A Simple Way to Create an Interesting Verse Progression

If you like the chords-first songwriting process, but lately you’re coming up dry when it comes to good chord ideas, try this:

  1. Create a short, simple, 3-chord progression in some major key: I-IV-V-I (example: C  F  G  C)
  2. Repeat that progression.
  3. Follow it with the relative minor equivalent of that: vi-ii-iii-vi (example: Am  Dm  Em  Am)
  4. Follow that with the first major progression you used at the beginning: I-IV-V-I

So far, what you’ve got will sound like this:

Major-minor progression

That’s an 8-bar chord progression that we were able to create easily out of a very simple, basic, 2-bar chord progression idea. The fact that the middle of the progression moves into minor gives it a measure of interest, and makes what was initially the kind of progression that would draw practically no attention to itself a little more interesting.

Once you’ve got those 8 bars, you’ve got a variety of ways to proceed from there:

  1. Repeat the whole thing, giving you a 16-bar verse, ready to move on to the chorus.
  2. Though it may seem odd to do this, you might experiment with changing the key upward, perhaps to the Flat-III (Eb), and go through the 8 bars again in this new key. That would give you the key of Eb major and a middle minor section in C minor. (Eb  Ab  Bb  Eb…|Cm  Fm  Gm  Cm…)
  3. Move immediately into a pre-chorus. If you do that, I’d suggest starting with a ii-chord and end up on a V-chord (probably either a 4- or 8-bar section). That will move nicely to a chorus that starts on the I-chord.

All you’ve done with this chord progression idea is gain some musical mileage by popping an initial major key idea into the minor. That provides a nice sense of contrast, while also allowing you to extend the length of your progression without endlessly repeating the I-IV-V idea.

Need some other 3- or 4-chord ideas to use? Try one of these:

  1. C  Bb  F____|C  Bb  F____|Am  G  Dm____|C  Bb  F____||
    Roman numerals: I  bVII  IV…|vi  V  ii…
  2. F  G  C____|F  G  C____|Dm  Em  Am____|F  G  C____||
    Roman numerals: IV  V  I….|ii  iii  vi…
  3. C  G  Em  F  |C  G  Em  F  |Am  Em  C  Dm  |C  G  Em  F||
    Roman numerals: I  V  iii  IV…|vi  iii  I  ii…

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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3 Comments

  1. Pingback: The combination of small and simple things can create magic | qsma music

  2. Thanks a lot for sharing this idea! I tried it out with a I – iii – IV – I progression and it turned out quite interesting. Like you mentioned it really does help with getting more mileage out of a simple progression – it’s almost as if the minor progression arrives just in time to rescue the verse from becoming too boring and predictable!

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