How to use chords: Beat Making Basics #5

In a literal sense, chords are multiple notes being played simultaneously together, creating harmonic depth that cannot be achieved by playing only a single note.

Beyond the literal, chords are the emotion and feeling of your track. They convey the mood, the pace and the sentiment that the listener will hear. Are they happy? Are they moody? Do they change quickly to bring up the energy, or are they held and drawn out to bring the vibe down? These are all the things that the listener will experience, whether they’re aware of it or not, when they first hear the chords of your track. 

Chords are the binding agent for so many genre styles, but as producers have moved away from traditional instruments into MIDI/sampling, not everyone has the skills to write them anymore. Fortunately, there are some tricks in Serato Studio that we’re going to cover that aid in running the race without knowing how to tie your laces.

Chords are the way you can speak your mind on your track without actually saying anything at all. 

So, it’s important to get it right.

An overview of simple chords

Some chords are more complex than others. We’re going to start off with five basic chords that will get the ball rolling. 

C Major

This is the first chord you should know about – think of it as level one of all chords. It looks like this:

G Major

Think of this at C Major’s older sibling – another key basic chord to know:

F Major

This is the even older sibling:

A Minor

The older, more emo cousin of the two chords above:

D Minor

Another great chord to know when you want your track to be a bit more emotional:

Major and minor chords

To put it simply: major chords are for when you’re happy, minor chords are for when you’re sad.

Basically, the difference between a major and minor chord is a slight variation in the second note being played. A major chord only incorporates white keys, whereas a minor chord brings in a black key to add some more tension and darkness. If it helps, think of it that way visually: light keys for light mood, dark keys for dark mood. 

This is an example of C Major and C Minor. Notice the difference of the second note. 

Notice the difference in how they make you feel? What would you think a song would be about if that was the first chord you were to hear? 

It’s these questions that you have to answer for the listener, which is why selecting the right chords is so important. 

Autochords in Serato Studio

Constructing full chord progressions can be tricky when you’re not used to it. We want Serato Studio to be a tool that you can create beats intuitively and without too much hassle. 

Serato Studio has an Autochord feature, which constructs full chords out of a single note. If you make a ‘chord’ progression out of four notes that you think sound good, Serato Studio will automatically create full chords out of them. 

The notes will appear and you can change them as you wish. Not only will this speed up your beat making process, but you’ll be able to develop an understanding of how chords work as you use this feature more and more.

Pro tip: using your lowest note for your bassline

This is a great shortcut to avoid spending as much time on your bassline as you did your chord progression. 

Choosing the lowest note on your progression will automatically create a bass note for you. Just open a new (bass) instrument and find one you like, then plug those notes. 

If it sounds a bit off, drop the notes down an octave or two until it’s got a low, sub tone.