Partnered Chord Progressions Pull Songs Together

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Band rehearsalMost of the chords you’ll use in a song will be chosen from the seven triads that normally exist in any given key. But you can give your song a strong sense of cohesion and connection if you relate the chords used in the verse with the chords you’ll use in the chorus. I’ve written about this before: partnered chord progressions. When you partner your chord progressions, you’re creating harmonic connections by applying a rule or formula. Here’s how that might work.

A typical way to partner chords might be to use mostly minor chords in the verse, then mostly major chords in the chorus:

VERSE: Am  F  Dm  Em  Am… etc
CHORUS: C  F  G  F  C… etc.

But are there other ways that you can strengthen the connection between progressions in different parts of a song. Here are three ideas to try:

  1. Use pedal tones in either the verse or the chorus (i.e., not both), while using the same basic progression. A pedal tone simply means that you will keep the same note in the bass no matter what the chord is above it. In your verse (especially if it ends on a dominant (V) chord), try holding a dominant note in the bass, particularly during the second half of your verse, while chords change above. Then don’t use pedal bass in the chorus. Alternately, you can switch to pedal tones in the chorus, assuming you don’t use them in the verse. (VERSE: C/G  F/G  Am/G  G … CHORUS: C  F  Am  G)
  2. Use reversible chord progressions. While many progressions only work well in one direction, you can build progressions that will work forward and backward. Then, use the forward-direction in a verse, and the reverse direction in the chorus. Here’s an example:
    VERSE: C  G  F  Bb  Am  G  C  CHORUS: C  G  Am  Bb  F  G  C. It’s the kind of connection that isn’t immediately obvious to listeners, but the connection really works.
  3. Modulate upwards for chorus progressions. A chord progression gets a new lease on life if you do an abrupt key change between the verse and chorus. So you’re basically repeating the verse progression at a higher level, and it gets a shot of energy by doing so. (VERSE: C F Am G… CHORUS: Eb  Ab  Cm  Bb) There are lots of key relationships possible, so just experiment a bit.

These kinds of chord progression partnerships act like glue, pulling the different song sections together. And even though the effect may not be obvious to a listener, it’s still doing its job.

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