Most of us succumb to a kind of “muscle memory” when it comes to writing music. We tend to favour certain styles, certain tempos, even certain keys. To a degree, this isn’t a bad thing, and it’s to be expected. The fact that we favour this or that way of writing is what having a writing style is all about.
But you should try to minimize how much your songs sound the same, of course. And if you find that you’re always defaulting to major key choices for your songs, it might be time to experiment with some minor key writing.
“Chord Progression Formulas” shows you a system for creating your own progressions in seconds using some basic formulas, in both major or minor keys. It’s available at the Online Store.
Here are 5 progressions that are either in a minor key, or in a minor mode. (The difference between a mode and a key is not important for this post, but if you really want to know, give this post I did several years ago a read.)
For each of these progressions, feel free to experiment with tempo, playing style, and even how long you hang onto a chord before moving on to the next one.
1. Am G Am G F G Am (i-VII-i-VII-VI-VII-i) / / / / | / / / / | / / / / Am G Am G F G Am
This is a standard minor progression, using the same chords you’d find in Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” It’s actually in the Aeolian mode. Don’t let the simplicity of this progression turn you away from considering it. It lends itself well to re-ordering the chords to come up with a verse-chorus pair that really works (ex: Am – F – Am – F – G —— Am)
2. Am Dm Bdim Em C Dm E7 (i-iv-iidim-v-III-iv-V7) / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / Am Dm Bdim Em C Dm E7
This progression is in a minor key (The E7 is a major chord, and that’s what places it in A minor). What I like about it is the Bdim chord – songwriters don’t use it much, but I think it adds a nice touch.
3. Am F Am G F7 E7 Am (i-VI-i-VII-VI7-V7-i) / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / Am F Am G F7 E7 Am
With this progression, the F7 in the 3rd bar is known as an Augmented 6th chord. Why it’s called that has to do with the way the specific notes of the chord are normally named, and it’s not important here. But if you’re interested in experimenting with the unique sound of that Augmented 6th chord, simply go to the 6th note of any minor key and place a minor 7th at the top of the chord. You can use this chord in a major key as well – just be sure that when you go to the 6th note that you lower it by a semitone first. (Ex: C-G-Am-Ab7-G C)
4. Am Em C F Dm G Am (i-v-III-VI-iv-VII-i) / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / Am Em C F Dm G Am
This progression starts with an obvious emphasis on the key of A minor, but quickly moves into C major – the so-called relative major, before moving back to A minor at the end. It makes a really nice contrast to have this switching from minor to major happening within a verse.
5. Am Bb F G Am Dm (i-bII-VI-VII-i-iv) / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / Am Bb F G Am Dm
This progression makes use of a major chord built on the flat-second degree of the scale: Bb. Traditionally, classical composers would use that chord with the 3rd in the bass (Bb/D), and then have it move to a V-chord, so that you get this: Am – Bb/D – E7. But in this progression, the Bb acts differently, taking advantage of the fact that it moves very easily to the VI-chord (Bb-F).
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle includes several eBooks that focus on chord progressions, including “Essential Chord Progressions”, “Chord Progression Formulas”, and “How to Harmonize a Melody,” all available in the Online Store