Light On in the Kitchen is a country song by Ashley McBryde, released on February 24, 2023. This is a great song to analyze and learn from because it’s beautiful but also fairly straightforward. It’s lack of complexity makes what we can learn from it very accessible. It’s the perfect example of a simple country song with a ton of heart.

Before we get into the details, be sure to give it a listen:

Prerequisites

Almost without exception, song analysis requires an understanding of the following:

  • Basic time signatures
  • The notes of basic major and minor scales
  • The concept of scale degrees
  • The chords in basic major and minor keys
  • The roman numerals for chords

If you’re not comfortable in these areas, please consider working through those lessons before you read this guide.

Analysis

Ok, now let’s break down some of the elements of the song so we can start to understand how it’s put together and gain some insight into how the song was written.

Key & Time

The song is in the key of F major. However, Ashley places a capo on the first fret of her guitar and is really playing chord shapes in the key of E major. The capo allows her to play in a key she’s more comfortable singing in while also avoiding the need to play so many barre chords. By playing E major chord shapes, she can also let strings like the high E and B ring, which makes the guitar part sound much smoother.

From here on out, I’ll be referring to chords in the key of E major, since those are the shapes being played. When it comes to melody notes, I’m going to state the literal note, in the key of F, which is the true song key.

The song is is common time, 4/4.


Verse Chords

The verse chords are I-IV, or E major to A major. The nature of this chord combination is pretty mellow-sounding, which is exactly how this verse sounds, and it allows Ashley to very comfortably and freely sing the notes of the E major pentatonic scale.

The I-IV is part of the I-IV-V chord progression that is the foundation of western music, whether it’s classical, blues, rock, country, or a number of other styles.


Verse Melody

Ashley starts the verse melody on beat 1. In general, she sings for about a measure, and then leaves a measure open, for space. In the second verse, the lead guitar uses this space for fills. Leaving space is a really effective technique and something any songwriter should consider carefully.

While the verse melody uses about five notes of the E major pentatonic scale, I’d say the focus note is the 5th scale degree (C4, speaking in the key of F). This is sort of her target while singing the verse lines. She tends to resolve around the tonic note (F3, in the key of F).

The total range of the verse melody is F3 to D4, an interval of a major 6th. This is enough to keep things interesting, but leaves her plenty of range to go higher for the chorus.

Why I’m Not Mentioning The Pre-Chorus

There is a pre-chorus in this song, but it only happens once, and I want to keep this lesson as straightforward as possible. Speaking about this one-time element in the song takes us on a side quest that is distracting, so I’m ignoring it to keep us focused on the verse and chorus and to keep this as accessible to as many learners as possible!


Chorus Chords

The chorus introduces two new chords, the V (B major in the key of E major) and the vi (c# minor in the key of E major). The full progression is essentially I-V-vi-IV. There’s an “in between” chord in there, but it’s just a passing chord and we’re looking at things from a bit of a higher level.

In case you’re itching to know, the chord is a V, and it happens between the vi and the IV. It’s a super common way to move things from the vi to the VI – just put the V in the middle.

The introduction of the V and the vi is a great example of chord delay. Because the verse is so simple and only uses the I and the IV, any new chord in the chorus is going to immediately make it more interesting. V chords are strong and come from that foundational I-IV-V chord progression, so she was wise to choose that as the first new chord in the song.

The vi is also a great choice for a couple of reasons. First, it’s the first minor chord we’ve heard in the song. So not only has the new V hit our ears, but then we get the first minor. According to Sting, surprise and keeping things interesting is very important in music, and while these chords are common and we’re really used to hearing things like this, the song set us up well to hear these as surprising and interesting.

Another great songwriting technique used in the chorus is what I call highlighting. Highlighting is when you have a certain line in the song, typically the last line of the chorus, that you want to emphasize. In this case, Ashley does a couple of things to highlight the final bit of the chorus:

  • Adds an extra measure of the last chorus chord, the IV
  • Halts strumming (all instruments halt, in fact, to allow the vocal to solo)

This ensures the listener has no choice but to put their full attention on the vocal, which helps the song title have maximum impact.


Chorus Melody

While the chorus melody does start on beat 4 with the word “Honey,” I’m going to count the first note as the highest note, which is the 3rd scale degree (A4), and this occurs on beat 1. This is also the focus note of the chorus.

A really effective songwriting technique is to enter the chorus on a note higher than anything sung in the verse, which Ashley does here. This gives the chorus “lift.” In this song, a harmony enters as well, which really adds to the change in the song’s atmosphere.

The range of the chorus is also bigger than that of the verse. She starts high on A4, and resolves the chorus on F3 or A3. That’s an interval of a major 10th, as compared to a major 6th in the verse. We’re definitely stretching out here, going higher than we have and singing notes inside a larger interval. This makes things more interesting, exciting, and emotive.

One Additional Note on the Chorus

The song uses an arranging technique I call the Q3C, or the quiet third chorus. Normally, songs will give you two standard choruses. When the third chorus comes around, songwriters and arrangers often want to do something different to keep things interesting.

For emotional or introspective songs like this, a Q3C is a great option to consider. Most of the time, all instruments except the voice and acoustic guitar (or some other accompanying instrument) will drop out. Either half or a whole chorus is sung, and then the instruments come back in for the rest of the song.

It’s a great way to keep a listener engaged and to add excitement to the song’s finale.


Final Chord

The final chord of a song can have a big impact. It’s the lasting impression left on the listener. Let’s look at a few options when you’re in a major key:

  • I chord – Ending on the I gives a strong sense of finality. It’s super common, comfortable for the listener, and can be very satisfying.
  • IV chord – The IV often leaves the listener with nostalgia, longing, even a sense of things being incomplete. That said, it’s not a negative feeling – it’s achingly beautiful, it just has some extra weight and emotion to it. It’s a great choice for the final chord of a song in a major key.
  • vi chord – The vi chord ending can be polarizing, but really cool if done right. It’s darker, melancholy, and a bit mysterious and unsure.

In “Light On in the Kitchen,” Ashley went with the IV chord to finish. This is a great choice since the song is emotional and recalling the past. A I chord ending would have worked just as well, but I personally love the IV in this case, because of the lyrics, which should always be considered when deciding what chord to end on.

Insights

Let’s list the things we’ve learned from this song so we can use them as a guide for creating our own song:

  • 4/4 time
  • Key of F (with E chord shapes on the guitar)
  • I-IV verse progression
  • 5th scale degree focus note for the verse
  • Use space within the verse
  • Introduce V and vi in the chorus (chord delay)
  • 3rd scale degree focus note for the chorus
  • Highlight the most important line of the chorus
  • Quiet 3rd chorus
  • IV chord ending

Demo

Using these insights, I wrote a simple song to demonstrate how this information can be used to create something of your own. I used the insights above as a guideline, and as the song started to come into view, I strayed a bit based on my own tastes, which is good because the end result is completely different than Ashley McBryde’s song.

Here are the insights I followed either exactly or very closely:

  • 4/4 time.
  • The verse progression is I-IV.
  • The chorus utilized a V and a vi chord.
  • The focus note of the verse is the 6th scale degree (the insights say 5th).
  • The chorus starts on the 3rd scale degree (but does meander quickly).
  • I stop strumming at the end of the chorus to highlight the last line.
  • I used an extra measure on the final chorus to punctuate the song title.

Here are some areas where I veered off in my own direction:

  • The tempo is totally different.
  • I chose the key of D. Being in a different key helped me feel like I was writing my own thing.
  • I didn’t use quite as much space in the verse (except at the end of the stanzas).
  • The focus or most interesting part of my chorus melody is the 7th scale degree, rather than the 3rd.
  • My chorus V chord is suspended using a D note, which creates a cool dissonance with that 7th scale degree (C#) that I’m singing.
  • My chorus chord progression is I-V-IV-vi, so a bit of a different order. It just felt better with my chorus melody.
  • I added a ii-I-IV chord sequence at the end of my chorus.

So you can see I used a lot of the insights gained from this song analysis, but as my song took shape, my own songwriting kicked in and I did my own thing in some spots.

This is really the best of both worlds and what I’m going for in this lesson, where we can use a song that is well-written and sounds great to gather insights and give us a strong starting point. Then, when we have a cool-sounding idea, we can make some of our own decisions and really make it unique and original.

Exercise

Now it’s your turn! Here’s how to write your own song using the insights we’ve gained from analyzing Ashley McBryde’s “Light On in the Kitchen:”

  1. Choose a key.
  2. Play a I-IV progression in that key in 4/4 time until you have a tempo you like.
  3. Find the 5th scale degree in the key you chose. Using that note as the focus (or one close to it), start drafting a verse melody.
  4. Write lyrics to your verse melody. Adjust tempo to fit the words.
  5. Start your chorus with a I-V. Then, try a vi-VI, but feel free to experiment.
  6. Start on the 3rd scale degree in the key and draft a chorus melody. Keep in mind that the melody will sometimes tell you which chord should come next.
  7. Write chorus lyrics. Consider pausing to let the vocal solo on the last line.
  8. Write your ending chord. First consider the IV, but experiment with the I and vi as well.

By this point, you should have enough material to practice and hear the complete idea. Make your final adjustments, then write a second verse and chorus. This will give you the minimum amount of material for a complete song.

From there you can add a third verse and chorus, or a bridge and final chorus – there are a lot of directions you can go in!

Out Of Order

The list above is only a suggested order for writing. In fact, everything here is just a guideline. Feel free to do things out of order. Break the rules. There’s no right or wrong way to write a song – the goal is to reach the finish line by any means possible.

The most common thing I like to change is when I write the lyrics. Sometimes I do it after I have at least a verse riff ready, and other times I write lyrics first and then craft music around them.

If you’re stuck, try doing things out of order and you may get unstuck and spark an idea.

Final Thoughts

In this analysis of “Light On in the Kitchen” by Ashley McBryde, we drew out a number of meaningful insights that are useful for writing songs. Things like time signature, chord progressions, even the notes used for the verse and chorus.

We can use the elements analyzed as guidelines for writing our own song, as I demonstrated. You can either write a song that’s very similar to Light On in the Kitchen, or use these insights to get started and then branch off into your own ideas.

Most people agree that starting a song is the hardest part; Once you’re on to an idea, you have some momentum, and something to chase. This exercise is designed to make the hard part easier and get you chasing that next great idea.

I hope you found this useful, and if you did write a song after following this guide, please send it to me!