Creating and Using Palindromic Chord Progressions

Musical PalindromeChord progressions are like clothes, in the sense that you usually want your shirt to coordinate with your trousers, and you similarly want your verse progressions to work with your chorus ones. One way we coordinate progressions is to use many of the same chords, but usually in a different order in the various sections of the song. If you’re looking for an interesting way to connect the sound of your verse with the sound of your chorus, you can try creating palindromes with your chord progressions.

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A palindrome is a word, a sentence, or an ordered set of numbers or other characters, that reads the same in both directions. “Level”, as well as the numerical sequence “4526254”, are palindromes. “Madam, I’m Adam”, is a well-known palindromic sentence.

Creating palindromes using chords, while probably easier than creating sentences that are palindromes, is not as easy as you might think. There is a way that chords work with each other, and playing a sequence of chords backwards won’t necessarily provide a satisfactory progression.

For example, this progression works fine: C  C/E  F  G  G/B  C. But playing it backwards gives us something that, while not really bad, feels less functional: C  G/B  G  F  C/E  C.

So the trick, once you’ve established a starting chord, is to find a second chord that would also work as a next-to-the-last chord. It comes down to chord function, of course. Dominant chords work well as second chords, because it’s easy to move to a dominant (V) chord from a tonic (I) chord, and back again. Beyond that, you’ve got to use your musical judgement.

Here’s a set of chord progressions that are palindromes that work well as a single progression. After the midpoint, the progression reverses:

  1. C  G  Dm  G  C
  2. C  F  Bb  Eb  Bb  F  C
  3. C  Dm  F  Am  F  Dm  C

Those will work fine either as verse or chorus progressions. But try the following partnering progressions. The first part (before the vertical line) will work well as a verse, and you could then use the second half as a chorus (or vice versa):

  1. C  F  Dm  G  C  | C  G  Dm  F  C
  2. C  Bbadd9  Eb  F  C  | C  F  Eb  Bbadd9  C
  3. C  Bb  Ab  G  Eb  F  C  | C  F  Eb  G  Ab  Bb  C
  4. C  G  F  Bb  Am  G  C  | C  G  Am  Bb  F  G  C
  5. C  Dm7  C/E  F  Am  Dm  G  C  | C  G  Dm  Am  F  C/E  Dm7  C

The great thing about palindromic progressions is that the two progressions are cousins of each other, and beautifully compliment each other. The listener may not at all be aware that they’re hearing the same progression backwards, but they’ll probably feel the connection even without being aware of it.


Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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