7 Music Theory Exercises to Kick Start Your Songwriting

By Patrick McGuire 24 . 10 . 18

Music theory shouldn’t be confined to classrooms.

It’s a powerful tool that any creator should use—whether you’re an experimental composer or a death metal bassist.

By practicing some music theory basics, you’ll be able to bring something new and powerful to your songwriting practice.

Theory isn’t always something you read in a textbook or practice over and over bored out of your mind.

When you look at music theory as a production tool, it can open up new ways to create and spark ideas for your songwriting.

In fact, specific music theory techniques are incredibly valuable for inspiring new song ideas.

In this article, you’ll learn 7 of the easiest and most beneficial ways to turn music theory into songwriting inspiration.

Let’s jump in!

1. Add vibrant new colors to your chords with chord extensions

Do you already know all the basic chord progressions? Are you getting a bit bored with them?

If you’re tired of the same old major and minor chords, consider adding some 6ths, 7ths and 9ths into the mix.

Think of chord extensions as extra colors and moods for your basic chords. Extensions can give overused progressions extra flavour right where it needs it.

For example: Let’s take C major. I encourage you to follow along on your instrument or piano roll

Adding a new note, like a major or minor 7th for example, will completely transform the sound and feel of the chord:

Even adding one extended chord to a progression can bring an entirely new energy and thoughtfulness to your music.

Major and minor 7th chords are just two examples, but there’s a vast array of other possibilities to consider.

2. Mess with modes

Modes might sound like a stuffy music theory term, but they’re actually just a fancy word for scales.

That good old major scale that your teacher made you play over and over again on the piano is actually a mode.

There’s actually seven music modes in music theory that will each bring their own feel to your songwriting.

Some, like the Lydian mode, are bright and consonant. Others, like the Locrian mode, are brutally dissonant and are rarely heard in popular music.

The easiest way to understand modes is to look at your keyboard or piano roll.

Each mode is built with no accidentals on 7-note patterns that begin on each white key.

The major scale or Ionian Mode starts on C major while the Lydian Mode begins on F.

The unique tone and semitone patterns from this position can be adapted to any key in music.