Ideas and Advice for Real Songwriters (formerly http://healthsavy.com

How to write a song with only one chord progression.

Here’s a link to the song, which won’t let me embed for reasons I don’t really understand…

Justin Timberlake’s Cry me a River might be guilty of stealing the title of a much better song, and having truly dreadful lyrics but I happen to think it’s an okay little ditty that does some interesting things.

Specifically, it only uses one chord progression. Most pop songs use chord changes to create interest, but here the songwriters have decided to stick with the same 4 chords and create interest in other ways.

Now, it’s a good set of chords – song starts with keybord arpeggios of G# min, D#7, E, D#7/C# which don’t stop until near the very end of the song.

There’s also the countermelody that starts at 13 secs, and is also used as the bridge melody. The rest of the song is all about different melodies and layers – the verse starts with a drum beat, bass line and staccato string pad chords emphasising the chord changes. The strings go legato for the chorus and Timberlake layers up the falsetto vox in his best Michael Jackson tribute mode.

The second verse adds some more interest by putting in a couple of short breaks from the drum beat and adding some extra vocal layers. I particularly like the staccato vocal melodies, eg at 3.28, which are a great example of one of my favourite features of modern rnb.

The whole point of the song is to create interest through the layering of different melodies and loops though, and there are certain points where the lack of harmonic changes starts to drag – essentially every time the song reaches ‘Cry me a river, cry me a river…’  where it sounds like an outro and therefore loses energy. And the ‘jammy jay’s done…’ rap sections are just laughable.

While it’s not a perfect song, and certainly needs some improvement in the lyrical department,  there are some great ideas that I’d steal if I was thinking of writing in this style:

1. Staccato vocal melodies (usually in the natural minor mode) – very RnB but rarely heard in other genres.
2. Complicated chords – that is a good chord progression, I like the D#7/C#. It’s essentially a clever play on the common harmonic minor i IV V7 progression (eg. Am, F E7)
3. Tiny percussion breaks – a second verse always needs something new – why not have the rhythm section drop out for just one bar?

Talking of RnB style vocals, here’s a much better songwriter who does some great vocal stuff: Trouble Over Tokyo

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