We’ve received several requests in our Samoan Lyrics database for guitar chords, so today I want to show you an easy way to figure them out.
The truth is, if you can play the chords for one Samoan song, you can play just about all of them. If you’re like, What? How? Then please allow me to explain a few things you probably didn’t realize.
First, a short lesson on harmonic progression.
For our purposes, harmonic progression will simply mean: “What chord do I play NEXT to go with the melody of the song?”
As you probably know, chords are named for the main note you hear in them. For example, the chord named C has a root note of C, the G chord is based on the note G and so forth. The way the rest of the notes in the chord are arranged determines its ‘coloring’ – i.e. whether it sounds ‘major’ or ‘minor’ or if it’s a ‘7th’ etc. But we’ll get more into that stuff later.
For this article, we’re mostly concerned with the ‘major’ versions of the chord, so unless I tell you otherwise, when I say ‘chord G’ or ‘chord C’, just assume I’m talking about G-Major and C-Major etc.
Alright… so when you play a song, it doesn’t matter what chord you begin on – just choose one based on how high or low (i.e. which key) you want to sing. What really matters is which chord you go to next (and next and next till the end of the song).
The One-Four-Five Rule
For just about every Samoan song you will hear, the harmonic (chord) progression is going to be I-IV-V (or One-Four-Five). This means that if you start your song on C, the next chord you go to will be four base notes away, and then the next chord is the fifth base note away from C. Check this out:
As you can see, music notes only use 7 letters of the alphabet – just A to G – and we usually start reading them from C.
So back to One-Four-Five. If our chord One is C, then chord Four is F and Five is G. Are you with me so far?
Poko kele la oe.
Now let’s say we want to start our song instead on E. What will your chord Four be?
Very good. IV = A and V = B.
But what if you want to start your song on G? What’s four notes away from G?
Yes, so counting forward from G takes us to A, B and (start again at) C, which is therefore chord Four, making D your chord Five.
Using what we know now
Okay, so how does all this One-Four-Five stuff help you play Samoan songs? Well let’s put it into practice.
Do you know Tele I’a o le Sami? It’s one of the most popular island jams of the Pacific. If you’ve never heard it, check out Faith Ako singing it at The Pono Hawaiian Grill in California:
Let’s play a (very simple) version of it now on guitar (we can talk about piano notes later if you like).
We’ll start on C, so our One-Four-Five will be C-F-G. Here, let me get you some tabs:
Okay, you ready to go? Let’s do it.
Was that too high for you? Want to try it at a different key?
Simply use I-IV-V (plus a library of guitar tabs) to help you figure out which chords to play.
But that’s just one song
The real magic happens when you apply I-IV-V to another song. Try it with:
A lot of times, you’ll find a song that seems to not quite match the I-IV-V progression, for example: O Oe o La’u Uo Moni… But if you play around a bit, you’ll realize it’s still the same chords (One, Four and Five), with a tweak in the order that you play them. In the case of Uo Moni, instead of I-IV-V, the first verse goes I-IV-I-V. Easy right?
See if you can use our I-IV-V chords to figure out the harmonic progressions of these songs:
Getting past the simple
I hope this little tutorial helped you get a little more comfortable playing just about any Samoan song. It was so much fun for me to write, I wanna do a Part 2.. 😀
So next time we talk music, I’ll show you how to make your harmonic progressions a little more interesting by adding some colour to the chords we’re using.
Please let me know in a comment below if you have any questions or if I’ve missed something or if you have any requests for a future article.