Chord progressions, at least the kind you find in the pop genres, aren’t usually overly complex. Even when they are a bit more creative than mainstream, they don’t tend to leave the tonic chord too far in the distance.
The kind of progressions you find in a chorus are usually more simplistic in structure than ones you might find in a verse or bridge. Chorus progressions strongly target the tonic chord, and make it sound like an important anchor.
If you like starting songs by working out the chord progressions first, you’ll want to know how to avoid all the common pitfalls of chords-first songwriting processes. “Writing a Song From a Chord Progression” shows you how to keep your melodies strong while focusing on the chords. Buy it separately, or as part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle.
Like this one — a typical C major kind of chorus progression:
C F Dm7 G C
It starts on the tonic, then takes a simple walk “around the neighbourhood.” The whole way through that journey, C major is never far from our ears. Once it moves off of that first C, everything else feels like it’s pulling you back there.
But let’s say that you want to use a longer progression. Here’s a way to make longer progressions work:
- For songs in a major key, allow the progression to move to the relative minor, and then finish by moving back to the major.
- For songs in a minor key, allow the progression to move to the relative major, and then finish by moving back to the minor.
So let’s take a good look at a perfect example. Only because I’m an old guy, the chorus of the Genesis song, “Follow You Follow Me”, a song in G major, comes to mind:
Mike Rutherford plays a tonic pedal point bass line through the first half of the chorus (he keeps the tonic note (G) in the bass while the chords change), so I’ll leave that out of the notation:
G Gmaj7 C D |G Gmaj7 C D |G Am D B7 |Em Em/D C D||G…
The chorus is in 4 phrases, shown by the vertical lines. The first two phrases are clearly and simply in G major. The beginning of the 3rd phrase begins a short journey to the relative minor — E minor, the minor chord based on the 6th note of the key.
Once he gets to the Em chord, he quickly moves back to finish the 4th phrase in G major.
That little journey to the relative minor allows for a wonderful sense of variety — a “relief”, so to speak, from the incessant G major we hear throughout the song. To not have diverted from G major would have been just a bit too repetitious.
You can do the same thing for songs in minor:
Am Dm Am E |Am Dm Am E| Am F Gsus4 G |C Dm Esus4 E |Am
It’s pretty simple to do. Use the beginning of the 3rd phrase to create a quick move to the relative key, then use the final phrase to move back. All in all, it’s a pretty simple way to keep your chords simple, and not wander too far from the original tonic chord.
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