A bad chord progression can kill a song, but don’t assume that a good chord progression must grab your attention. Many of the best songs in the world use very basic chords which, by themselves, are probably a bit boring.
That’s because a chord progression must work with your melody and lyrics without pulling focus. If your chords scream out for attention all the time, don’t expect people to be listening to your words, or digging your melody.
Even so, there is something to be said for taking a set of chord changes and breathing new life into them, with the simple addition of pedal tones.
A pedal tone is a tone that repeats throughout a chord progression. In the context of this article, I’m talking about the lowest sounding note. Take the following progressions as an example. The first one is a very basic progression that is used all the time. The second one is the same progressions using pedal tones. You’ll notice that the note C is repeated as the lowest sounding tone in each chord, even in the G chord, which normally doesn’t have a C. And the effect is very interesting.
C F G C click here to hear this progression. (Close the play box when you’ve finished listening to return to this page.)
C F/C G/C C click here to hear this progression
You can change the effect by simply changing the repeated tone. For example, this progression is that same C F G C progression, but with an A pedal tone as the lowest-sounding note:
C/A F/A G/A C/A click here to hear this progression
So if you’re distressed about the state of your chord progressions, before you throw them out and go looking for new ones, try simply adding pedal tones. You just might breathe new life into your song.
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-Gary Ewer, from the “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website:
Songwriting tips! Write Better Chords, Melodies and Hooks!.