Songwriting Principle No. 4: Fragile Chord Progressions Will Suit Your Verse Melodies

Chord progressions are funny creatures. We spend so much time looking for that elusive set of chord changes that are going to make the listener sit up and take notice. And actually, the best progressions are the ones that stay out of the way of the song. If your progressions are drawing that much interest, they’re probably drawing toomuch interest.

As I mentioned in the previous article, chord progressions are eitherstrong or fragile, and good songs need both. And the balance between the two is crucial to having a successful song.

We know that verses are different from choruses because of the way that melodies are structured (verses tend to be pitched a little lower than choruses) and the way that lyrics are structured (verses are more narrative, choruses more reflective). But the differences between verses and choruses also extend to the use of chords. Here’s the principle:

A verse will usually tolerate more fragile progressions than a chorus; a chorus usually requires more strong progressions.

Since strong progressions usually involve chords that don’t necessarily share a common tone, and/or don’t have roots a 4th or 5th apart, a fragile progression will likely be any two or more chords that don’t exhibit these traits. And these can be some of your most interesting chord progressions.

In short, a fragile progression is one that, by itself, may not strongly suggest any one key. Since progressions are usually made up of several chords, not just two, you need to take all the chords together to determine just how strong or fragile it is. Fragile progressions will tend to be some of your more harmonically interesting progressions. Try these ones, just as simple examples of what you can achieve using fragile progressions (To hear these progressions, go to “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website:

C  Dm7  C/E  Eb  F  C 

C  Dm7/C  C  Dm7/C  Abmaj7  Bbmaj7  C 

C  Am  Bb  F  C 

In each of the sample progressions above, the progression gets yanked out of the C major tonality, even just briefly, and that is the main reason for their “fragility.” It’s also the reason why they tend to be so interesting.

You’ll get better use out of fragile progressions for accompanying verse melodies, because chorus melodies will need to more strongly emphasize the key you’re in, and so strong progressions (C  F  G  C for example) will suit that task more exactly.


-Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.

Posted in Chord Progressions, songwriting and tagged , , , , .

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