Connecting Verse and Chorus Progressions with Chord Substitutions

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website. You can find Gary’s songwriting e-books here, and read about a free offer.

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Chord SubstitutionsFor most songs, you want to make a connection between the chords you use in your verse and the ones you choose for your chorus. A really neat way to achieve this is to devise a progression for the verse, then use substitutions for the chorus. It really works, and here’s how to do it.

Most chords can be easily substituted with other ones. For example, if you take the standard progression I – IV – V – I (C F G C, in C major), you can replace that final I-chord (C) with a vi-chord (Am), giving you: I – IV – V – vi (C F G Am). The Am chord acts as a substitution for the C chord, and has several possible uses: it allows you to pull the tonality in a new direction, or simply adds an element of surprise.

All chords can be substituted relatively easily. Before I show you what you can do with the progression in your song’s verse, here’s a little list of standard chord substitutions. I’ll use chords from the key of C major as an example. Be aware that, depending on the melody note being used at any given moment, some substitutions won’t necessarily work. Your ears will confirm.):

– A I-chord (C) can be replaced with vi, iii, or IV

– A ii-chord (Dm) can be replaced with IV

– A iii-chord (Em) can be replaced with a V or I

– A IV-chord (F) can be replaced with a ii, iv or I

– A V-chord (G) can be replaced with a iii or I

– A vi-chord (Am) can be replaced with a I, iii, or IV

– A vii-chord (Bdim) can be replaced with a V7


Now, here’s what you can do to make a strong connection between your verse and chorus. Devise a chord progression, and then make a new progression that simply replaces chords with substitutions, and use it as your chorus progression. For example:

VERSE: C F G C   CHORUS: Am Dm Em Am


Most listeners, without knowing why, will hear a strong connection between the verse and chorus. (The strength of the connection comes from the fact that though the chords are different, the chord functions are identical.

Here are some other possible connecting progressions:

VERSE: C  Em  Am  F    CHORUS: Am  G  C  Dm


VERSE: F  G  C  Am    CHORUS: Dm  Em  Am  F

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Gary Ewer's Songwriting E-booksIf you’re looking for more chord progressions, Gary’s written hundreds of progressions you can use right now in your own songs, or modify them to suit your needs. The chord progression e-books are part of a suite of songwriting e-books, all six of which are available for download for a 50% savings ($37). Click here to start learning how to make your songs really sizzle.

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