Creating “Partnered” Chord Progressions, With 6 Examples

Most songs have different chord progressions for each section. Here’s how to help them connect to each other.

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GuitaristGood song structure is the successful working-together of many different song components, including melody, harmony and lyrics, to name but three. In that sense, when we talk about whether a song has good structure or not, we’re really talking about how those three elements connect and cooperate. Song structure is compromised if, for example, your melody isn’t supported by a good underlying harmonic structure. Regarding harmonic structure, we know that verses can tolerate “fragile” progressions (i.e., tonally ambiguous ones), but choruses should tend toward stronger progressions. But there’s more to consider; songs make a lot more sense if the various chord progressions used throughout have some sort of connection to each other.

“Partnering” chord progressions means attempting to coordinate the various progressions throughout a song, making each progression feel like an answer, of sorts, to the one that came before it. So when partnering progressions, it usually means that your choices for the chorus will be based in part on what you chose for the verse and/or pre-chorus.

Here are 7 partnered progressions, all in the key of A major/F# minor, but of course transposable, each with a short description of why they work well together. Each verse or chorus progression can be repeated.

  1. VERSE: A  Bm  A  Bm  A/C#  D  F#m  E  (opt. repeat) || CHORUS: D  C#m  D  C#m  Bm  D/A  F#m  E
    Description: The bass line for the verse and chorus work in opposite directions, creating a nice sense of symmetry.
  2. VERSE: F#m E  D  E  F#m  E  D  E|| CHORUS: A  D  A  E  A  D  A  E
    Description: The verse centres on F#m as a pseudo-tonic chord, and the chorus moves strongly into the major mode, creating a nice sense of “brightening” in the tonality.
  3. VERSE: A  E/B  A/C#  D  F#m  C#m  D  E  || CHORUS: F#m  C#m  F#m  C#m  D  Bm  D  E
    Description: This progression features a move from a major tonality in the verse to a minor one for the chorus. Not all that common, but for examples check out Kool and the Gang’s “Too Hot“, which has a major pre-chorus and a minor chorus, and The Bee Gees “Tragedy.”
  4. VERSE: A  D  A  D  || PRE-CHORUS:  Bm  A/C#  D  E  Bm  A/C#  D  E  || CHORUS:  A  D  A  D
    Description: The pre-chorus is a good solution for songs where the verse and chorus progressions are similar or identical. In this case, the pre-chorus progression ends on an “open cadence” (a non-tonic chord, like the dominant (E) chord), which calls strongly for the tonic at the start of the chorus.
  5. VERSE: A  Bm/A  A  Bm/A  E/A  F#m/A  D/A  E/A  || CHORUS: A  Bm  A  Bm  E  F#m  D  E
    Description: The verse and chorus progressions are identical, but the verse uses a pedal bass, meaning that the bass note doesn’t change. Removing the pedal bass for the chorus strengthens the progression harmonically.
  6. VERSE: D  E  C#m  D  Bm  E  F#m  E  || CHORUS: A  Bm  E  D  A  D  E  A
    Description: The verse avoids the tonic chord, and this provides that “fragile” quality that works well in verses. The chorus copies, to a degree, the direction of the bass line, but centering on the tonic (A), and providing a much stronger progression.

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Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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2 Comments

    • Hi Josh:

      Thanks – I’m glad you find those progressions useful. I don’t have those recorded, but I could certainly consider that for the coming week, and I’ll let you know if/when I post something. I’m a bit busy over the next day or so, but I can easily do those progressions up in audio format and post those here. So perhaps check back on Monday.

      Cheers!
      -Gary

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