Creating Chord Progression Sequences

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Train: 50 Ways to Say GoodbyeIn music, “sequencing” something has a specific definition. It means to take a melody or a chord progression, and repeat it with all notes shifted upward or downward. It’s a favourite technique of Classical composers, because it does much to strengthen the musical structure.

I’ve written before about Train’s hit song, “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” as a good recent example of melodic sequencing. The first musical phrase is repeated lower, then again before breaking out of the pattern.

So sequencing is a kind of repetition, where everything is repeated starting on a different note. Then that pattern is repeated, moving up or down again by the same interval.

To create a chord progression sequence means to create a 2- or 3-chord pattern, then repeat it higher or lower once or twice before doing something to finish it up. A sequence can start on any chord, not just the tonic chord. So let’s say you’ve come up with this as a short 2-chord progression using the chords from the key of C major:

Em  Am

To sequence it, you repeat it again with each chord being one note higher or lower (in this case, lower):

Dm  G

It’s common to then repeat it once more, with each chord shifted by the same interval:

C  F

Now you do something to break out of the pattern and make your way back to the tonic chord:

Dm  G  C

So the whole progression sounds like this:

Em  Am  Dm  G  C  F  Dm  G  C [LISTEN] (Opens in a new browser window.)

You can also create chord sequences that move upward. Here’s a list of progressions for you to experiment with before you try creating your own. Each “leg” of each sequence is bracketed so that you can see it clearly. Remember that notes after a slash are intended to be bass notes:

UPWARD CHORD SEQUENCES

  1. [C  F]  [Dm  G] [Em  Am]  G  C
  2. [Dm  Em]  [Em  F]  [F  G]  [G  Am]
  3. [C/E  G]  [Dm/F  Am]  [Em/G  Bdim]  G  C
  4. [C  F  G]  [Dm  G  Am]  Em  Am  G  C

DOWNWARD CHORD SEQUENCES

  1. [C  Am]  [Bdim  G]  [Am  F]  G  C
  2. [C  G]  [Am  Em]  [F  C]  Dm  G  C
  3. [C  G/B  Am]  [Bdim  F/A  G]  [Am  Em/G  F]  Gsus4  G  C

Sequencing chords, as you probably see by now, also makes it easier to sequence melodies, since you can repeat a melodic fragment that is partnered with the chords. You can hear this clearly demonstrated in the verse of Dusty Springfield’s No. 1 hit, “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.”

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Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter 

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One Comment

  1. Many Hit songs have used this method over the years, here are a few
    “RUBY” LIVING DOLL, HOTEL CALIFORNIA–
    EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE- virtually keeps the same notes in the verse
    but the underlying chords change.
    BRAND NEW KEY (Mellanie Safka) and hundreds more. The secret is knowing
    how much repetition do you use, to stop the song becoming too predictable.
    and when to balance what you have with a contrasting musical phrase.

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