Tag Archives: Chord

How to Modernize a Hymn – Part one of a two part series


How to Modernize a Hymn – Part one of a two part series

I don’t think there are many Christians, even those who use nothing but Contemporary music, that doubt or question the depth and the beauty of the lyrics contained in our wealth of hymns. But sometimes, they are difficult to comprehend or are just too musically foreign to those that we are Called to reach.

There is a process to modernize these hymns and to put chords to them but it’s not easy to do and there are a lot of subtleties that only come with experience and knowledge. In this two-part series, I will try to address one basic approach to do this.

In this first installment, we will consider a step-by-step approach written for a beginner’s level and the second installment will show an example where these types of techniques have been used successfully.

So let’s start…

Step One – Put Chords to it

Here is the process you will need to add your own chords:

  1. Identify the key signature by looking at the number of sharps and flats.

No sharps or flats – key of C or Am
1 Sharp – key of G or Em
2 Sharps – key of D or Bm
3 Sharps – key of A or F#m
4 Sharps – key of E or C#m
5 Sharps – key of B or G#m (rarely used)
6 Sharps – key of F# or D#m (rarely used)
1 flat – key of F or Dm
2 flats – key of Bb or Gm
3 flats – key of Eb or Cm
4 flats – key of Ab or Fm
5 flats – key of Db or Bbm
6 flats – key of Gb or Ebm (rarely used)

  1. Know the typical chords used in each key signature (these are referred to as the harmonized scales):
MAJOR SCALE   R   -   2   -    3    4   -   5   -   6   -   7 
   C  maj.:   C   -   Dm   -   Em   F   -   G   -   Am  -  rarely
   Db maj.:   Db  -   Ebm  -   Fm   Gb  -   Ab  -   Bbm -  used
   D  maj.:   D   -   Em   -   F#m  G   -   A   -   Bm
   Eb maj.:   Eb  -   Fm   -   Gm   Ab  -   Bb  -   Cm
   E  maj.:   E   -   F#m  -   G#m  A   -   B   -   C#m
   F  maj.:   F   -   Gm   -   Am   Bb  -   C   -   Dm
   F# maj.:   F#  -   G#m  -   A#m  B   -   C#  -   D#m
   G  maj.:   G   -   Am   -   Bm   C   -   D   -   Em
   Ab maj.:   Ab  -   Bbm  -   Cm   Db  -   Eb  -   Fm
   A  maj.:   A   -   Bm   -   C#m  D   -   E   -   F#m
   Bb maj.:   Bb  -   Cm   -   Dm   Eb  -   F   -   Gm 
   B  maj.:   B   -   C#m  -   D#m  E   -   F#  -   G#m 

MINOR SCALE   R   -    2      b3  -   4    -       5      b6  -   b7
   A  min.:   Am   -   Bdim   C   -   Dm   -   Em or E    F
   Bb min.:   Bbm  -   Cbdim  Db  -   Ebm  -   Fm or F    Gb
   B  min.:   Bm   -   C#dim  D   -   Em   -   F#m or F#  G 
   C  min.:   Cm   -   Ddim   Eb  -   Fm   -   Gm or G    Ab
   C# min.:   C#m  -   D#dim  E   -   F#m  -   G#m or G#  A
   D  min.:   Dm   -   Edim   F   -   Gm   -   Am or A    Bb
   Eb min.:   Ebm  -   Fdim   Gb  -   Abm  -   Bbm or Bb (B)
   E  min.:   Em   -   F#dim  G   -   Am   -   Bm or B    C 
   F  min.:   Fm   -   Gdim   Ab  -   Bbm  -   Cm or C    Db 
   F# min.:   F#m  -   G#dim  A   -   Bm   -   C#m or C#  D
   G  min.:   Gm   -   Adim   Bb  -   Cm   -   Dm or D    Eb 
   G# min.:   G#m  -   A#dim  B   -   C#m  -   D#m or D#  E
  1. Know what each line and space represent on the treble and bass clefs. (See below)

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons

4. Now the hard part. If you know the key signature by the number of sharps and flats (item 1 above), then you know the basic chords to look for (item 2), and now you should be able to identify all the notes in each grouping of chords on your sheet music by using the chart in item 3. You will also need to know the notes that comprise each chord. Here’s a little help:

A…………….A-C#-E
Am…………..A-C-E
Bb……………Bb-D-F
Bbm………….Bb-Db-F
B……………..B-D#-F#
Bm…………..B-D-F#
C…………….C-E-G
Cm…………..C-Eb-G
C# (or Db)….. C#-F-G# or (Db-F-Ab)
C#m (or Dbm).C#-E-G# or (Db-E-Ab)
D…………….D-F#-A
Dm…………..D-F-A
Eb……………Eb-G-Bb
Ebm …………Eb-Gb-Bb
E……………..E-G#-B
Em………….. E-G-B
F……………..F-A-C
Fm………….. F-Ab-C
F# (or Gb)……F#-A#-C#
F#m (or Gbm).F#-A-C#
G…………… G-B-D
Gm………….G-Bb-D
Ab………………Ab-B-Eb
Abm……………Ab-Bb-Eb

5. Many hymns that don’t have guitar chords do so for a reason, and typically it is because every note in the melody line theoretically requires a different guitar chord. If this is the case, your song will sound too choppy with a chord change on every beat. Songs that lend themselves well to guitar accompaniment typically have a chord change at the start of the measures or sometimes at the mid-point of the measures. For example, a song in 4/4 time might have a chord change before the first and maybe the third beats. Even if you’re hymn requires a unique chord for each note in the melody line – don’t do it! If 4/4 time, stick to the chord changes on the first and third beats. Also, listen for the “strong beats” and put the chord changes on those particular notes.

6. When you have finished putting chords to a musical piece, sit back and look at the song in its entirety, as opposed to the note-by-note study that you have just finished. Look for overriding chord patterns or progressions. Sometimes, you can delete certain chords that you have identified and use fewer chords that fit into an overall theme for the song. It also sometimes helps to replace the chord names with Roman numerals and then to look for repeating patterns.

This technique should get you started. There are other more advanced issues such as numbered chords (C2, C5, Csus, C7, etc.) and slash chords (D/A, D/F#, D/G, etc.) but these can come later.

Step Two – Consider adding a Chorus and maybe a Bridge

The Chorus:
Most hymns only have verses. Lots of verses. These verses tell a story. Sometimes it’s nice to respond to these verses with either a chorus or refrain and sometimes it’s nice to alter the musical accompaniment with a bridge.

When writing a chorus, think of it as an answer to the story being told in the verse. Also, the chorus is usually sung a bit higher than the verse and with more energy. Choruses are usually the “hook” of the song; they are the part that people will remember and sing throughout the upcoming week. The chorus will have a stronger chord progression than the more fragile verses and the chorus will typically use more of the tonic key notes than in the verses. Choruses can also talk about feelings, or how you should feel about the story being told in the verses. A good example of a hymn with a great chorus that you undoubtedly know is “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Another good example would be Chris Tomlin’s recent adaptation of “Amazing Grace” with his iconic chorus “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free. My God, my Savior, has ransomed me. And like a flood, His mercy reigns. Unending love. Amazing Grace.” Wow!

The Bridge:
The bridge offers melodic, lyrical and even harmonic variation. Bridges can be a welcome addition to hymns because the verses and even the chorus can be very repetitive. Oftentimes, bridges in songs written in major keys start with a minor chord and vice versa, and they almost never start with the tonic chord.

Next you will need a formula for the structure of your new hymn. Consider something like:
Verse 1, Verse 2, Chorus, Verse 3, Chorus, Bridge, Verse 4, Chorus, End

But there are unlimited combinations.

Step Three – Consider updating the lyrics

Read through the hymn lyrics. If they are in our CW hymnbook, they will be pretty awesome. However, some hymns use too many churchy words, too many archaic words, phrases no longer in use, old English, phrases that just didn’t translate well into English from the original language the hymn was written in and what I’ll call reverse poetry. Keep all these things if the hymn sings well and makes sense to you. Only make changes if the lyrics require you to research and study them immensly before you get the picture. Our hymnal has actually already come a long way. There were massive revisions between our current hymnal and it’s predecessor so you might be OK in this regard.

If you change lyrics, make sure that you do not change the message, the rhythm, or the meter (the number of syllables per measure). You may find a rhyming dictionary and a thesaurus to be helpful in this regard.

Step Four – Consider adding a Musical Turn Around

Most hymns just seem to run into a musical brick wall at the end of a verse and then awkwardly go back to the beginning. Update this! Add a short musical turn-around, perhaps just a measure or two, but find a way to musically tie the ending back to the beginning.

I know that many of you reading this post are in my denomination and have probably heard the band known as “Branches.” They have a great example of a musical turn around in their arrangement of “How Great Thou Art.” Just listen to Andy Braun and the band use a few simple chords to turn the end of each verse into a transition to get back to the beginning and you will know exactly what I am talking about. Braun’s turn-around makes an incredible hymn even more incredible and that’s the point of this effort.

Step Five – Consider Jazzing it Up

There are many ways to do this. Consider modulating the last verse up or down a whole step, or even a minor third, depending on the mood of the song. Or, take an instrumental break in between verses or simply add an intro. Another idea would be to use some chord extensions like ninths, elevenths, thirteenths or even major sevenths. Another thing you can do is add a few slash chords with inherent bass runs to connect the chords together.

Step Six – Say a Prayer of Thanks; you’ve made it.

Whew! That was a lot of work; but that hymn you’re considering redoing is worth it.

Tomorrow we will consider an example. “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” that was redone by musician Michael Schroeder in 2010.

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A Major to Minor Chord Trick


A Major to Minor Chord Trick

Guitar Level: Advanced

English: Circle of fifths Italiano: Circolo de...
Image via Wikipedia

The circle of fifths tells us that certain major keys are related to certain minor keys.  For example, the key of C major and A minor have no sharps or flats.  Similarly, the keys of G major and E minor both have only one sharp – the F# note and the keys of D major and B minor share the same two sharps.  This also implies that the chords are related and that they often occur together in many songs.

There is an amazing chord trick for guitarists to change quickly and easily between these related chords.  Let’s use the change from Bm to D as an example.  It only requires moving one finger.  Here’s the pattern:
Bm 224432     (first finger barred at the second fret)

And here’s what most beginning and even intermediate guitarists don’t know.  You can change this Bm chord to a D major chord by only moving one finger – the pinky.  Here’s the D chord (it’s really a D/F# if all 6 strings are played):
D 254232        (first finger barred at the second fret)

The trick is to take your pinky off the third string, forth fret, and put it on the fifth string, fifth fret; which by the way, is the root for the new chord.  The beautiful thing is that the new note that’s left bare after taking your pinky off the third string is a good note contained in the new chord.  You might notice that this new chord shape is really the C chord shape moved up the neck.

This is possible because these related chords only differ by one note.  In the above example, the Bm chord consists of the notes B, D and F#, and the D major chord is D, F# and A – the only difference being the change from the B to an A.

This is important to know because these related chords often occur together in many songs so having a quick and easy change is a great tool to have in your musical repertoire.

What’s more, this chord shape can be moved up the neck to learn the change between all the related major/minor chords.

Here they are:
Am – C/E:      002210 to 032010
Bbm – Db/F    113321 to 143321
Bm – D/F#      224432 to 254432
Cm – Eb/G      335543 to 365543
Dbm – E/G#    446654 to 476654
Dm – F/A       557765 to 587765
Ebm – F#/Ab  668876 to 698876
Em – G/B       779987 to 7-10-9-9-8-7
Fm – Ab/C      8-8-10-10-9-8 to 8-11-10-10-9-8
F#m – A/C#   9-9-11-11-10-9 to 9-12-11-11-10-9
Gm – Bb/D     10-10-12-12-11-10 to 10-13-12-12-11-10
Abm – B/Eb    11-11-13-13-12-11 to 11-14-13-13-12-11
Am – C/E       002210 to 032010

The common chords are shown boldface in the above list.

This was a pretty heavy duty lesson that results in an often neglected chord shape, that’s an inversion, and has a nice sounding third as its base note, so kudos to those who followed and whose pinkys are strong enough to reach this new chord shape.  Use it to God’s glory!

Climbing the D Scale with Chords


Climbing the D Scale with Chords

Guitar Level: Intermediate 

Here’s some alternative ways to play some interesting sounding chords in the key of D (two sharps) that employ the use of triads and a D as the base note for each chord.  This is actually called a “pedal tone” in musical lingo and it can produce some really nice sound effects.  Try strumming these chords, finger picking them, or individual note arpeggios for different sounds. 

D Scale:
D E F# G A B C# D

Typical Chords used in the key of D:
D, Em, F#m, G, A, Bm, C#dim

Pedal Tones:
D                     xx0232
Em/D               xx0453
F#m/D             xx0675
G/D                 xx0787
A/D                 xx0-9-10-9
Bm/D              xx0-11-12-10
C#dim/D         xx0-12-14-12
D                     xx0-14-15-14

Try these chords the next time that you are accompanying a song in the key of D, even if the /D is not called for, and especially if you have two guitarists and the other player is covering the common chords.

How I Approach a New Song


Description of triads
Image via Wikipedia

How I Approach a New Song

Guitar Level: Intermediate

As a guitarist who has been playing for almost 35 years, and playing in a three piece band that has another guitarist who has been playing for 3 years, I will do a little more than strum the basic chords.   I need to leave this job to the less experienced guitarist, because that’s what she knows best, and the arrangement will sound muddy if we both attempt to play the same chord shapes at the same time.

So here’s an example of one way to embellish the rhythm accompaniment of a song.  Let’s use the key of G as an example.

Here’s the major G scale:
G A B C D E F# G

Most songs in this key will use some combination of the following chords:
G, Am, Bm, C, D, Em and F#dim7

A nice contemporary sound involves using the base G note in each of the above chords.  In musical circles, these are called pedal tones.  I will often use triads – played on the high three strings (G, B and E strings) to keep a good pitch separation between what I am doing and what the rhythm guitarist is doing.  The key to this technique is centered around that open G string and how we can use it as a root to all the chords.

Here’s the finger patterns for each triad (listed in an order that climbs up the neck):

C/G     xxx010
D/G     xxx032
Em/G   xxx053
F#m/G xxx075
G         xxx087
Am/G  xxx0-10-8
Bm/G  xxx0-12-10

These will result in some interesting and colorful sounds.  The Dm, F#m, G, Am and Bm chords do not contain a fifth (just a first, a third, and are played over the root G).  In some songs this sounds very nice, in others you might have to add the fifth into each triad.  Let your ear be the judge.  As it turns out, the C and Em chord already have a G note in their make-up so these two triads are complete chords.  Also, experiment with either strumming the triads or playing the notes individually, or as arpeggios.  The feel (or groove) of the song will dictate what sounds best.  Arpeggios might sound best if the song is in ¾ time because each measure will have three beats and each chord has three notes, so the timing works fine.  Finally, consider using these triads as passing tones or ways to climb from one chord to another.  For example, if the song has a chord change from D to G, consider climbing from the D to the G by using the above triads in this sequence: D/G – Em/G – F#m/G – G.  You can play this even if Em and F#m aren’t used in the song.  This is a very common trick of the trade that not only guitarists, but bass players and pianists use as well.