making simple but exciting guitar music. Image form Reverbnation of the band Glass linking to their one chord song Spaced Out
Our One Chord Played 3 ways Song

Making simple but exciting guitar music was never our band’s aim. It happened once when. almost by accident we wrote a song called Spaced Out. It was part joke about an eccentric friend, part warm rehearsal up but it grew arms and legs. In fact it almost got us signed to a major label after ironically, said eccentric friend sent them a rough recording of it. Here then is how using dynamics can make the simplest of things cool. 

Spaced Out (listen here) was unlike any of other material. No wonder then that the record company passed after discovering we didn’t have another 20 of them in our pockets. Aside from slightly mad lyrics (but who listens to them anyway?) it has catchy riffs, a “ba ba ba”, chorus that could be learned in seconds and an infectious get up and dance feel. Perfect pop – dammit! 

But here’s the thing: The song is based around a single chord. E major. Played three ways. In the verses it’s played as a riff for 4 bars then a slightly heavier version of the riff for 4 bars with a slightly different feel. In the choruses the chord switches to an E major 7th chord with a different rhythm syncopated with harmonics.

Using Dynamics To Make Simple Guitar Parts Great

Dynamics is the key to this working. We had a great drummer and bassist who were able to switch between loud and busy to quieter and simpler. Basically we did that several times during the song. I’d switch to a muted, staccato picking on the riff and they’d drop to minimal. Then we’d pick it up again.

I added a short and again, pretty simple solo based on rockabilly style 6ths and we finished with a chromatic chord run and a pick slide. But basically E.

I realise this takes making simple but exciting guitar music to extremes. When we jammed it with some new music friends recently they couldn’t believe it. “It really is just one chord!”. Yep. 

There are as you’ll hear if you give it a listen, a variety of rhythmic changes going on along with the dynamic changes. As a band we were nothing if not quirky even in a one chord romp like this. The bass and drums keep things rollicking along or pulled back where they need to and the vocals – especially the chorus – are sing-along-tastic.

The point here is that a good song can be more about energy than actual content. The demo that our man Hobbit sent was from a live rehearsal in a barn. It was recorded to 4 track tape with a couple of mics and a single vocal overdub. So you have a one chord song badly recorded in a less than perfect space leading (almost) to a record deal. Its a funny old game.

You Don’t Always Need To Fancy It Up

But then if you think of the biggest pop and rock songs ever made they do tend to be simple. Not one chord simple maybe but 2 or 3 certainly. This was actually at the heart of punk when it tried to overthrow the dwiddling prog and rock dinosaurs of the 70’s. My partner and I wrote a 2 chord song recently and its been one of the most popular of our recent efforts. 

So have a go at writing simple but exciting guitar music. If it feels good don’t start thinking you need to fancy it up a bit. You probably don’t. Its fun to have a song that gets everyone singing along the first time they hear it. And you never know where it might take you.


I'm Dave Menzies a digital entrepreneur, photographer and guitarist. I live on the Argyll coast of Scotland. My partner and I write, record and produce our own music and videos in our home studio. I love to help individuals discover the lifestyle freedom offered by the digital world and guitarists to develop their own style.