The Relationship Between Tempo and Chord Changes

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Keyboardist Playing ChordsHow frequently your chords change in your song is called the harmonic rhythm. In general, there should be a consistency with this throughout each section of a song. Chord progressions help to establish the feel and mood of your song, and they work with the backing rhythms to establish an important groove, so constantly changing how long you hold chords before moving to the next one will work against that groove.

There’s a principle governing chord changes that you also need to remember: The faster the tempo, the slower the harmonic rhythm.

In other words, the faster the tempo of your song, the longer you should hang on to a chord before moving on to the next one.

Every time you change chords, a change of musical energy is perceived by the listener. Sometimes that chord change works to increase energy, while at other times, you’ll notice energy abating slightly. This pattern of rising/dissipating energy is what contributes to the song’s forward momentum.

Listeners like to feel a kind of predictability to this pattern. They may not know exactly which chord you’re going to move to, but they like to feel that they at least know when it’s going to happen.

Predictability in a song is a good thing, and as long as the song is not 100% predictable from beginning to end, your song will benefit from the predictable nature of chord changes.

But faster songs have high energy to begin with, so changing chords too frequently can add a panicky or unpleasantly jumpy feel to a song. Just remember that the faster your song, the longer you will likely want to hang on to each chord before moving to the next one.

– written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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