Writing Chord Progressions – It's Supposed to be Simple

“If the chord that follows sounds like it came out of left-field, you’ve probably got a chord progression with a problem.”
Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
(Check out his songwriting and chord progression e-books.)

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chord3My motto for songwriters is: Songs need to grab attention; chord progressions need to work. If you’re spending your time trying to create a chord progression that’s going to knock the listener’s socks off, you are probably wasting valuable time, and here’s why.

Some of the best songs ever written were created using three or four chords. How can it be possible for a song with such a restricted harmonic treatment to rise to the top of the charts? “Hound Dog”, “Twist and Shout”, “Don’t be Cruel”, “La Bamba” – and the list goes on and on. How can these songs be so successful with such a boring set of I – IV – V chord changes?

A chord progression’s most important quality is that it is predictable. If the chord that follows sounds like it came out of left-field with no real ability to predict that it was going to happen, you’ve probably got a chord progression with a problem. Such progressions need to be treated carefully to keep them from sounding too weird. And songs with progressions that don’t make sense are songs that listeners shun.

If you find the basic three-chord song to be too limiting, your best bet is to consider adding to the list of chords you use; in other words, you should choose to make a boring progression longer before you choose to make it weird.

Adding a “strange” chord to your progression weakens it, but that’s not the real problem. Some chord progressions work well when you throw in an unexpected chord. But once you’ve done that, you need to do something to “normalize the progression.” Normalizing a progression means that you need to strengthen it, and one of the best ways to do that is through the circle of fifths.

The circle of fifths is a great progression to use as a standard progression for most popular music styles. Start on the I-chord of your chosen key (C in C major, for example.) Jump to any other chord that occurs naturally in C major (Dm, Em, F, G, Am or Bdim). From that chord, move downward by 5 notes to get the next chord. It always makes a progression that works. Here are some samples:

C Dm G C
C Am Dm G C
C Em Am Dm G C

You may think of that kind of chord predictability to be boring, but it is not. Predictability is a crucial part of progressions that work. Throwing in unpredictable chords can add charm to your music, but only if they are followed by something more predictable. Following unpredictable chords with more of the same, and the charm turns to confusion.

If you want to see more more chord progressions that work, progressions that songwriters need, along with valuable chord progression formulas, you need to take a look at these important songwriting and chord progression e-books.

6 Songwriting E-booksGary Ewer has written a set of songwriting e-books that will show you how to write great songs. (Hisnewest 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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