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And from this groove came the groove of all grooves, And while one day viciously throwing down on his box, Jack boldly declared, “Let there be HOUSE!” and House music was born. “I am, you see, I am the creator, and this is my house! And, in my house there is ONLY House music.
House music has come a long way since seminal records such as My House by Rhythm Control. To say the genre has grown arms and legs would be a substantial understatement!
It has influenced many other music genres too. 4/4 bass drums, electronic instruments and a tempo of around 120 BPM can be heard in much of today’s Pop music.
In its earliest form, House music was influenced by Disco music – but with a more minimalist composition. This minimal approach was aided by the arrival of electronic instruments such as Roland’s famed drum machines, the TR-808 and 909, which quickly became the heartbeat of the new music genre. These new instruments, which were originally intended for Pop and Rock music, enabled DJs and music producers, such as Frankie Knuckles, to create the hypnotic grooves which lead to the House music explosion in 1980’s Chicago.
With this stripped back sound, basslines and drums were king. Most of the early House music records omitted the use of chords, opting for scarcely placed arpegios. This would change dramatically, however, as the genre goes through a natural evolution.
J.M. Silk – Music Is The Key
Towards the late 80’s and with the release of songs such as Pacific by 808 State, House music had become melodic – and with melody comes harmony, or chords.
808 State – Pacific
Understanding which chords will work in House music generally comes down to the style of House music being composed. Most House music songs, regardless of sub genre, are written in a minor key. This choice ovoids the potential for the music to sound cheesy, thus guaranteeing a more serious feeling. For the more Pop style House music, then this rule may not apply.
Let’s remake a few examples from the four, soon to be five, decades of House music using Captain Chords. This will help to identify which types of chords are commonly used and any patterns. Understanding which chords work well will help us to write our own House music chords.
Am add9 / Fmaj7 / G add9
Can You Feel It by Mr Fingers or Larry Heard as he was otherwise known as was arguably the first ever Deep House track. A simple but captivating arrangement produced using Roland’s Juno-60 keyboard and TR-909 drum machine.
em em / Fmaj7 / em em / Fmaj7 /em em / Fmaj7 / G6 G6 / am
A one hit wonder? Well, not exactly. Music Sounds Better With You was the only single released by Stardust. The group consisted of one half of Daft Punk (Thomas Bangalter), alongside Alan Braxe and Benjamin Diamond – both successful artists in their own right.
B7sus4 / c#7sus4 / Cmaj7 / G6
A big hit in the UK mainstream House music genre, The Weekend made it to number 7 in the UK top 40 and topped out in the dance charts.
Cm9 / cm11 / gm7 / Ebmaj7 / Ebmaj9 / gm7
A largely underrated track from the resurgent years of Deep House.
Analysing the chords of your favourite songs creates a great insight as to how they acheived a certain vibe or flavor.
All of the example songs are in a minor scale. However, as mentioned previously, this is a common factor in House music. It should be noted that there are plenty of major scale House music tracks. The use of major vs. minor really comes down to the desired feel. Major works well for happy or upbeat music. For a somber or moody feel then it’s best to opt for minor.
They all make use of chord extensions, e.g 7th, 9th 11th. Chord extensions help to give a ‘flavor’ to chords and can help make them more interesting – especially when varied throughout the progression.
Each record uses a mix of minor and major chords, even though they are all in a minor scale. This can help create tension and resolution in the chord progression.
Suspended chords: Ok, only one of the examples contained suspended chords. But it’s worth noting that using suspended chords can help with transitioning between chords. They add tension which when resolved can sound pleasing to the listener.
Timing: Having chord changes only on the bar or half bar can sound a little predictable. Notice that on some of the examples the chord timing adds extra suspense.
Let’s now try writing a House music chord progression using the above knowledge in Captain Chords.
It’s super easy to create your own ideas from scratch. Visit the official Chords homepage and see how it will help you explore music and write your own original productions.