Why Chord Progression Formulas Work So Well

While “formula” is often a bad word in songwriting, it’s a good thing when it comes to chords.


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Chord Progression FormulasAs a composer of music you learn that writing according to a fixed formula is often a bad thing. And while that’s usually true, you should consider making an exception when it comes to creating chord progressions. Formulas usually ensure that the same thing happens again and again, and that’s why songwriting formulas are dangerous. But the predictability that comes from chord progression formulas is a necessary part of the theory of harmony. Most of the time (but not all the time) you want chords to move where they’re expected to move.

Here’s an analogy that will hopefully better describe the benefit of a chord progression formula. Let’s say that every day, you make the same little journey: you leave your house, walk down the road to a local park, stop, look around, and then you come back home. That would be a boring journey if nothing else happened, and you did the same thing day after day.

But let’s say that for each time you took that journey, something interesting happened. Perhaps on one day, you spoke to an interesting person. The next day, a band was playing in the park. Or perhaps you saw something happen on the street, or maybe on your way back home you saw something else that you didn’t normally see.

If every time you make that little journey something interesting happened, the “predictability” of your walk would be overshadowed by the surprises you encounter.

A good chord progression is the same thing. It takes you on the same journey, but allows you to create musical events (melodies, lyrics, etc.) that happen along the way. A chord progression formula acts like a musical anchor.

I created a book of chord progression formulas for songwriters like you to use, because there are many different ways that chords can move. And even though there are many different formulas, they all work in roughly the same manner: Start at the beginning of the formula, jump upward to any chord within that formula, and then make your way back down, chord by chord, to the original chord.

The greatest benefit of a chord progression formula, therefore, is that you instantly have hundreds of potential progressions at your fingertips. You can keep modifying how you use a formula without changing the actual formula.

Almost all of the songs that you can name will use one chord progression formula or another. Most songs benefit from the predictability that comes from a chord progression formula.

Is there a time when you may not want that predictability? Yes, especially during a song’s bridge, or perhaps during certain verse progressions. The bridge is typically a section of a song where harmonies can become a bit more complex, or wander away from home a bit. At such times, you’ll possibly want to avoid the predictability of a chord progression formula.

To read more about the eBook “Essential Secrets of Songwriting- Chord Progression Formulas”, click here, and then click to read the eBook description.


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