Sequencing chord progressions is an easy way of creating longer progressions from short ones. Here’s how it works.
You’re probably familiar with a sequencer, which is a piece of hardware (or software) that can record and play back music. This article isn’t about that. A musical sequence occurs when you take a short bit of melody and play it again, starting on a higher or lower pitch. It used to be a very common way of writing melodies back in the days of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. A great example is the Christmas Carol “Angels We Have Heard On High.”
Though rare in the pop song world, one recent tune that’s constructed using melodic sequences is Train’s “50 Ways to Say Goodbye.” A melody is stated then is sequenced downward (i.e., repeated starting on a lower pitch) twice. You hear it both in the intro and in the vocal line at the start of the first verse.
Sequences aren’t used much in pop music probably because the point of a sequence is to create something predictable, and predictability is not often what you’re looking for in your song melodies. Done in moderation, melodic sequences can strengthen a song’s structure.
While you don’t want your song melodies to always be predictable, you’re probably aware that I often tell songwriters that it’s very acceptable to use chord progressions that are quite predictable in most pop genres. Progressions need a direction, and though you occasionally like to throw in chords that surprise, you mostly want to use chords that ultimately go where they seem to be headed.
So chord progression sequences are a great idea for creating longer progressions from shorter ones. The circle-of-fifths is one example of a chord progression sequence.
To create your own, all you need to do is come up with a 2- or 3-chord progression, and then move it up or down by some interval.
Here are 8 chord progressions that are all created by taking very short progressions, and sequencing them. Feel free to use them, or modify them to suit your needs.
Sequences starting from 2 chords:
- C Dm| Bdim C| Am Bdim| G C [LISTEN] (new browser window)
- C Am| Dm Bdim| Em C| F G C [LISTEN]
- C G| Bb F| Ab Eb| F Bb C [LISTEN]
- C Eb| Bb Db| Ab B| Gsus G [LISTEN]
- C Am| G Em| Dm Bdim| C [LISTEN]