Song Doctor Blog
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Perhaps overlooked in contemporary chord clusters, the augmented chord has more than paid it's dues in popular music. If I ask beginner songwriters whether they ever use them, the majority won’t have given the poor augmented so much as a backwards glance. Awwwww!
But if I point out great songs that have augmented chords in their progressions, faces change from perplexed expressions to a definite look of recognition at the distinctive sound the chord has and the dreamy, quirky, hopeful feeling it evokes. Songs as different as Life on Mars by David Bowie, Stormy Monday by the Allman Brothers, Crying by Roy Orbison and Let There Be Love by Oasis have used augmented chords to great effect.
Firstly, what actually is an augmented chord?
Here are the four primary types of chords - major, minor, diminished and the one on the far right, the augmented, a major chord with the fifth raised. That’s a sharp – not a hashtag! (The guitar chord chart symbols for this are C+ or C aug)
The bright hopeful quality the chord produces comes from the fact that it’s made from two major thirds stacked on top of each other. But this also gives it an ‘unstable’ aspect – the augmented chord wants to go somewhere and this is how it's mostly used in songwriting – as a transitional chord within a progression or at the start or end of a section ( but not the end of the song).
The good news is that there are two fairly standard ‘real world’ methods to put an augmented chord in your chord progression:
EITHER use the augmented chord travelling from the root major chord (I) to the fourth (IV) like Roy Orbison did in Crying eg D D+ G Gm
OR from the root major chord (I) to its relative minor (vi)
like Oasis did in Let There Be Love eg C C+ Amin G
In both these cases, the augmented chord supplies tension and movement within fairly standard I-IV or I-vi chord changes – a nice twist.
Here are a link for keyboard players and one for guitarists to go into this in more detail.
Putting an augmented chord at the start of a section really announces something is about to happen, like the Allman Brothers do at the end of Stormy Monday’s wiggly intro and they arpeggiate it for good measure.
Am7 Bm7 Bbm7 Am7 Abm7 G7 C7 G7 D+
No surprises that this turnaround heralds the first verse, which starts on G7 (a fourth above D)
But the maestros of augmented reality were the Beatles. This link runs through 23 of their songs with augmented chords and I hope it inspires you to sharpen your fifths every now and then!
Talk more soon and if this is too theory much, gimme a yell ( 021 685561) and I'll walk you through it.