The Constantly Repeating Chord Progression – a Problem?

As a songwriter, you know how important it is to be unique. If you’re just copying or imitating what you’ve heard other songwriters do, you’re making it nearly impossible to build a fanbase of any sort. They’ve heard it all before.

But that issue of imitating doesn’t usually extend to chord progressions. It’s why chords are not normally protected by copyright. Every chord progression worth using has been used before.


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And believe it or not, that’s not usually a problem. Chords act as a kind of landscape upon which your song’s melodies and lyrics get built. To continue with that analogy, in any given part of the country, hundreds or even thousands of houses get built on land that all can look pretty similar. The similarity of the land isn’t as important a factor as you might think in how good or unique your house is.

Some genres, like progressive rock and perhaps the various sub-genres of jazz, thrive on chord progressions that might take interesting or unique turns. But in most of the pop genres, chords tend to sit pleasantly in the background, not requiring special attention. Uniqueness is fine, but not essential.

So that takes a lot of pressure off needing to find chords that no one else has used. And there’s another issue of uniqueness that’s important to remember: It’s OK to use a constantly repeating chord progression throughout your song, and I’d go as far as to say that a chorus’s chord progression can also be used in the verse.

In Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue” (Buddy Holly, Jerry Allison, Norman Petty), except for a short bVI-bVII-I moment, keeps using the same chords over and over, not to mention the melody and lyrics.

It’s been that way for the long history of rock and roll, and it’s still the case. “Lights” (Ellie Goulding), “Halo” (Ryan Tedder, Evan Bogart, Beyoncé Knowles), “Cop Car” (Keith Urban, written by Zach Crowell, Sam Hunt, Matt Jenkins) – these are all songs that do quite nicely with one simple progression that stays the same from verse to chorus.

In the bid to make your music unique, you might look at how the chords are assembled as one way to make your music stand out. But most of the time, songs are evaluated by audiences in the following way (and in no particular order):

  1. The catchiness of the chorus hook.
  2. The memorability of the melody (particularly the chorus melody).
  3. How supportive the chords are of the melody that sits above.
  4. The partnership of the melody and lyric.
  5. The quality of the performance (both singing and instrumental).

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“Essential Chord Progressions”Essential Chord Progressions give you hundreds of progressions you can use as is, or modify to suit the songs you’re working on. If all you need are some chords to get you going, check out this ebook collection.

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One Comment

  1. Bod Dylan and Hendrix’s versions of “All Along the Watchtower.”

    Only three chords that repeat every two bars. That’s it.

    And the song is a classic.

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