Working Backwards to Strengthen Progressions

By working backwards to create progressions, you ensure that the progression will make musical sense.

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Guitarist playing chordsTo create  progressions that have a strong sense of forward motion and harmonic goal, it is best to work backwards from the final chord. In that sense, what you’re doing is saying, “Here’s the final chord… what am I going to do to approach it?” That gives you two chords. Then, knowing what your second-last chord is means that you can ask, “How do I approach that?“, and so on. Working backwards earlier into your progression ensures that chords always move to something that makes musical sense.

This way of working tends to create strong progressions, since you’re more than likely going to choose chords that move with a musical logic. If you want to produce fragile progressions, it might be better to work forward through the progression, as it is easier to calculate harmonic surprises, the hallmark of fragile progressions.

To work backwards through a progression, let’s say that your final chord is G, and let’s assume that that is the tonic chord (the chord representing the key of the song):


Progressions, as you likely know, have a “flavour”, and so to find a chord that works well as a lead-in depends on the style of your music. Here are some possibilities:

  • D7  G
  • C  G
  • Am  G
  • F  G

Let’s choose the C-G ending. Now you need to find a chord that will move well to C. Here are some possibilities:

  • Em  C  G
  • G/B  C  G
  • Am  C  G
  • D  C  G

Taking the Am-C-G progression as our choice, we now need to find a chord that moves nicely to Am. In all of this, you will see that you don’t have to worry so much about what happens after the Am, since we know that it works. We just concern ourselves with how to get nicely to Am. Here are some choices:

  • Em  Am  C  G
  • D  Am  C  G
  • G/B  Am  C  G
  • C  Am  C  G

If you need a longer progression, just keep working backwards. It’s no worry to repeat chords, as you can see by the final suggestion above that has two C chords. Working backwards ensures that every chord moves and/or resolves properly.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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