Songwriter Theory Podcast
Episode 23

The Power of Dyads and What You Don't Hear

Joseph Vadala published on

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It’s pretty common to assume any chord is a triad. And, I get it, triads are fundamental to chords and music theory. A minor, C major, and Db diminished are all triads. Most chords we talk about are triads.

We almost begin to believe that all chords have 3 notes.

But there is so much beauty and power in the dyad.

A dyad is a set of 2 notes. Depending on perspective, one could consider a dyad a chord or an implication of a chord. We’re not going to dive into that discussion with this post, but what we’re going to talk about revolves around that beautiful word “implication”.

There is Beauty and Power in What is Implied

Some of the great thriller/horror movies can shine some light on this. What is so terrifying about Jaws? It’s not the shark. It’s the implication of the shark. When you hear that iconic minor second interval, you know what’s coming.

And it strikes fear into your heart.

Honestly, once you see the shark, you probably think “oh, it’s just some animatronic? Hmm, still looks pretty good for the 70’s, good on you Spielberg.”

Often, a monster or character becomes far less terrifying once they are shown. But the implication of them can be horrifying.

Similarly, a dyad is an extremely effective tool to simply imply a common chord. C, E, and G form a C major chord. But what is C and G?

It could be a C major chord. But is also could be a C minor chord. It might not even be a C chord. It might be a G add 4, depending on arrangement.

The dyad doesn’t have to be a 5th apart either. Playing around with 3rds, 4ths, and 6ths can give you so many options.

More Melodic and Arrangement Options

One of my favorite things about dyads is how much more creative room it leaves for the rest of the song. There are realistically only so many notes you can play with at once. A chord with more than 4 different notes starts to get messy pretty fast.

Just try playing C, D, E, F, G, and A at the same time.

“But they’re all in the key of C!” you might say.

Doesn’t matter. There is only so much room for different notes at any given time. There’s a reason the C major key has 7 notes, but a C major chord has only 3.

When you utilize a dyad, your chord is so vague, and so few notes are used, that your melodic options are basically anything at all within the key.

If you know how to improvise with the piano, try this experiment. Play the 1st and 5th of the I chord in whatever key you want. Then, one octave above, play different melodies, holding on all different notes.

Now try the same thing with the 1st, 3rd, and 5th.

Note: Simple version would be to try this with C and G in the bass and then playing a melody in C major, then C, E, and G in the bass while playing a melody in C major.

It’s just going to sound a bit off. If you added a whole instrumentation around it, it would only sound even more off.

Your melody is what will stick in people’s minds and make them instantly recognize a song from a simple hummed tune.

Anything that equips you to write a better melody is a good thing.

 

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