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  • Jackie Marx


From the Sheila Davis Workshop (in the 1980s):

  • As a general rule, chords are placed on downbeats of the first and third beats of a measure in 4/4 time and on the first beat of a 3/4 meter.

  • Circle of Chords: The root movement of a rising 4th or descending 5th is the strongest most apparent root progression in Pop music. Moving through a series of dominant chords whose roots are in successive 4ths about one another is called a dominant cycle of 4ths (The Summer Knows).

  • The dominant seventh (V7) is the most active chord available; it demands movement because it contains the disonant interval of the tritone (between the 3rd and the 7th of any dominant seventh chord) which begs to be resolved--each note moving half a step in each direction. (The V7 is also the gateway to modulation.)

  • A descending bass line provides a natural leading from chord to chord. To accomplish this it is necessary to use inversions of the chords to provide the proper leading in the bass voice (Feelings).

  • Add color by varying your voicings. There are four basic kinds: 1.) ROOT POSITION; 2.) INVESIONS; 3.) OPEN (larger than an octave); 4.) INCOMPLETE (don't play all the notes of the chord symbol.

  • To create melodic tension in your melody, 1.) Use an appoggiatura--a non-chord note directly above or below a chord note (Yesterday). 2.) Add experiment with anticipation--the sounding of a note before the sounding of the chord to which it belongs (Just the Way You Are).

  • To create harmonic tension in your melody, 1.) Substitute suspension (sus 4) chords for the major triads or 7th chords by replacing the 3rd with the perfect 4th (Send in the Clowns). 2.) Try the nondiatonic "Surprise" chord, the bVII preceding the V7 (By the TIme I Get to Phoenix).

  • Strive for smooth movement from one chord to the next. This is accomplished by maintaining common tone between chords.

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