Chord sequences are pleasantly predictable, adding structure to your music by creating repetition.
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Other than the circle of fifths, most songwriters don’t tend to think much about chord progression patterns. For many, putting a chord progression together is an exercise in patience, as they test one chord after another until they find something that works. But progressions don’t have to be so random. There are other patterns you can use that work similarly to the circle of fifths, and have the added benefit of strengthening the structure of your music.
Starting with the circle of fifths, here’s a list of other chord progression ideas you can use as you compose your songs. In all of these chord sequences, you can “jump out” at any time and do something different:
1) Circle of fifths: C F Bdim Em Am Dm G C. Description: All the chords in the example given come from the key of C major (i.e., C Dm Em F G Am Bdim). Start on any chord (but starting on the tonic works nicely), follow each chord with the one whose root is a 5th below.
2) 3rd down, 4th up: C Am Dm Bdim Em C F Dm… Description: All the chords in the example given come from the key of C major. Start on the tonic chord, follow it with a chord a 3rd lower, then a 4th higher, a 3rd lower, etc. It’s a very nice sequence, and of course transposable to any key.
3) Descending 3rds: C Am F Dm Bdim G… Description: Descending 3rds progressions work quite nicely (as opposed to rising 3rds progressions, which don’t work so well). Jump out of the sequence at any time. Many rock & roll era tunes use the first part of this sequence (C Am F G).
4) Major 2nd down, 5th up. C Bb F Eb Bb Ab Eb F… Description: This one uses major chords the whole way, which means that it uses a considerable number of altered chords, pulling the music into new key areas. For that reason, you may want to start with this sequence, but then try to find a way to get back into your song’s key relatively quickly. (Example: C Bb F Eb Bb G C)
5) 4th down, minor 3rd up. C G Bb F Ab Eb Gb Db… Description: This is a nice circle of 4ths & 3rds. Like the previous sequence, it pulls you away from your home key. One nice way to get back to your original key is to treat that final Db like a “tritone substitution” (read about that chord here), add a 7th to it, and follow it with a C. So the end of that sequence would look like this: …Eb Gb Db7 C.
With any of the chord sequences listed, you should do a considerable amount of experimentation, and feel free to modify them to suit your song. Use small parts of one, then jump to another, or abandon your sequence altogether and finish it out in a completely different way.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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