Can the Hive Mind help me with this riff?

December 20, 2010 11:48 AM

I wrote this simple little Mellotron piano chord progression this morning but it's baffling me. Can anyone suggest how I get it to loop back around to the beginning again?

The chord progression goes like this:

Part A: D Am x4

Part B: G Bm G7 C Cm G Am7 D

with a bass line on the B part which walks down from G

(I play a C chord instead of the Am7 on the recording but it's much of a muchness)

As you can hear, the (B) part clearly wants to resolve to a tonic G, but what I need it to do is resolve back to the D so I can get back into the (A) part. Does that make sense?

I can get back by dropping out of the (B) part after the C but once I hit that Cm I seem to be on a slippery slope to G that nothing can stop.

Obviously I need to get to some kind of dominant to the D but I can't figure out how to do it without a big herky jerky gear change, and I also can't really figure out why this seems to start out cleanly in D and end up cleanly in G.

It's really bugging me as it's so simple.

posted by unSane (16 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I guess it doesn't really start out cleanly in D as the Am suggests a natural C which puts us in G... but even so...
posted by unSane at 12:18 PM on December 20, 2010

My impulse is that Cm to D7 would be a fairly smooth pivot there (less star wars/wagner).

What about G Bm G7 C Cm D7 C Am and back to part A. That's the same length at least.

Or G Bm G7 C Cm D7 G7/B [C Am] with the C and the Am occupying the space of one of the other chords.
posted by umbĂș at 2:00 PM on December 20, 2010

Yup. No problem. I'd just go right back to the beginning again and use the A natural bass note (it's in there anyway, just needs bringing out) that the piece finishes on alternating with an E (on the turnaround of each bar) and from there to the D natural that's the first bass note heard on your demo. It would be interesting (to me at least) and slightly unexpected root for it to start from again because listeners will be anticipating a release/resolution that doesn't come until that D kicks in again. Not sure I've explained that very well.......if only I could write music...
posted by MajorDundee at 2:15 PM on December 20, 2010

Actually it finishes on a D not an A, but the A is what'll link it back round. I'd play it as a 4/4 pulse as well - to drive things forward a little.
posted by MajorDundee at 2:20 PM on December 20, 2010

Ha! Very good. I knew I could rely on you guys. Both those solve it in different ways, don't they?

The Cm to D7 is very helpful as it gives you a bit of room for manoever to steer away from the G, and the A-E alternating bass idea is also really good, sort of the exact opposite of what you expect to hear.

I think I might have come up with another solution as well, which is a rip-roaring chorus in G which ends on a C-G-D-G cadence, and because the G is the last chord of the phrase it lets the D right back in. However this only works if you want a chorus rather than two verses back to back, so I may well end up using one or both of your ideas. Thank you!

(Major -- I just sacrificed one of these 12/8 feel things to the pulsebeat... can't bear to lose another... I do sort of like the retro-tinkly Daydream Believer vibe).
posted by unSane at 3:05 PM on December 20, 2010

I guess this is why people join bands
posted by unSane at 3:06 PM on December 20, 2010

Hmm, I'm not convinced it needs any alteration at all. You've already made it back to D with the last chord of the (B) section. It makes for a nice sound, some kind of false cadence, when you resolve to the chord you're already on. The trick is to make your (A) melody distinct enough that when you start to sing it again the listener knows you've gone back to the (A) section, even though the chord doesn't change right away. It's an emotional / melodic resolution via the arrangement, rather than a harmonic resolution via chords.

However, if you're really keen on resolving back to D through some harmonic structure you need to get rid of the G-Am-D progression at the end of the (B) section, because that steers you away from the key of D and towards the key of G, as you've already found. You could substitute an A7 for the Am and that will push your ears to D right quick. You'd have to tweak the arrangement as well, to avoid hitting a D chord too soon (not until you return to the (A) section), so maybe the last four chords of the (B) section could be Cm-G-G-A7 or something like that.

In any event, I'd advise against the C-G-D-G chorus, it doesn't seem to fit the darker mood you've effected with the D-Am change and the mellotron sound.
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 4:27 PM on December 20, 2010

Part B: G Bm G7 C Cm G Am7 D

I'd rewrite the last bit like so, if it were me writing the sort of stuff I've been writing lately:

Part B: G Bm G7 C Cm G Em A7

Gives you a bit of movement off the false-tonic G still but your minor-to-major move after the G sets you up to resolve into the true tonic again.

I can't really resist a quick little by-semitones walk down from the G to the Em when I bang it out on the piano right now, but that may be a little more barroom piano than you want.
posted by cortex at 5:48 PM on December 20, 2010

Thanks again everyone -- I wanted to keep my powder dry so that I could use Em elsewhere but I agree that does work although I find the A7 a bit chromatic because of the C# if you know what I mean.

Here's another version I came up with which keeps the bass walking down, which takes the edge off the C# to a certain extent:

G Bm G7 C Cm G A7 Am7

In fact the problem disappears if you just let the whole thing resolve to G and let the G ring for a bar, then come back in on the D-Am riff, but it sort of holds up the flow.

I do sort of agree now with the idea that it works as-is. There is something fun about the non-cadence at the end. It's quite hard to come up with a vocal line which doesn't end on the G, though...
posted by unSane at 6:02 PM on December 20, 2010

although I find the A7 a bit chromatic because of the C# if you know what I mean.

Heh. That's just how I roll, baby. The C# says HEY THERE, WE'RE NOT IN G ANYMORE, HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT, FEELS LIKE A TURNAROUND DOESN'T IT, which, if you want to land back on D with both legs and fire in your eyes is a pretty workable move but it does lack a certain subtlety and maybe puts too much major-key hooah into the prelude to your pretty D-Am7 verse loop.
posted by cortex at 6:10 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think the C# would be less problematic if it didn't go straight back into a tonality with a C natural. You can get away with those kick-in-the-ass turnarounds once in a song which would be fine but I have a chorus part in mind which will probably need something like that so, yeah, it's a bit LOOK AT ME for the verse.
posted by unSane at 6:34 PM on December 20, 2010

You could like go overboard and have a squirrely lead note hang on that C# even after you resolve out of the change, like it just hangs there at the back of the mix for a while all atonal and shifty, like some shoplifting kid in a hoodie eying the door, and then as the song moves toward the end it just gets louder and louder and takes over the whole thing and all you can think is C SHARP THE C SHARP MY GOD THE C SHARP until your brain melts.

That may not be what you're going for either, though.
posted by cortex at 6:39 PM on December 20, 2010

Oh, I have to try that. Maj 7 vs Min 7 is one of those really nasty dissonances.
posted by unSane at 6:45 PM on December 20, 2010

You could always let it go to G and play the A part in the new key

G Dm x4

and then play the B section as it is written.
posted by palacewalls at 9:35 PM on December 21, 2010

Well, thank you all again. I think what I decided in the end was to drop out of the B part early for the circle back, and then play the whole B part in the build to the chorus, which ultimately resolves to G somehow.

It's an interesting little progression because as a couple of you hinted, it really works by the tension of staying away from the implied tonic, G. Once you get to G the tension evaporates and a lot of the steam goes out of it. This is quite a problem for the C part that I'm trying to write -- once you hit G there's almost nowhere to go, so actually resolving to G on the first beat of the C part causes quite a few problems, since you've just put your perfect cadence at the beginning instead of the end!

However there's a limit to how long you can really stay clear of the G without the whole thing starting to feel like a big tease...
posted by unSane at 6:26 AM on December 22, 2010

In retrospect, abc123 was absolutely right.

Here's the whole thing worked out, sans lyrics for the moment.
posted by unSane at 3:49 PM on March 18, 2011

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