Fixing a Chord Progression That Sounds Random

Randomness is no help for your music. 5 tips to sort all that out.

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Songwriting PianistWhen a chord progression sounds random, that usually means that it has lost the sense of where “home” is. In musical terms, “home” is the tonic chord — the chord that represents the key your music is in.

So to put it simply, a song in A major needs to make the chord A sound like a starting point and ending point for most of the progressions that occur in the song.

Without that sense of focus, a chord progression will sound like it is adrift. If you find that the chords in your songs sound a bit confused, or that there is an unpleasant wandering quality, here are some tips to consider:

  1. Make sure that the tonic chord is either the first or last chord in your progression, or both.
  2. Make sure that there are several places where the roots of adjacent chords are a 4th or 5th away from each other. So this is good: A D Bm E F#m C#m D A. A moving to D, Bm moving to E, etc., really work to strengthen a progression.
  3. So based on the point above, as you put progressions together, if you don’t know what chord should happen next, start by experimenting with a chord that is a 4th or 5th away. Example: A F#m E C#m ?? That will work nicely if followed by F#m.
  4. The longer a progression, the more danger there is for it to sound aimless. Keep progressions shorter and tighter.
  5. Use altered chords to add interesting colour, but get back to naturally-occurring chords as a way of strengthening the progression. (An altered chord is one that doesn’t normally exist in a key. So in this progression — A  D  Bm  E  F  G  A — the F and G are both altered chords.

Don’t take this advice to mean that a chord progression can’t use unexpected chords. In fact, some very interesting progressions that wander a bit can be a nice element in music. But you should limit their use to song verses and bridges. Particularly in choruses, create progressions that are short and strong, clearly pointing to the chord representing the key of your song.

Here are a few progressions, each of which contain interesting altered chords, but keep the tonic chord strongly in view:

A  D  B7  E7  C#7  F#m  D  E7  A

A  G  A  D  A  E  A

A  C  D  G  A

A  F#m  G  D  Bm  E  A

A  Bm  D  E  F  D  Dm  A


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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