How Important is a Good Chord Progression to the Success of a Song?

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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songcover_web2It takes more than a good chord progression to make a song work. That’s because the best progressions in the songwriting world are the ones that stay out of the way of the rest of the song. And you’ve got to have something else going on in order for that song to be a winner.

In my opinion, bad chord progressions are only one of many possible reasons for why a song can fail. But it’s the one that most writers fixate on, because it’s the aspect of writing that can be the most obvious if it’s not working.

My point is, you’ll hear more people voice frustration with a chord progression that’s not working than you will with, say, melodic structure that’s weak. But weak melodic structure is a big reason for bad songs. You need to know that verse melodies and chorus melodies differ, and you need to know how.

Yes, songwriters will fume over the state of their chord changes, but when was the last time you heard a songwriter show that kind of irritation with the form of the song? And yet problems with the formal design of a song are potentially more damaging to a song’s success than chords.

It keeps coming back to this: bad chord progressions are easy to identify (maybe not so easy to solve) but problems with melodic or formal design are more subtle, less obvious to the ear, but just as crucial to the success of that song.

And you can solve the problem of a bad chord progression by simply finding a book with lists of progressions. But how do you solve the problem with formal design easily? It takes knowledge and experience, and the will to study music the same way an architect studies buildings.

If you’re willing to put in the time to actually study music – not just noodle around with it – you’re going to reap the benefits. When songs work, they work for specific reasons. It’s not hit-or-miss, it’s not guesswork. Good songwriting is an art that can be studied and honed. And with the right tools, you can be improving your songs today.

6 Songwriting E-booksFREE OFFER: Gary’s newest e-book, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting- Chord Progression Formulas” is being offered for free when you purchase any other of his songwriting e-books. Let these six e-books show you every aspect of how to write great songs! Read more..

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  1. “If you’re willing to put in the time to actually study music – not just noodle around with it – you’re going to reap the benefits.”

    Spot on, Gary. I drone on and on about this – knowing just a little bit of music theory makes a huge difference to what you can achieve in songwriting terms.

    One solution for newbies who don’t yet have the skills to develop their own progressions is to borrow them from other songs – lots of tunes have such generic progressions that a new song built on them would be unrecognisable from the original source of the chords.

    It’s not a long term fix, but it can help people turn around results quickly (which is a confidence boost) and teach them something about structure.

    Great blog, by the way!

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