Building Song Energy With the Right Chord Progressions

With a few well-placed chords, you can effectively build the energy of your music.


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GuitarSong energy is that quality that does two important things: 1) it gives your song a sense of forward motion, or momentum; and 2) it makes an audience want to keep listening. Everything that happens in music, starting with the writing of those first few notes, lyrics and chords, right through to the production phase, all have an effect on song energy. In that sense, song energy is probably one of the most vital components of music, and it’s something that you can control directly even before you record your song.

For example, when melodies move upward, most listeners perceive an increase in song energy. That’s because of the nature of the human voice. Singers that sing toward the top of their range generate considerably more energy than when they sing near the bottom. That’s why you’ll often hear verses that are low in pitch and choruses that are higher.

It’s also why choruses are louder than verses. Louder music generates greater energy.

The chord progression that you choose for your song also has a significant effect on the energy or momentum of a piece of music. Here’s a list of ideas that can help you build energy as you move from verse to chorus in your song:

  1. Use bass pedal point in verse progressions. A pedal point is a sustained note that keeps sounding throughout a progression. It’s most often found in the bass, and it simply means that while chords are changing, the bass note stays the same. It has a way of generating energy, and so try it in the verse. It has a way of taking a well-worn progression like A  D  E7  A, and breathing new life into it: A  D/A  E7/A  A. You can experiment with other bass pedals. For example, try that same progression, but keep the note F# in the bass.
  2. Use mainly minor chords in the verse, and major chords in the chorus. Because major chords have a “brightening” quality, there’s a significant boost in song energy when you go from minor to major. So try this sequence of verse and chorus chords as a good example: VERSE: F#m  E  D  Bm  F#m  E  F#m (repeat) || PRE-CHORUS: Bm  A/C#  D  E  ||CHORUS: A  Bm  A/C#  D.. etc
  3. Increase the harmonic rhythm in the chorus. Harmonic rhythm refers to how frequently the chords change. In general, there’s no specific reason why changing the frequency of chord changes would affect energy, but try this: for your verse, strum each chord for 8 beats. As you move into the chorus, switch to changing chords every 4 beats, and note how it affects song energy. You may find that, along with a boost in dynamics (i.e., loudness) and the general busy-ness of the instruments, that increasing chord change frequency also adds to song energy.
  4. Use the same chords in the verse and chorus, but add a key change. Changing key between verse and chorus, especially if the key change is upward, will add energy. One key change that worth experimenting with is to raise the key by a minor 3rd (e.g., from A major to C major). Here’s a sample: VERSE: A  Bm  E  D (opt. repeat) || CHORUS: C  Dm  G  F… etc.
  5. Keep chorus progressions short. The chorus should be where you use hooks, because you want that part of the song (i.e., the part with the title) to be the most memorable part. So to help keep things catchy and memorable, try using shorter progressions in the chorus. Repetition is a good thing. Repetition makes it more likely that your music can be easily remembered long after the song is finished.


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