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Creating Chord Progressions: Speeding Up the Process

Using a chords-first songwriting method usually means starting out by improvising on chords until something interesting pops into your mind. But one of the drawbacks to this process is that you can waste a lot of time simply trying to find chords that work well together.

I’ve placed two charts below, one for major keys and the other for minor, that might speed the process up. Instead of simply randomly playing all the chords you know, it helps to know which chords work well together, and then expand from there if you’re looking to create something more interesting or complex.

These charts are by no means comprehensive — there are lots of possible substitutions — but they give you a good starting point. If you start simple, with the seven chords that naturally exist in a key, you can then use some of the more common chord substitutions to create something that is a bit more interesting.

If you aredisplay_sep_WASFACP a chords-first songwriter, “Writing a Song From a Chord Progression” will give you a solid set of instructions for how to make it work for you. It’s part of the 10-eBook Deluxe Bundle. Get today’s deal on that bundle package.


Here’s how they work, keeping in mind that though the charts use C major (or C minor), they’re transposable to any key. The examples below use the major key chart:

  1. If you’re into improvising, start with the top line, moving back and forth sideways on the chart. That will give you simple chord progressions that are strong in nature: they strongly point to C as the key. Doing this step will give you progressions like:
    1. C  F  Dm  G  C
    2. C  Am  F  G  C
    3. C  G  Am  Em  Dm  G  C
    4. C  Em  Am  Dm  G  Dm  C
    5. C  F  Am  G  C
  2. For each chord that you’ve used in your simple progressions, find the possible substitutions listed vertically beneath that chord. For example, let’s say that you’ve been playing around with C  F Dm  G  C. You can speed up the improvising process by deciding to substitute that F chord for something else. The vertical choices underneath F give you this:
    1. C  Fm  Dm  G  C
    2. C  Dm  Dm  G  C
    3. C  Bb  Dm  G  C
  3. You’ll notice, once you make a change, that you may feel it necessary to make other changes on other chords. For example, once we substituted the F chord for a Dm, that gave us two Dm chords in a row. So you might then decide to change the second Dm to Ddim, giving you: C  Dm  Ddim  G  C.
  4. This kind of method for creating chord progressions doesn’t work so well, I’m sure you know, if you already have a melody. That’s because the notes you use in your melody will go a long way to pre-determining what chords you could or should use. If you have a melody and want to add chords, read this.



Common Major Key Substitutions - Gary Ewer

Common Minor Key Substitutions - Gary Ewer

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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