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The Secret to a Good Two-Chord Song

Because most songwriters want to stand out from the crowd, at least just a bit, it’s common to go looking for chord progressions that are unique, or at least somewhat inventive.

I love a creative chord progression, and so I think looking for chords that sound fresh and not overly-used by others is a worthwhile pursuit. I balance that statement with the idea that I often put forward on this blog, however, that very few songs suffer because of a boring chord progression.

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In other words, if you find that your song isn’t very interesting, a mundane chord progression is rarely the cause.

You likely know that there are many songs that are comprised of only one chord. “American Woman” (The Guess Who), and “Who Do You Love” (Bo Diddley), just to name two that come to mind.

What’s weird about a one-chord song is that it isn’t a progression, since the word progression implies two things: 1) that there are several chords that move one to the next, and 2) that there is a kind of musical logic to how those chords move.

With two-chord songs, you don’t usually have to worry a lot about which two you choose, as long as you like their combination. So they could be anything:

  1. Dm-C (like the opening of “Somebody That I Used to Know”)
  2. C-Bb
  3. Am-Em
  4. G-Am
  5. C-F

That list could be endless. It doesn’t really matter which two chords you choose. But a two-chord song can fail. And the reasons it might fail will likely have nothing to do with your choice of chords.

A two-chord song, like any song, will flop if:

  1. The rhythmic feel of the song fails to entice or otherwise attract listeners.
  2. The lyric fails to make an emotional connection.
  3. The melody fails to rise to the level of being a successful partner for the lyric.

A two-chord song can actually have a beneficial effect of creating a nice “rocking” effect of moving band and forth from one chord to the next, and we definitely get that feel at the beginning of “Somebody That I Used to Know.”

But the most important thing to remember about two-chord songs is that you can’t rely on the “journey” that a longer progression provides. Its design will ensure that listeners move their attention away from the chord progression, and so melody and/or lyrics usually need to step forward.

In other words, in the absence of an interesting progression, you need to make sure that something in your song provides enough interest to keep audiences feeling that they’re hearing a good song.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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One Comment

  1. YES totally agree , its all about variation in phrasal length and contrasting

    notation , if the finished product is as steady as a metronome something is

    wrong take the opening of MEMORY from the musical CATS the first bar is

    two notes MID _ NIGHT followed by Not A Sound From The Pavement

    the second bar is five notes what a gorgeous contrast ,?

    How many songs do we know where one word makes up the first bar??

    of two syllables, take up a whole opening bar ???

    Okay the song has more than Two Chords but that dramatic opening says it


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