How to give your chord progressions a sense of direction and purpose.
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle comes with this FREE eBOOK: “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro”. 7 Songwriting eBooks for $37
When we say that a chord progression wanders aimlessly, we mean that it lacks a harmonic goal. Think of it this way: you decide to go for a walk. You step outside your house, take a few steps to the sidewalk, and then proceed down the street. But before you take more than a dozen steps, you quickly switch to the other side of the road. After a few more steps, you reverse direction. Once you get to the end of the street you reverse direction for a few steps, then cross back over.
And so on.
It’s not difficult to see how such a walk would be confusing to anyone accompanying you. Your erratic journey seems to have no purpose, no direction, and no goal. Anyone walking with you would feel uneasy and confused.
How could your journey be improved? How about this: you proceed down the street, taking a left turn at the end. You continue to walk toward what seems to be a green area. You cross the street and enter a park. As you continue through the park you change direction onto a cobblestone path and see a beautiful fountain looming ahead. You walk until you reach the fountain. When you get there, a flock of birds fly overhead. You take in the beautiful site for a few moments, and then you turn to head home on mostly the same streets you used to get there.
That’s the kind of walk that makes sense. It has a goal, and even if your walking companion doesn’t know what it is at the start, it begins to become apparent as the journey progresses.
Even if the goal seems to change, it still makes sense. If, for example, it appears that the fountain in the park is the goal, but just as you reach it you turn and head toward a magnificent waterfall, it still all makes sense.
That’s how a good chord progression works. It’s a musical journey. You may not know what the goal is when it starts, but good chord progressions help you make sense of every little turn. It’s why we call them chord progressions, and not chord successions.
So the things you’ll want to remember are:
- Keep the tonic chord (i.e., the chord that represents your song’s key) in mind as you create your progressions. Think of progressions as little journeys away from and back to the tonic chord.
- Keep progressions from getting too long. The longer a progression, the more it gains that “wandering” feeling, and the more obscure the tonic chord becomes.
- Predictability, at least with chord progressions, is a positive characteristic. Songwriters like to think that everything they do is unique, but with regard to chord progressions, following a tried & true formula is hardly ever a bad idea.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. $
95.70 $37.00 (and you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)