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Pete Scott

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the numbers game

Look again at that perfect lyric. The one you took ages over. It’s perfect, isn’t it? You can’t improve on it, can you ? Can you? No. Have you been reading it and re-reading it, trying to get a tune to do it justice, or dare I say, a melody?

So many questions, so few chords. George Gershwin could tell you what to do - to make a melody, that is. George would be in my list of top three songwriters but for one thing. He didn’t write the lyrics, his brother Ira did. That’s a big but. Hey - who are you calling Big Butt? And what’s with all these questions?

1 4 5 6m ... The secret of life. The “m” stands for minor, by the way, and you can choose your own key. Sting’s Every Breath You Take has the same chord construction as Hey Yah by Outkast, Dream by the Everly Brothers, Stand by Me by Ben E King, and forty five million other rock and pop classics down through the years since the Blues met Memphis.

G C D Em and C F G Am. - just two examples of the 1 4 5 6m . You want some more? Come on, you can work it out yourself!

Back to Gershwin. The musical Porgy and Bess features a song which has become a bit of a target for bullies (see it's the song, not the singer) but remains a classic, popular with singers and instrumentalists alike. That song is Summertime and I would like to share with you the secret of its greatness and how you too could write a melody like that. Get your money back within seven days if not satisfied.

He starts the song with the 6m. Like many composers of the Jazz Age, he tended to write in the keys of Bb and Eb to suit the brass instruments which were in vogue at the time. So in the key of Bb the 6m is Gm. He then treats that chord as the 1 and moves to the 4th of G and plays it as a minor (Cm) moving to the fifth of of G (D major) on the “Cotton is high” line. You with me? Come on! The song, as I’ve said, is written in the key of Bb - therefore the root chord (Bb) is potentially the most boring chord in the song. But Gershwin turns it into an event. The Bb chord on “So Hush Little Baby” is one of the great moments in popular song.

The “Summertime technique” as it is now known, puts at your disposal the chords from two keys instead of one and opens the way to a soaring melody. So you see, it’s quite simple really. Now, are you sure about that lyric?

Pete's latest album:

CD - Sweet Dreams Of Contentment

CD - Songs To Sing & Jokes To Tell

Songs To Sing & Jokes To Tell
available online from:

    CD Baby

Hear tracks from the album

CD - Why Sing Goodbye Songs

Why Sing Goodbye Songs
available online from:

    CD Baby

Hear tracks from the album

Read the album launch review

Watch Pete on YouTube:

    He Said She Said Yeah
    Eddie's Dead
    William Smith and Pauline Jones
    Fantastic Pasty
    Pity The Poor Baritone

Send an email to Pete Scott
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