So, like many producers out there, I've always wondered how to write chords like Sam Gellaitry.
And, after years of trying, I've finally developed a good enough ear to transpose a lot of his arrangements, chords & melodies.
I wanted to share my all time favourite today – Sprinkles.
Btw, I've done a lot of these on other artists including:
- Mr Carmack
- 53 Thieves
- & the list is constantly evolving!
I can't count how many times I've tried to google “how to make melodies or chords like Sam Gellaitry”, only to be left frustrated with a YouTube tutorial from someone who doesn't get anywhere near close to the sound.
The simple fact is that, most people have no idea how to write like Sam does.
It's a truly unique style I haven't heard much of.
It's an incredible blend of Hudson Mohawke (early stuff), Flying Lotus & House influenced trap/hip hop music.
(in my humble opinion)
So, with my new, improved ear and accuracy on the piano, I thought – what better way to learn than dissecting one of his tracks?
How To Work Out Any Track By Ear
Before we start getting stuck into this chord progression, I want to share my 5 step process for working things out by ear.
It could be an extremely useful thing to a lot of you & it can be used to work out sound design, drum patterns, structure & melodies.
So here it goes:
- Download your favourite track. Put it in your DAW, warp it in Ableton and slow it right down, using complex warp mode.
- Listen through at 1/2 BPM. Listening to a section you want to learn at a slower BPM is going to allow you to pick out all the tiny details in what is actually going on in the writing of the track.
- Use MIDI or your keyboard. By laying out the MIDI in your DAW & shifting it around, you can work out the pitch of each note in the melody, the timing of each drum hit & a load more! Personally I play on my Piano as I find it far more enjoyable. For drums I will place midi where each hit is.
- Loop a small section over and over. By looping a 5-10 second section, it gives your more time to determine what's happening with the music. Use this alongside markers or a piece of paper to work out what is happening at certain sections of the song.
- Learn in small chunks. Learn the first 2-3 notes off by heart, then move on to the later notes, once you have mastered the first. It is better to learn small chunks of information, frequently, than big chunks, infrequently.
Doing this consistently with songs you love, alongside writing in a journal or on a piece of paper will solidify your music knowledge further than you knew possible.
It will open up new doors in the realm of your writing capability.
After you work out a song, try to re-work the chord progression into a track of your own.
This will help you learn how to use chords, melodies & patterns in a different context & will improve your production skills greatly.
Let's get on with the breakdown shall we?
What Scale Is He Using?
To first understand how he's writing this piece, we need to know the theory behind it & understand what scale he's using to build the chords from.
In this particular progression, Sam is using a Db major scale, but instead of playing the 7th degree in the scale, he's flattening the 7th degree.
By doing this, it gives the original scale a little more colour and actually utilises a Greek mode commonly used in Jazz theory, melodies and progressions.
So, by flattening the 7th, he is now using the Db major scale in its Mixolydian mode.
Sounds a bit confusing – I know.
But, all you really need to worry about is playing the 7th degree of the scale flattened (moving down a semi-tone from the original 7th degree).
Although Sam is likely playing this progression live on his MIDI keyboard, he is still using the Db Mixolydian mode as a foundation, to write the chords.
Let's go through how he uses them in this incredible piece of music.
The Chord Breakdown
Like I said above, I took the liberty of working the piece out by ear myself & I wanted to share a video that will help you visually understand what is going on more.
If you take a listen to the above, transcribed piece in Synthesia, you'll be able to see that this chord progression has a tonne of movement.
It's a very Jazzy progression & is beautifully crafted.
Working it out by ear wasn't easy, so I've included the MIDI file for you to download alongside this article.
Using them together will help you understand how the progression has been pieced together, the theory behind it, & what makes it so catchy.
So what's the first chord?
The first chord Sam uses is an Eb minor 9.
This is the 2nd chord in the Db Mixolydian chord scale, and isn't played in its original position.
Instead, it's inverted, by placing the Eb an octave below, in the bass & also adds an extension to the chord – adding a 9th.
An extension on a chord is simply an extra note being played. The common extensions in Jazz are 7ths, 9ths & 13ths.
In this case, to get the 9th added to the Eb minor chord, we want to play the Eb minor scale until we've played 9 notes.
By playing 9 notes of the Eb minor scale, you should end up with an F.
He uses this F as a 9th extension, and instead of placing this F on top of the chord, he moves it down an octave so the chord can be played with 1 hand.
Here's some diagrams if not.
The 2nd chord in this progression is Gb major 7.
Again, Sam uses this chord in a different position to the natural one & inverts the chord to change the tone.
He does this by moving the 7th degree of the Gb major scale down 1 octave.
He also move the 5th of the Gb major chord down 1 octave.
The chord is played in the right hand like this:
Db, F, Gb, Bb
And, has an Bb being played in the bass, with the left hand.
I know this sounds like a mouthful, and it's difficult to get your head around, so I've included a diagram below to explain exactly what I'm on about.
The third chord in this progression is pretty simple.
You're going to move that Bb in the right hand, down a whole tone (2 semi-tones).
Then you're going to move the bass note down a whole tone as well.
This creates what we call a Gb maj9 no3.
And, you're probably thinking “well what the actual f*ck is that?”.
Don't worry, it's just a Gb major chord with no 3rd, and the original 9th extension I explained earlier.
Let me explain…
If we were to play a Gb major chord, you'll notice that the 3rd note in the makeup of it, is the Bb.
We're moving from that Bb, down an entire tone & missing it out, therefore missing a 3rd from the Gb major chord.
Before we begin to dissect chord 4, it's important to know how this progression resolves on chord 5.
Chord 5 (the final chord) is a Db7sus4 chord.
You need to know this before explaining Chord 4.
Because chord 4 is what I like to call the ‘movement' chord.
It's the 7th degree of the Db Mixolydian chord scale.
The 7th degree chord, in chord scales is commonly used in Jazz, Gospel, Soul & Blues to create movement.
It's a chord that, if you resolved the entire progression to, it wouldn't make any sense & wouldn't sound good.
Injecting this ‘movement' chord, before resolving creates a nice dissonant movement that adds all kinds of flavour to this piece of music.
It's a stalling chord.
Meaning that you stall on it before finally resolving to a chord that sounds good and makes sense.
And that chord is: B major 7
As I explained above, the entire piece ends on a Db7sus4.
This is a dominant chord, with a suspended 4th on the end.
That means it's neither major nor minor & doesn't entirely resolve until the final part of the melody line is played.
The suspended 4th comes from playing the 4th degree of the Db major scale, and I'll show you where it's located on the chord in the diagram below.
Play to the 4th note of the Db major scale and you get a Gb – this is your 4th.
The dominant 7 in this chord is simply a normal 7th extension, flattened (moved a semi-tone) down.
To play the Db7sus4 chord just take a look at this diagram.
And that's it!
You've made it to the end.
Give yourself a pat on the back – you deserve it!
Like I said earlier, if you want more of this kinda content – get in the Whipped Cream Sounds facebook group.
You won't regret it!
See you soon x
With over 8 years of hands-on experience in the music industry, Harry has run successful raves, played alongside industry heavyweights such as Max Chapman, DJ EZ, DJ Zinc and more (pictured below), had music played on national radio, DJ'd on live radio, produced until he hated every song, mixed until his ears bled, created sample packs from scratch using just a Zoom H1n and some sound design skills… and pretty much anything related to music production – he's done it, tested it, tried it.