Many famous producers use a musical composition technique called “the 4 magic chords”. You can’t imagine how many hits are based on these four chords.
In the music world, I explain very regularly, when I do training on mixing or mastering, that there are no magic tools. Indeed, if you make a bad recording of the voice, you will spend a lot of time to find how to correct the errors of captation. The easiest thing to do in 99% of the cases: redo the voice recording.
Mais qu’en est-il dans le monde de la composition ? Car avant de parler de mixage et de mastering, il faut bien composer un morceau de musique. Là aBut what about in the world of composition? Because before talking about mixing and mastering, you have to compose a piece of music. There too, there are no magic tools, no USB plugs that you plug into your head at the base of your neck to transfer your musical ideas into a (quantum) computer and automatically put them into shape, ready to make you a star and your song an interplanetary hit (I admit I watched Matrix 4 recently)!
This tip is for musicians, guitarists, DJs and composers, beginners and experienced…
What are the differences between scales and chords?
To find out what is behind this musical trick we will do a little music theory and solfege. We must not confuse scales and chords.
What is a scale?
A scale, for example the C major scale, is made of a set of chords. We speak about 7 fundamental chords.
The notation of the chords in the scale is done in Roman numerals. For the C major scale, the 7 chords are as follows:
- I – C Major unison
- ii – D minor the second
- iii – E minor the third
- IV – F Major the fourth
- V – G Major the fifth
- vi – A The minor the sixth
- vii – B diminished the seventh.
For your information, major chords are written with upper case Roman numerals while minor chords are written with lower case Roman numerals.
Cela vaut dans toutes les gammes, que vous soyez en mode majeur ou This applies to all scales, whether you are in major or minor mode. I won’t go into more details because it’s not the purpose but if you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me.
What is a chord?
A chord is a set of notes forming a harmonic whole. To take a concrete example, a C major chord corresponds to the notes C – E – G. When they are played simultaneously, it is called a plated chord, whereas if they are played one after the other, it is called an arpeggio.
Understanding the 4 magic chords
It was the comedy trio Axis of Awesome that got the word out about these 4 magical chords composed of :
- G Major
- D Major
- E minor
- C Major
The titles using the combination of these famous 4 magic chords are numerous but if we look closer they are not the only magic chords to be used to make hits.
For example, the following chord sequence has also given rise to hits:
- C Major
- G Major
- The minor
- F Major
But, you may ask, in this case, where is the magic since the chords are different from those of the first example? Well, there is nothing magical about the chords themselves, it’s more a way of speaking. In fact, all the magic is in the chord combinations.
As we have seen earlier in this article, chords are part of a scale. This scale is made of degrees. The magic lies in the combination between these degrees. If we look closely, the magic sequence corresponds to the first degree followed by the 5th degree, itself followed by the 6th degree to finish with the 4th degree, as explained in the image below.
Here are some examples in the key of C Major:
- James Blunt – You’re Beautiful
- The Beatles – Let it Be
- Maroon 5 – She will be loved
- The Police – So Lonely
- Taylor Swift – Love Story
For those who work on harmonization, these chords work well together because they are in the same scale, this is called tonal music because composed from a key.
The role of each chord is important:
- C Major allows you to start slowly
- G Major creates a tension
- A minor resolves the tension created by the G Major chord
- F Major again brings a tension that allows us to close by starting again on C Major which will resolve this tension.
How to use the 4 magic chords?
First of all in your composition you will use a scale to compose.
Let’s start with C Major.
If you listen to tracks built with this magic, you will notice that the 4 magic chords are used in the chorus. This implies a different chord construction for the verse and bridge part.
In our DAW :
Logic Pro with the keyboard editor allows you to work in scale mode and for those who use an iPad pro, the Logic Remote application allows you to enter the chords directly via the iPad.
In Ableton Live it is possible to work with chords via the Push 2 controller.
Via a midi plug-in :
If harmonization is not your strong area of expertise, there is a tool that can help you with chord building. This midi plug-in works in both Ableton Live and Logic Pro! I want to talk about CAPTAIN PLUGINS EPIC, created by the company MIXED IN KEY. I invite you to discover the plug-in through this video.
Beyond the chord progression part, this plug-in offers to create custom chords with swing and works in sync with the other tools for bass and melody that constitute the Mixed in Key offer.
Do the 4 magic chords work on a minor scale?
Why wouldn’t they work? Yes, I’ve been talking about major chords all along, but for those who are interested, the major mode always has a minor equivalent. For example, C Major corresponds to A minor.
Why don’t my 4 magic chords turn my song into an interplanetary hit?
From magic to hit, there can be a real canyon, even an abyssal pit! The 4 magic chords certainly work for your chorus but that’s not all that will constitute the success of your music because beyond these magic chords there are also the sounds, the sound design, the interpretation of the 4 chords, the melody… To make a track sound good is a skill that is acquired with time… The music is alive It is necessary to play an instrument to discover all the subtleties of it…
Of course if your name is Lady Gaga there is more chance that your song will become a hit.
So yes, you can compose with the 4 magic chords but it won’t necessarily make your song a musical hit. Keep this in mind because often this term conveys a lot of dreams.