, they would sound in between, but indeed nice chords to produce specific effect. Though, sus4 is widely used by resolving or progressing to major or dominant 7 chord. Such as Asus4 -> A, A7sus4 -> A7


All these suspended chords can freely jump around within twelve chromatic intervals as you please them to be, just like diminish chords are.


Similarly, suspended 7th chords are the chords consists additional one note along with root note, its fifth note and flatted 7th note other than dominant 7th or minor7  chords.


C7sus4  consist C,F,G,Bb   However, we normally use it as Gm7/C in jazz idiom. C,F,G,Bb,D which is kind of C7sus2,4 and both are valid C7sus4.


F7)  Blues Chord and Utilizing them for compositions.


Blues is known as American Mississippi Black music as an origin of it, however, the form of Blues existed since the beginning of music history.


One of the strongest connections between harmonies is Tonic chord, secondary dominant chord and dominant chord. In Key of C or Cm, it can be represented by C -> F -> G7 -> C, C7 -> F7 -> G7 -> C, Cm -> Fm -> G7 -> Cm or Cm7 -> Fm7 -> G7 -> Cm.  F, F7, Fm or Fm7 is considered as secondary dominant chord against C tonic.


This is very strong and natural road map to construct the song, it is only a matter of how to make variations of it by inserting another chords in between or substitute some chords with another to invent more interesting trip than being predictable. The whole concept here is Home -> Trip -> Return to home or go to destination -> Reach Home or destination. It is kind of similar to Base ball game isn’t it?


American Blues is one of variations with slight alternation by coming home once after the trip to the secondary dominant chord. New alternation is underlined.


C (4 bars) -> F(2 bars) -> C(2bars) -> G7(2bars) -> C(2bars)   Twelve bars cycle.


Then it was developed further with providing more tension(excitement) using dominant 7th chords and descending effects between  Secondary dominant and Dominant chords.


C7(4bars) -> F7(2bars) -> C7(2bars) -> G7(one bar) -> F7(one bar) -> C7(2 bars)


In Jazz idiom, it was even furthered to make it more interesting such as;


C9(1bar) -> F9(2beats) -> F#o(2beats) -> C9(1bar) -> Gm7(2beats) -> C7(b9)(2beats) -> F9(1bar) -> F#o(1bar) -> C9(1bar) -> Em7(b5)(2beats) -> A7(b9)(2beats) -> D-7(1bar) -> G7(1bar) -> C(2beats) -> A7(b9)(2beats) -> D-7(2beats) -> G7(2beats)


Duke Ellington’s composition “C Jam Blues” is probably the simplest song ever has written in the modern music history using 4bars simple motif repeated three times by only Two sparsely used notes “G” &”C”(Fifth and root of the key) based on similar Jazz blues progression above. Yet, this song has been played and heard countless times all over the world as one of the most popular songs in the music history. This is a good example of how I stated in the beginning; Good song is a good song no matter how simple it may be. Click here to play midi version / Listen to a clip by Ellington's band


                                             C Jam Blues                    Duke Ellington



Blues is one of the good starting point to write original music, since you don’t have to invent the new chord progressions.


Typical Minor Blues chord progressions are:


Cm(4bars) -> Fm(2bars) -> Cm(2bars) -> Fm(1bar) -> G7(1bar) -> Cm(2bars)


However, in Jazz, it is developed in to such as;


Cm7(3bars) ->

G-7(b5)(2beats) -> C7(b9)(2beats) -> Fm7(2bars) -> Cm7(2bars) -> Dm7(b5)(1bar) -> G7(b9)(1bar) -> Cm(2bars)


Cm7(3bars) ->

G-7(b5)(2beats) -> C7(b9)(2beats) -> Fm7(2bars) -> Cm7(2bars) -> Ab9(1bar) -> G7(b9)(1bar) -> Cm(2bars)


Once you became familiar with the basic Major and Minor Blues progressions, you can further modify them to make your own unique progression based on this idiom and you can even stretch the number of measures to 16 bars instead of original 12 bars form.


Such as:


Cm(3bars) -> C7(1bar) -> Fm(2bars) -> Cm(2bars) -> D7(2bars) -> G7(2bars)


Cm(3bars) -> C7(1bar) -> Fm7(1bar) -> Bb7(1bar) -> Em7(1bar) -> A7(1bar) -> Dm7(b5)(1bar) -> G7(b9)(1bar) -> Cm(1bar) -> Ab7(2beats) -> G7(2beats)


Blues also has introduced the usage of micro notes into Western music which is originally constructed within 12chromatic notes within each octave. Blues sang by singers or played by guitar or any other instruments are capable of shifting a pitch between these 12chromatic notes is now able to play subtle pitch bend to express fresh nuances between these chromatic notes, typically called Blue Note(s), though, they’re normally indicated as flatted 3rd, 5th or 7th of the given scale.


F8) Usage of perfect fourth cycle


As it was mentioned earlier, since dominant 7th chords have strong tendency to resolve in to 4th above major or minor key, how about keep modulating one after another such as;


C7 -> F7 -> Bb7 -> Eb7 -> Ab7 -> Db7 -> Gb7 -> B7 -> E7 -> A7 -> D7 -> G7 -> C7


When it is played, it will make perfect musical sense and it travels around the entire domain of 12 tonalities. Therefore, you can freely insert any portion of cycle in to your composition then resolve it to something else.


This can be further modified to:


Cm7 -> F7 -> Bbm7 -> Eb7 -> Abm7 -> Db7 -> Gbm7 -> B7 -> Em7 -> A7 -> Dm7 -> G7 -> Cm7


If we use the nature of Dominant 7th chord resolving to the half step below, another option could be;


C7 -> B7 -> Bb7 -> A7 -> Ab7 -> G7 -> Gb7 -> F7 -> E7 -> Eb7 -> D7 -> Db7 -> C7    and it can also become as:


Gm7 -> C7 -> F#m7 -> B7 -> Fm7 -> Bb7 -> Em7 -> A7 -> Ebm7 -> Ab7 -> Dm7 -> G7 -> Dbm7 -> Gb7 -> Cm7 -> F7 -> Bm7 -> E7 -> Bbm7 -> Eb7 -> Am7 -> D7 -> Abm7 -> Db7 -> Gm7 -> C7


This will wrap around using chord progressions as the starting point for writing the original music. All the other advanced chords were not mentioned in the previous sections will be further explained in Jazz/Brazilian Section later.


F9) Modal approach:


Modes are basically only relying on the specific scale to create music without utilizing harmonic progression, though in modern music, we use at least one or two chords vamp to support the melody made up from the modal scale. Most of traditional Asian music is created by modes. There are countless scales found in their music and some of them use different scales while ascending or descending. Each scale represents unique mood and Indian ragas are one of the most complex modes combined with sophisticated rhythms. Jazz modes are based on diatonic scale starting from different note within this scale as a tonal center.


Typical Japanese scale:


Ascending : E,F,A,B,D,E     Descending: E,C,B,A,F,E   Supporting Chord(s): Esus4, Bm7(b5)/F, G7(9,13th)




C,D,E,G,A,C   Supporting chord(s) : C, Am


Some Raga:


E,F,G#,A,B,D#,E   Supporting Chords, E add F


Jazz Modes:


Ionian           C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C      Supporting chord(s) :  C,F,G,G7

Dorian           D,E,F,G,A,B,C,D     Supporting chord(s) :  Dm7 -> Em7

Phrygian        E,F,G,A,B,C,D,E      Supporting chord(s) :  Em -> FMaj7(#4)

Lydian           F,G,A,B,C,D,E,F      Supporting chord(s) :  FMaj7(#11)

Mixolydian    G,A,B,C,D,E,F,G      Supporting chord(s) :  G7, F -> G7

Aeolian         A,B,C,D,E,F,G,A      Supporting chord(s) :  Am, G -> Am

Locrian         B,C,D,E,F,G,A,B      Supporting chord(s) :   Bm7(b5)


Most commonly used Jazz Modes in Modern Funk Music is Mixolydian, Dorian and Aeorian. James Brown kind of invented hypnotizing Mixolydian funk groove. On top of that kind of funky groove, you can literary do anything to make it happening either shouting or rapping over it.


F10) Using Bass note or Bass pattern as a starting point.

                                         Fig. Bass-1 Click here to play midi version


Fig.Bass-1 is a simple bass line to establish G7 Mixolydian Vamp (C diatonic scale)  accompanied by chopping G13 chord. If you replace G13 chord with Gm7 chord, it will be a vamp for G Dorian Vamp (F diatonic scale). However, in either mode, you can apply Gm pentatonic scale (G,Bb,C,D,F,G) or G blues scale (G,Bb,C,Db,D,F,G) aside from their jazz mode scales to improvise or create melody over this vamp.

                                       Fig. Bass-2 Click here to play midi version


Fig. Bass-2 is a memorable C major Vamp. Basically C Ionian scale can be used to improvise or create melody.                                   


                                        Fig.Bass-3 Click here to play midi version


   Fig.Bass-3 is another memorable A Dorian Vamp.



                                     Fig. Bass-4 Click here to play midi version


Fig.Bass-4 is C7 Vamp. It would work with C Mixolydian, C Minor pentatonic and C Blues Scale.


                                  Fig. Bass-5 Click here to play midi version


Fig,Bass-5 is Am Cuban Vamp utilizing Montuno(Syncopated arpeggio) with Tumbau (Syncopated Bass line) to generate 2-3 clave Salsa groove.


F11) Using different Bass note other than root of the chord.


The most common usage is to use another note in the same chord as a bass note instead of the root note of the chord in order to create alternative bass movement within the song or Vamp. Such as E7/G#.


Am -> E7/G# -> Am  Will create exciting ascending bass line instead of 4th progression.


Em7 -> A13/C# -> D Creates modern sounding tension to the predictable progression.


Am7/D -> Bm7/D  This is a pedal note usage for A Dorian mode


C/D -> D -> G/D -> C/D -> E/D -> A/D -> D This is the same as


Am7(11) -> D -> G -> Am7(11) -> E7 -> A(add D) -> D


CMaj9 could be played as G/C



F12) Using advanced harmonies for Jazz, Brazilian and semi-classical compositions.


Basic break down of Jazz chords in C. Though you can eliminate certain note from each chord when the chord sounds too thick.


Major chords:


C,(C,E,G), CMaj7 (C,E,G,B), C6 (C,E,G,A), C69 (C,E,G,A,D), CMaj9 (C,E,G,D) or (C,E,G,B,D), CMaj7(#4) (C,E,F#,B),



Minor Chords:


Cm(C,Eb,G), Cm6(C,Eb,G,A), Cm9 (C,Eb,G,D), Cm69 (C,Eb,G,A,D), Cm(+7) (C,Eb,G,B), Cm+ (C,Eb,G#) This is the same as Ab/C.


Dominant 7th Chords:


C7(C,E,G,Bb), C9 (C,E,G,Bb,D), C7(#9) (C,E,G,Bb,Eb), C7(b9) (C,E,G,Bb,Db), C13 (C,E,G,Bb,A), C7(b5) (C,E,Gb,Bb),

C7(+5) (C,E,G#,Bb), C7(b13) (C,E,G,Bb,Ab), C13(b9) (C,E,G,Bb,Db,A), C7(sus4) (C,F,G,Bb), C7alt(C,E,Ab,Bb,Eb) or (C,E,Ab,Bb,Db), they can be called as C7(b13,#9) or C7(b13,b9)


Minor dominant 7th chords:


Cm7 (C,Eb,G,Bb), Cm7(9) (C,Eb,G,Bb,D), Cm7(13) (C,Eb,G,Bb,A), Cm7(b5) (C,Eb,Gb,Bb)<- This is same as half diminish. Cm11(C,Eb,G,Bb,F)


Cdim (C,Eb,Gb,A)


B13(b9)/C (C,A,Eb,G#) : This is actually a B7 chord family, however, placing C as a bass note, it could be considered as different type of Cdim chord tends to resolve on to Bm.


Jazz scales other than modes:


Chromatic scale: C,C#,D,D#,E,F,F#,G,G#,A,A#,B,C


Whole tone scale: C,D,E,G#,A#,C


Diminish scale:  C,C#,Eb,E,F#,G,A,A#,C (half step -> whole step -> half step -> whole step -> half step -> whole step -> )


Brazilian music has kind of took the advantage of such sophisticated jazz chord structures to create unique lines of melodies such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, since harmony its self is rich enough to pick and choose melody notes within the notes of the given chord.


                                    A Girl form Ipanema     by Antonio Carlos Jobim


This is an extracted Verse of  “A Girl from Ipanema” by A.C.Jobim and you can see clearly how he has chosen each melody notes from the given chords or how these chords and melody work together. Of course that delivery of rhythmic feel of each note is Jobim’s unique feel and it establishes his own musical statement. Click here to play midi version / Listen to radio show featureing Jobim himself.


There are tons of rich movements and cadences within these jazz harmonies and they can easily imply the possible melodies over each movement.


Below are some samples of using nothing but chord notes of each jazzy progression to create simple, yet effective melodies.


                                       Sample 1 Click here to play midi version


                                     Sample 2 Click here to play midi version

                                      Sample 3 Click here to play midi version

                                       Sample 4    © Ryo Kawasaki Click here to play midi version

                                      Sample 5    © Ryo Kawasaki Click here to play midi version

This one illustrates that how the same chord progression can be used to create variety of melodies

and moods as well as how to apply the modulation so that the song can be further developed.

                                      Waltz for Dodo     © Ryo Kawasaki

                           Click here to play midi version / Click here to listen to this song by my live band

 This is the first 4 bars of one of my original songs; it was aimed to have chromatic bass

 ascending and descending, and for the melody to circulate around the note “D”.

 There is no tonality in this piece except that the melody implies the tonal center as “D”.


F12-A) About Altered scale and Dominant 7 alt chord

“G7 alt” is basically a dominant 7th chord often used in jazz to be resolved to C chord as an alternative approach, providing jazzy and sophisticated chord application of V7 -> I.


Here is the scale known as G altered Scale.



Root, Flatted 2nd(Flatted 9th in practical harmonization), Sharp 2nd(Sharp 9th in practical harmonization), Third, Flatted 5th, Flatted 6th( or13th) or Augmented 5th, Flatted 7th as a scale, however, as a chord; it sounds too thick if you play all of them together at once and these tension notes must be used two to three at a time to structure this chord during the practical usage and 5th note (D) should not be used since it does not exist in this scale, however, the 3rd (B) and flatted 7th (F)  must remain in the harmony in order to represent the characteristic identity of Dominant 7th chord along with G note as a base note. Thus, the chord can be constructed by five or six notes including Root (G), 3rd (B) and Flatted 7th (F).


Typical usage of this chord is resolving to the second or fifth of the Cmajor7 chord through the passage of A# -> G# -> G (fifth of C major), or G# -> D# -> D (2nd of C major), though it can be resolved to 3rd (E) and Maj7 (B) of C chord as well.


Here are some sample usages of this chord and scale, using 6 notes G7 alt chord, though on guitar, either Flatted 9th (G#) or Sharp 9th (A#) note

may be eliminated from the chord.








G7 alt chord can be substituted by G#-/G7 or G#-9/G7 without the 5th (D) as 5 notes chord, if it is easier to visualize its structure in this way. The 7th note (F) can be further transposed octave up to make the chord sounding more transparent if preferred in this example.

This is so, because actually the altered scale is the seventh mode of the melodic minor scale. In this example, G# melodic minor is G#, A#, B, C#, D#, F, G, and the seventh mode beomes G altered -> G, G#, A#, B, C#, D#, F, Thus, altered scale can be build from the melodic minor one half tone above it. In this case, G# melodic minor scale starting from its 7th note G.

The altered scale is also called 'diminished whole tone scale.' As you can see, the first five notes are identical to the diminished scale (Half step-whole step), and the last four are identical to the whole tone scale. So the scale starts off as a diminshed scale and ends up as a whole tone scale, hence the name altered scale being commonly used.



Below is 5 notes G7 alt chord using Flatted 5th (C#) instead of Flatted 13th (D#).



In order to resolve to minor chord such as Cm or Cm9, passage like G7(#9) -> G7(b9) -> Cm9, is preferred having less tension notes in G7 instead of using G7 alt, though G7 altered scale still can be used for the melodic passage in this progression.





F13) Using Melody or Motif as a starting point


Suppose you heard some new melody in your head or came up with some melody you liked while playing instrument or singing and somehow managed to put it down on paper or hummed in to your recorder, then what should you do the next to develop it? Normally, if you’re piano or guitar player, the basic elements of chords and groove would come together while writing the melody and probably all you have to do is to develop it at least 4 bars at a time until you find something you like. If all you have is just a simple melody, you can either find bass notes for that melody or find some chords for that melody. For this task, probably piano or keyboard is easier than using a guitar since you can play both melody and chord and/or bass note at the same time, however, if you’re accomplished guitar player, you can almost do the same on the guitar. The important thing is that you can hear melody and chord and/or bass at the same time so that you can compare the options until you find the one you’d like to settle with. You can also use appropriate music software or multi track recorder to accomplish the same task if you’re not capable of playing all the sophisticated chords or difficult passages on your instrument in real time. As I described in the beginning, it is very helpful if you can find appropriate type of music first, so that you can apply proper methods mentioned in previous chapters.


G) How to write melodies over given progression or vamp?


This is a backwards approach from the previous way. I always try both by jamming with that background track by singing along with it to find the melody, jam with guitar or keyboard as well as using different instrumental sounds available on synthesizers. Each approach always delivers completely different results and then I pick and choose the one I like better than the others. You kind of have to invent your way of doing it and as you experience more, your library of knowledge expands and easier to find proper way to complete the entire process. It is also very helpful to know what kind of voice or instrument will take the lead in actual performance. For an instance, there is no point for writing complicated lines for someone can only sing simple songs.


H) Sections and Structure


There is no absolute rule how to structure the song, only Golden rule exists is that once the song has started, it has to end. However, this rule will give you a good clue about how to structure the song. Unless, the piece is a symphonic movement, normal length of the single song is three to seven minutes and this will give you useful guide line since you can calculate the amount of bars could fit in that time frame with given tempo. Also, the type of the song plays a big role as well. If it is a pop song, you really don’t need more than 4 and half minutes, if it is for club or dance, you may want to have six to seven minutes, if it is for jazz group including improvisation(s) by players, it could be five to eight minutes for the recording project. If we’re working on the song with the tempo of 120 BPM with 4/4 time signature, 120 beats per minute is equivalent to 30 bars, so 4 minutes will fit 120 bars. However, here, we are talking about the entire arrangement of the song and not only limited to the body of the song its self. Normally, we spend the first 30 seconds to a minute as an intro to set the mood for the song up and another minute and half could be easily spent on the out chorus with some kind of refrain before ending the song. Therefore, 4 minutes length will come down to only 2 minutes for the actual body of the song, 60 bars including repeating the certain sections. If the tempo is slower, number of bars must come down and faster tempo will fit more number of bars.


Thereby, most commonly used method of developing the song 8 bars at a time works quite nicely. The simple form of the song could be:


Letter A,B,C..are different sections.


A (16 bars) -> A’(16 bars)      =32 bars  

A (16 bars) -> B(8 bars) -> A (16 bars)  =40 bars

A -> A -> B -> A (8 bars each) = 32 bars

A -> B -> C -> A (8 bars each) =32 bars


Most of the time, the length of the body of the song is 24 to 48 bars and the rest will be structured by the arrangement.

If it is a blues format, it normally repeated twice, thus become 24 bars song.


We normally call the section for the initial statement as Verse and 2ndary section as chorus or bridge, though sometime chorus could be much stronger than Verse and vise versa.


Dance music for the clubs or Hip-hop music can stay on one vamp for several minutes and the structure is rather created by arrangement, such as dropping certain rhythm instrument at a time as breaks as well as introducing new sound or hooky backgrounds as the song progresses.


Writing 2nd section will be another challenge after completing the first section since there is no set of rules how to do this. It has to be quite different from the first section, at the same time, it has to have some kind of emotional connection between each other. Visiting completely different key, use different set of chord progression or vamp are one way to discover the new section works for the song.


Another way is to find the new progression in backwards from the end of the 2nd section assuming that it has to return to the first section at the end of 2nd section.


I) Let’s write a song! (Actual practice)


While I was writing this article, I wrote one sample song last night, and now I decided to call it “Celebration”. The entire process took about two hours. The tools I used were my acoustic guitar, little bit of humming and software called “Finale”. And I’ll show you step by step how it was written using different methods shown in previous chapters.


As I described earlier, I need some kind of purpose or direction in order to write a song and this one was written for the teaching purpose to show how different methods work together and I also tried to use simple harmonies and structure as well.


I) The first thing is the road map, what type of form? I decided to use the typical one shown in previous chapter. (A) -> (A) -> (B) -> (A). 8 bars for each section and 32 bars total.


(II) The next thing I started with was a 4 bars chord progression, one of the most typical ones, I -> VI7 -> IIm7 -> V7 and to be simple, I decided to use key C for the writing purpose. Thus, C -> A7 -> Dm7 -> G7, 4 bars progression. However, it is too typical and I wanted to add some twist to it, so I substituted the second chord A7 with Eb7. As I described it previously, dominant 7th chords can follow any other chord regardless of the key differences between each chord.


Now, the first four bars are: C -> Eb7 -> Dm7 -> G7. I do not use any tools or instrument for finding chord progression, since I know how they sound and work, this part can be done in my head and paper to keep a record of it. 4 bars are still short to become as a section, so I have to add another 4 bars to complete the section. The easiest way is just to repeat the previous section and there is nothing wrong with that approach, however, I wanted to show some other alternative approach using some other chords. Though, the important thing is the flow and connection through out the song and we cannot just jump around blindly.


Then I came up with the similar progression, yet different enough and it was C -> C7 -> F -> G, still everything was done in my head. Now, we’ve got the first section (A) for 8 bars as: C -> Eb7 -> Dm7 -> G7 -> C -> C7 -> F -> G. One measure for each chord.


(III) We can simply repeat this first (A) section entirely as the second (A) section before going to the bridge, but my creative impulse did not allow me to settle with that laziness, I wanted to show some other options. However, I decided to leave the first 4bars as it is and the following 4bars to be resolved back to the tonic C at the end of the second (A) section. And, what a hell! I could use my original progression C -> A7 -> Dm7 -> G7, but modify it as

C -> A7 -> Dm7/G7(2beats each) -> C and it completes the second (A) section, which is now called as (A’) section. I also decided to give a slight jazzy feel for the certain chords, so I decided to use CMaj7 instead of C and use G13 chord at the end of the first 4 bars, that’s all, it is just like spicing up your cooking.


Now, I’ve got:


       (A)  CMaj7 -> Eb7 -> Dm7 -> G13 -> CMaj7 -> C7 -> F -> G                                   8 bars

(A’) CMaj7 -> Eb7 -> Dm7 -> G13 -> CMaj7 -> A7 -> Dm7/G7(2beats each) -> C  8 bars


(IV) So far everything was done in my head but before writing a bridge, I wanted to see how it sounds and see what kind of feel I can use for the song. First, I strummed acoustic guitar on those chords, kind of in between Bossa Nova and light Rock feel, and I kind of liked it. Then I decided to put these chords and feel in to the music using the program “Finale”, I used to do this part on music paper and my own MIDI program I wrote 18 years ago as well as using multi track recorder if I wanted to experiment with real voice or instruments. However, “Finale” can do both writing music and play it back in MIDI sequencer. I also wrote adequate bass line for it as well. The tempo I felt comfortable with was about 110BPM, so I set the sequencer tempo to that speed.


Below is how it came out. This is not a song yet, I would call it as a First sketch. It probably took me about 45 minutes from the scratch.


                                                     Celebration (First Sketch)   ©2003 Ryo Kawasaki

(V) Now, it is about a time to write melody for these sections. Since it’s a Celebration, I kind of hear children choir singing this song, so the melody cannot be too complex. I strummed a guitar and lightly hummed with it trying to hear some kind of tonal structure, then played a guitar jamming with the Midi playback. Soon after, I came out with the first lick as:

This is a C Pentatonic scale as well as Am pentatonic scale and it fits nicely with this kind of earthy Pop/Rock kind of progression, only hurdle is the second chord Eb7 since it jumps out of the C Pentatonic domain. Also, there is an option that we don’t have to write melody over each and every chord in the song, sometime it is nice to let the chord flows for a moment to give a time to breath, and I used this approach later in the bridge, but it is a little bit too early in the song to have a big hole in the melody. And this phrase in the first bar kind of suggests to descend the note further down, so naturally I resolved it to the note Bb in the next bar and it fits perfectly with Eb7 chord. Then I finished the entire section about in the next 10 minutes or so utilizing pentatonic scale and little bit of blues scale as well. This kind of Blues Rock progression, you can almost think like writing the song in Am blues, even though it is in C Major key, only difference is that to invent the phrase to resolve on to C chord where progression resolves to the tonic C.


And here is the result,      

                                             Celebration (Sketch-2) © 2003 Ryo Kawasaki


There are few remarks I would like to make that why it works, at least it sounds musical enough. Writing a melody is very similar to how to write poems or lyrics, they somehow need to be rimed together with subtle new idea being incorporated as a development. The first thing you may realize looking at this score is that melody always begins on 2nd beat of odd bars and melody always begins on the first beat on even bars and this is very similar to rhyme in poetry. I did not do it theoretically or intentionally, I just felt natural to develop this song in this way and if I analyze it why, then that’s the kind of explanation I can come up with. 2nd remark is that I always subtly alternated the phrasing over the same chords as it progresses. For example, the first note of (A’) is a quarter note whereas the beginning of (A) starting with two eighth notes, because I felt that single quarter note makes stronger statement than two eighth notes at that point in the song, (A’) should starts bit stronger than (A).  Also, the entire melody is basically written in Am feel except the last two bars of (A’) used to be resolved to C chord and when Eb7 is introduced.


(VI) Now, it is time to write a bridge identified as (B) section. Once the bridge is written, the last 8 bars of the song can repeat the (A’) section and it will be very natural. Now, I’ve got the whole picture and feel of the song and bridge should be something different, but it should be cohesive enough to compliment (A) sections. So, I decide to use the simple, but effective way to move the key to the 2nd dominant chord  F. First, I alternated the last two beats of (A’) section to C7 chord instead of CMaj7 so that it can easily modulate to F. I also felt like incorporating a taste of Gospel music in subtle way, because it compliments the feeling of Celebration.


I kind of used an unusual jump in the beginning of the bridge after F chord, by jumping up to Ab triad chord, then back to C triad chord as I explained it earlier that major triad chord can jump back and forth to and from anywhere, then another bar of C7 chord to back to F to start the last half of the bridge. The next four bars, I have used simple Gospel progression instead of jumping up to Ab. F -> F#dim -> C, however in order to return to the beginning of (A’) section after the bridge, the last two measures of the bridge was used for the turn around changes as C -> Am -> Dm7 -> G7 (2 beats each).


Now the chord progression for the entire bridge was completed as below.


F -> Ab -> C -> C7  F -> F#dim -> C(2beats) -> Am(2beats) -> Dm7(2beats) -> G7(2beats)   then back to (A’) again to complete the song.


I also wrote the melody over it and it came right away and the result is like this:

The remarks I should make is that for the bridge, I decided to give rooms for the chords to flow every other bar and to give slight syncopated feel on 1st and 5th bars. The phrase starts from the end of the first beat and completes on the end of fourth beat so that it will not go over to the next bar. It is effective way to use the forth coming chord as a part of music without crowding over it by too many notes. It gives a time to groove with music, to breath and listeners can hear melody of their own, or skillful soul singers can make their own filling in for these spaces. Also, I used moderate tension note 6th on F chord, so that it sounds slightly modern as well as maintaining the C pentatonic scale as a melody to keep the continuity between sections.


Here’s the Final Lead Sheet Music, Click here to listen to the midi version


                                                          Celebration      ©2003 Ryo Kawasaki


J) Arrangement with Intro, Ending and instrumentation.


The song I just wrote above was somehow intended to be sang by singer(s), however, I am not a good lyricist and normally I have few co-writers write words for my songs, though I have written words for few songs in the past. At any rate, any song can be performed by any instruments. In order to do so, now we need proper arrangement.


The simplest arrangement and we sometime call it as Head Arrangement is that all the participating musicians share the lead sheet and mutually agree how to carry on the arrangement according to composer or leader’s direction without any specifically written parts for each musician.


Even for this type of simple arrangement, we still require several elements to be clarified in the beginning.


        I.   Duration of the song

        II.  Instrumentation

        III. Basic groove for Bass and Drums

        IV. Basic patterns for accompanying chord instruments.

         V. Who is going to take the lead and who is going to take any solo(s) or instrumental breaks.

        VI. How long and how it should be for the intro?

       VII. How to end the song?

      VIII. Do we have to transpose the key to make it sounds better for the given instrumentation?

   VIIII. Do we want to create any harmonies for the melody?

        X. Do we hear some sort of background riffs or vocals?

       XI. Entire road map of the arrangement from the beginning to the end.


Once all these elements are agreed, each musician takes notes on their music by pencil then we’re ready to hit the rehearsal!


Another way of doing this is that composer or arranger can make simple Midi version of the arrangement with all the parts in it and let musicians listen to it and figure out their own parts.


Conventional way is to provide the part sheet to each musician exactly how it should be played.


K) How to incorporate improvisation into the song.


Skillful improviser can literally improvise on any type of chord progression, however, the song like the one I just wrote was not meant for the improvisation and the arranger can freely invent new section added to the original composition for improvisational purpose if he sees it fit. For example, simple C7 -> F7 vamp section could be added to this song for the improviser to stretch out comfortably instead of being caged in the original structure, or some short segment of the song to be used as a vamp for improvisation for a while then return to the song and end the song.


L) Rehearsing the song for live performance or Recording session.


It is advisable to rehearse the song section by section first until get each section right, then rehearse the song entirely. Unless it is very complicate or demanding song, it is always better if each musician remembers their parts by heart. It looks better in the live performances and you don’t have to worry about wind blows your music off while performing. It also enables musicians to concentrate on the feeling more than while reading the music.


M) Producing the song into the recorded format.


I am currently in the process for writing another textbook for “Sound Engineering for Musicians” and it requires dedicated article to cover this topic thoroughly.


N) Composing using computer as a tool.


I have been using computer related device as a tool for the composing and recording at least twenty years and it certainly saves lot of time and easy to retrieve the files stored in electronic form compare to tons of papers to carry around.


O) Copyright, Publishing and intellectual property.


I have another article written to cover this topic and that will be appended to this textbook shortly.


P) Different ways to get paid for your composition.


The same as the above (O).


Q) Glossary for general musical terminology.


Please refer to the site I’ve mentioned in the beginning :