If you like the chords-first songwriting process, but lately you’re coming up dry when it comes to good chord ideas, try this:
- Create a short, simple, 3-chord progression in some major key: I-IV-V-I (example: C F G C)
- Repeat that progression.
- Follow it with the relative minor equivalent of that: vi-ii-iii-vi (example: Am Dm Em Am)
- 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:
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:
- Repeat the whole thing, giving you a 16-bar verse, ready to move on to the chorus.
- 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…)
- 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:
- C Bb F____|C Bb F____|Am G Dm____|C Bb F____||
Roman numerals: I bVII IV…|vi V ii…
- F G C____|F G C____|Dm Em Am____|F G C____||
Roman numerals: IV V I….|ii iii vi…
- 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…
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