If you’re bored with your chord progressions, you’re likely to opt for throwing them out and creating ones that are more creative. The problem with that approach is that you can wind up with chords that just don’t work well together, all for the sake of finding something more interesting.
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I’ve always felt that the best way to get progressions that are more innovative is to take what you have and make slight modifications. That’s because it doesn’t take much to make a set of chords stand out.
The benefit of taking an existing good progression and modifying that is that you know you’ve got a progression that works in the first place. All you’re going to do is make some small changes.
So what changes might you make? Here’s a list of simple hacks that can take progressions from mundane to interesting:
- Use Bass Pedal Point. A bass pedal is simply taking one of the chords in your progression — often the first one — and keeping that chord’s bass note through the entire progression. Give it a try: Play this progression as is: C F Dm G7 C (I IV ii V7 I). Simple, right? Now play it in such a way that you keep the bass note C from the first chord all the way through the progression: C F/C Dm/C G/C C. It breathes new life into the progression. You’ll love it.
- Experiment With Added Tones. You already use added tones when you add a 7th to your G chord. But there are other options as well. Other chords will accept 7ths quite easily, and 9ths are nice to experiment with as well. Here’s an example of our sample progression with a few modifications: C Fmaj7 Dm9 G7 C.
- Use Modal Mixtures. A modal mixture might simply mean taking a chord that is usually major and making it minor. There are several options here, and if you want to read more about modal mixtures, read this article. It doesn’t take much; here’s our original progression, where I’ve inserted a modal mixture minor iv-chord: C F Fm Ddim G7 C.
- Use Implied Chords. An implied chord is one in which most of the structure of the chord is missing — where often just the bass note is present, along with a melody note. Just that bass note and melody note are usually enough to imply the chord. Why would you do this? It’s a great way to make your production more transparent, and works great in a song verse. I wrote about this a few years back in the article “Hooking An Audience With the Magic of Implied Chords“.
- Move the Entire Progression From Major to Minor (or Vice Versa). You may spend a lot of time trying to get your progression to fit the mood of your song, ignoring the one quick change that might be exactly what you’re looking for: changing the mode. If your progression is C F Dm G7 C, just move it into minor: Cm Fm Ddim G7 (or Gm7) Cm.
As with anything in songwriting, let your ears be your guide. You’ll know which change, if any, is going to be the one that takes your song from good to great.
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