Playing tight - getting a feel for good timing
If you want to write songs or make music even with little practical experience and knowledge of music theory, 4-chord songs are easy to use in many cases. They are considered easy and quick to learn and the basic principle can be easily adapted to your own songwriting. And all this without having to fully understand the complex playing technique of an instrument. Many well-known songs such as "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" by Elton John can be played with only four chords and join the famous list of 4-chord songs.
But what exactly is a 4-chord song and why do they hardly knock listeners off their feet anymore?
For many beginners who want to become a pianist, guitarist or similar, the so-called 4-chord song is a real blessing. Already in a few months or even weeks, four chords can be safely practiced to be able to play the first melody and songs. The more simple the melody is, the more easy it is to play the accompaniments. And since this is a popular way to write songs quickly and even achieve hit potential in some cases, thousands of songs have developed over the years that can be played with just four chords. We have some of the most popular 4-chord songs for you here:
Besides the examples mentioned above, there are a lot of other songs that can also be played with only four chords. A whole 4-chord song mix has been created by the band "The Axis of Awesome":
The advantage of the simple chord progression is that the notes almost always sound harmonious and the song sounds good despite its simplicity. Mostly the chords G major, C major, D major and E minor can be used to play many classic and modern songs. Of course, the basic structure is transposable up and down and works as good as always.
4-chord songs make it especially easy for the guitarists among you. The chords are easy to pick, and some can even be picked as a simple power chords. This makes it easy for beginners to get rid of the boring melodies from the exercise book and play real classics. In addition to the guitar, the 4-chord songs also work on the piano and other instruments. With C-major, G-major, F-major and A-minor, stars like the Beatles have already composed their songs and created lasting hits with just a few steps.
Numerous pieces of music in the pop genre are based on easy-to-learn melodies that sound much more complex when combined with other instruments, melodies or synthesizers. But as complex as this sometimes sounds to listeners, the song foundation is simple.
Recently, however, the musical trend is not necessarily developing in the direction of simplification and simplicity. Musicians who master their craft, experiment with complex melodies and create new ideas are in demand. Even if new songs can be written again and again with the help of the four chords, their potential is still limited. The tonality is also strongly limited in this way, which not every musician finds acceptable.
If you compose a song with only four chords, you'll always be stuck in one key. Tools such as a capodaster on guitars can solve the problem, but they still don't provide any particular musical ingenuity. Especially for moody songs that want to illustrate a development, staying in the simple four chords is not optimal. Therefore, many artists consciously decide against the creation of a 4-chord song and go for complexity.
If you also want to compose multi-faceted and emotional songs, it is advisable to distance yourself from the simple 4-chord song pattern. Use more than just the basic chords and go wild musically. There are numerous ways to give your songs their own unique style. Try different pitches, incorporate key changes, or experiment with diminished chords. With a total of 88 keys on the piano, for example, there should definitely be something to find.
To write more complex songs, you need some basic knowledge in songwriting and music theory. Our article with important tips in songwriting already provides you with a good basis. Also helpful for determining a suitable chord progression is the Musician's Compass. This contains all chords, of which there are seven versions each. The seventh and diminished chord can be left out for now, unless you are already advanced. So there is a balance of three major and three minor chords.
So a song doesn't have to remain one-dimensional, and it certainly doesn't have to be limited to just four chords. Many pieces even break away from conventional chords altogether and play with different tonal relationships, tempos and further differences in emphasis. Just try for yourself what sounds best to you.
In addition to the previous reasons, there are a number of other advantages that speak for more complex songs and against the old familiar 4-chord song. Sometimes the composed songs even look more complex than they really are. Many tone and chord sequences are played several times in a row or return at another place. In our opinion, these points speak for songwriting that goes beyond the 4-chord song style and can be an incentive for you to write your songs that way:
The most important lesson for writing impressive and thoughtful songs is that no one rushes you. Especially for your first pieces, you should not let yourself be influenced by outside influences at all, so that your style remains authentic, comprehensible and individual at all times. This applies not only to the lyrics and the associated notes, but also to the design of the chords, the rhythm and many other details about your songs.
The art of songwriting, therefore, is to develop a style all your own that separates itself from fixed guidelines and clarifies your creativity. 4-chord songs can limit or suppress this creativity in many cases, since the possibilities for shaping the pitches are severely limited. So dare to try it out and find your style.
If you want to write multi-layered and complex songs, you've come to the right place. With our contributions we show you what is important in songwriting and which new trends are best suited for you. Connect with many interesting musicians and write songs together that are more than just a 4-chord song. Also our article for your style finding in songwriting will surely help you with your projects.
Originally published on January 7, 2022, updated on January 7, 2022