Thursday, September 24, 2009

One chord

I wrote recently about writing with no chords. What if we change that zero to a one? Surprisingly, there isn't much different between no chords and one chord.

In either case, you aren't getting the sense of movement that a chord line usually contributes to a rock song. The difference is more a matter of texture than structure: the chord instruments get to play something instead of staying silent.

While it's quite rare to hear a whole rock song with no chords, a song with only one chord is only slightly unusual. There are thousands of them in all different styles:
  • funk and hip-hop songs with tasty grooves that just keep on grooving
  • blues songs that eschew the "12-bar blues" formula and just stay on [one]
  • ambient and electronic pieces where sound textures create enough interest without the need for chord movement
  • folk- and tribal-influenced songs with strong, active melodies
When your song uses only one chord, that chord is the tonic chord (the [one] chord) by default. Typically the lone chord is a major or minor chord, a seventh chord, or a minor seventh chord. (In C, those options would be C, Cm, C7, or Cm7).

Some great examples of one-chord songs are "Electric Avenue" by Eddy Grant and "Punk" by General Public. In both cases, a well-crafted arrangement keeps things moving, so you might never realize that the chords aren't going anywhere.

What are your favorite one-chord songs? Please list them in the comments.

1 comment:

Paul Nordquist said...

Electric Avenue on YouTube: