The jazz chord substitutions in a country song... that was another thing that bent people's ears. I guess that my favorites are the unique ones. It's not how fast you play. It's that unique blending of different stuff I'm most proud of. ~Brian Setzer

You can't always write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say, so sometimes you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whipped cream. ~Frank Zappa

Quick Sketch

Utilize the musical concept of the Chord to explore multiple facets of a single character and/or add another layer to your script in order to enrich its resonance.

When to Use

During an early rewrite, to combat writer's block, or to resurrect an unsuccessful script from the grave.

Playing the Chord

A chord can be defined as "three or more pitches sounded simultaneously or functioning as if sounded simultaneously." There are many types of chords: Major and Minor, inversions (six-three or six-four chord), Augmented, sixth, ninth, diminished triad. So many, in fact, that any combination of three or more pitches can be described as a chord. Any chord can add or change a single note and become another chord. This is the element we will be playing with in this exercise.

Some chords sound good to our ears while others sound dissonant or discordant. Typically, the lowest pitch in the given chord is known as the root of the chord (think of the bass guitar or bass beats in popular music). This root is the "fundamental or generating pitch of [the] triad or chord." Put simply, it is the reason we can call the combination of the pitches G, B, and D a G Major Chord (as the other notes are rooted in G). This is an excellent site that explains a lot of these concepts in a aural and visual way: If you visit the site be sure to see how a few simple changes in single notes can have drastic changes in mood, feeling, emotion, and other perceivable areas.

The Exercise

I'm giving two examples of how the concept of the chord might lead us to a useful exercise for a playwright.

  1. Character-Chord
    1. Take your main character and consider her as if she is a chord.
    2. Which three (or more) pitches is she composed of?
    3. These could be life events, ticks, gestures, scars, emotional states, personality traits, etc...
    4. Rewrite your scene and show at at least three (if not more) of these pitches at the same time (to produce a "character-chord").
    5. If the scene begins to lull or stall add another pitch or change an existing pitch.
    6. Does this result in consonance or dissonance?

HINT: Two quick ways to think of this (there are surely more):

a) You choose different things from different areas that might produce a harmonious character-chord.

History: Abusive parents
Physical: Scar on one eye -- no depth perception
Personality: Doesn't trust authority figures

b) You choose conflicting concepts in a single area to produce a discordant character-chord.

Personality: Loves eating sweets.
Personality: Driven into an uncontrollable rage at the sight of overweight people.
Personality: Physically breaks down after vomiting when in the presence of jelly beans.

  1. Disrupt
    1. The goal is not to destroy your original play but to add another layer, another pitch, that your characters have to deal with (change the chord of your play slightly while keeping the root note).
    2. Rewrite your scene and add a character (or other element: setting, time period, etc.) that will intentionally disrupt the basic sound and/or mood of the play you wrote the first time without simply tweaking existing dialogue or looking back at your original scene.

HINT: A quick couple of ways to think about this in terms of character (there are many other ways and areas):

a) If you've written a comedy add a hopelessly melancholic or tragic character.
b) If you've written a tragedy add a very funny fool.
c) If you've written a family friendly piece add a foul-mouthed uncle.
d) If you've written a piece about idiots add an academic.


At this point you've completed the exercise and you should have perceived a change in the script. Depending on which version you choose to explore from above you either have a new character or element or an added pitch in an existing character. Whether you believe this rewrite is an improvement or not you've forced your characters to deepen by engaging with something new (whether inside or outside of themselves). Did you create a new chord never before sounded in the history of humanity? Maybe. Either way -- you should have a better grasp of the root.