Category Archives: Composer’s Tool kit

Power of Pentatonics

Pentatonic scales are a fantastic starting point for melody writing. The pentatonic scale has two forms: MAJOR and MINOR. See the chart below to see how A minor pentatonic is played on the keyboard, this also shows how the scale overlaps with C Major pentatonic.

So, an A minor pentatonic scale contains these five notes:

A – C – D – E – G – (A) – I’ve included this top A because the scale sounds incomplete unless you go up the octave above the root note.

C major pentatonic is:

C – D – E – G – A – (C)

This is the most commonly used scale in rock music for improvising, guitarists know the scale well!

Many, many songs use pentatonics for melody, they are especially popular in contemporary R’n’B.


Modulation – key changes..a few approaches in composition

There are many ways to approach modulation in composition. In pop music the most common kind is direct or abrupt modulation. What this means is that you just move directly to the new key without in any way setting up the change of key with some carefully chosen chords to link the two keys.

The mighty Stevie Wonder is a great fan of direct modulation. If you go to about 3:50 in the video below you will hear the final chorus repeated, each time it goes up a semitone – this is direct modulation to a new key.

The NME has an excellent list of LIFE AFFIRMING KEY CHANGE SONGS here.

Modulation is a central aspect of most classical music where composer’s have used a range of techniques to move fluidly from one key to another. It is also a feature of many jazz standard songs which include extended harmony and modulation.

In both the above examples pivot chords are often used to help link from the original key to a new one.

This article provides a good introduction to how to apply several different modulation techniques.

Diatonic Harmony – Primary Triads

I know this fella drives some of you nuts..BUT he does explain the workings of music theory in the most thorough and complete fashion.

Here we are looking at Primary triads, these are chords I, IV & V. So if you were in C major that would be C MAJOprimary triadsR, F MAJOR & G MAJOR. Take a look at the chart for further explanation..

These chords are very common in all types of music, including our three strands: Western Classical Tradition, World Music and Popular Music. They are the building blocks of The Blues Rock’n’roll and are still commonly used in pop music today.

Note the use of ROMAN NUMERALS to identify chords. This system is used so that we can stop talking about “C, F and G” and discuss harmony without always relating to specific keys. If this system is new to you, have a look at this for explanation of the Roman Numerals in music.