Approximately X time ago I had written an article on the idea of composing with handicaps. After much deliberation I’ve deduced it’s time to bust out another one. If you haven’t read the other one yet, or would like a quick recap here’s a link to it as I do reference it along the way here.
Chord limitations. That’s pretty vague, isn’t it? Just saying that lone practically leaves me in the dark, and I’m the one writing this. Yeah, sure you can limit yourself to just chords available in a given scale, or you could just grab some chord progression out of some book on progressions, but me, I’m hardcore, so I’m dropping the limitation all the way down to just one chord.
For this demonstration I have chosen E major, so I’m working with E, G#, and B.
Consulting Fig. 16180339, it looks simple. It is simple. From here on it’s all entirely what you do with that and the options are literally limitless from here on. Taking points from the previous handicap article you can offer rhythmic limitations to it and give it more of a groove, or just lazily leave it as whole notes like I did. And what’s wrong with that? Not a damn thing.
The biggest pro is that each chord you play will by default sound like it belongs with the last. They’re the same chords, so of course they will. However, while it might make for a nifty backing track to shred over for about five minutes, the drawback is it can get tiresome quickly. Such is the price to pay when you work with just one harmony.
Speaking of just one harmony, let’s introduce a few more. Let’s pretend we have those E major chords from Fig. 16180339 on loop.
Speaking of just one harmony. Sure we’re starting with just the E major chord here, but no one said we’re limited to that in the whole run. Let’s say these various E major chords are looping over and over as a backing track like this.
We’re playing E major chords so what if we took a scale that E major was indigenous to? Something like, say, E major. Why not play various chords from the E major scale along with these chords? Something like this, for example.
The backbone is deceptively simplistic, but upon doing this you open up windows to more contrasting and complicated harmonies and you didn’t even have to learn a single new harmony shape to do it.
Making this work to the best potential possible really depends on how it’s played, though. Using various inversions and voicings can offer elbow room for subtle or glaringly different sounds and feels, but they’re more so just seasonings on a fine dish. The real meal comes from everything built up on top of that.
Some of my coolest ideas have come from throwing everything I “know” out the window and stooping to the level of randomization. For a demonstration what I’ve done here is I’ve temporarily removed my infamous ball cap from atop my dome piece, cut up a piece of paper with various letters written all over it into little pieces, shuffled them up a bit, and personally drew out three random pieces of paper as can be seen in Fig. CAD3141592. With these three letters I will build melodies and harmonies galore.
So I have E, G#, and D. How about that. I have the pivotal parts of an E7 harmony. If you’re wondering by now, yes, the chord from the first part was chosen based off the letters I drew here.
The greatest benefit here is that it completely annihilates the chance of over thinking things. Another benefit is that you have a selection of tones to work with and your goal is to present them in a way that’s satisfying to the ear.
There is no single tone out there that cannot sound good with any and every other tone available, so an exercise like this can help get you thinking outside of the box, so to speak.
So enough of the reading. Here’s an audio demonstration of three randomly chosen sounds presented in a sonically pleasing context (or at least the closest I could come to such a thing). The harmony of the backing track is the same as the one above, just run through FL Studio.