New Age music is often associated with meditation and yoga. It has repetitive themes and creates a peaceful uplifting state for the listener. The genre uses both electric and acoustic instruments, often incorporating piano, synthesizer, flutes and acoustic guitar as well as non-western forms of percussion instruments. It is based around simple chord structures, avoids tense-sounding altered chords found in jazz or blues, and focuses on establishing a relaxing mood rather than an emphasis on technique.
Choose a key and build a basic chord progression based off of the diatonic major scale as I-V-vi-ii. In the key of C the chords are C-G-Am-Dm. Change the qualities of the chords to fit the New Age genre. Use suspended chords for the major chords and extensions on the minor chords to make the progression Csus2-G7sus4-Am11-Dm9. Exclude the third of major chords for a more open sound.
Play the chords on a piano, synthesizer or guitar. Play Csus2 (the notes are C, G, C, D), G7sus4 (the notes are G, D, F, C), Am11 (the are notes A, G, C, D) and Dm9 (the notes are D, F, C, E). Experiment by changing each chord voicing. Use add nine chords, minor eleventh chords, suspended chords and inversions where you change the order of the notes played.
Experiment with the number of measures (the time) you remain on each chord. Unlike other musical genres, there is no urgency to make a chord change. New Age pieces often last for twenty minutes or more with only minimal movement between chords. Add a simple bass line that follows the root notes. Add a sparse rhythm track using a percussion instrument such as congas. Ensure it is unobtrusive and does not interfere with the tranquil nature of the chords.
Improvise a simple melody over the chord changes using the Lydian mode, which is the major scale with a raised fourth degree. Play the mode with the notes C, D, E, F#, G, A, B and find simple melodies. Let notes sustain and find pleasing choices to the ear that create peaceful sounds against the chords.
Compose a droning New Age piece using a static bass line and a slash chord, which is a chord with a different note other than its root in the bass. Over a D bass note play the chords Dsus2 (the notes are D, A, D, E) and C/D (the notes are D, G, C, E). Notice how a lot of movement is created with just two chords because of the droning bass line.
Improvise a simple melody over the two chord changes using the Lydian mode. Play the mode with the notes C, D, E, F#, G, A, B and find simple melodies.
Experiment and create your own New Age progressions based on simple three or four chord changes. Use a droning bass line over one or two chords. Improvise simple melodies using the major scale or the Lydian mode.
Keep your chord progressions and melodies simple. New Age music is often used as background music to another activity such as yoga so the chords and melodies must maintain a tranquil mood.
Originally from the United Kingdom, now based in Los Angeles, Rob Garland has been a writer and musician since 1989. He has a book published by Cherry Lane and his articles have appeared in "Guitarist" magazine and "Guitar One" magazine. He has a Bachelor of Arts in film/social sciences from Canterbury University.