If you don’t like a progression you’ve just come up with, the obvious solution, of course, is to toss it and go looking for another one.
But there’s actually another option: try one of the following three chord progression treatments. For each of these ideas, you keep the basic progression the same, but you make a slight modification.
- Use pedal point. Pedal point is simply keeping the same bass note as the chords change above it. So for example, let’s say you have the progression C F G7 C. Not overly inspiring, but now play it again with the bass note C sounding underneath all of those chords. There’s a kind of “freshness” in a progression that uses pedal point, and it may be all you need to make that simple progression sound more interesting. (Experiment with other pedal notes… Try keeping the 6th note (A) in the bass. Each choice lends a different character to the progression.)
- Use implied chords. An implied chord is one in which the full 3 or 4-note version of the chord isn’t present. This can work especially well in a song verse. The most common way to do this is to accompany the melody simply with a bass line. The combination of the melody note and the bass note will give one or two notes from the complete chord. The benefit of using implied chords in this way is that it thins the texture of the music, setting things up nicely for a chorus that uses the fuller sound of the complete chord.
- Use chord inversions. To invert a chord means that you’re placing a note other than the chord root at the bottom. For example, you might use the 3rd of the F chord (the note A) as that chord’s bass note. Using inversions results in a different bass line, so it’s something you’ll want to experiment with a bit. Even just one inversion in a progression can change the character of an entire progression, so don’t feel you have to use many.
One other quick idea: try changing a major key progression to a minor one. So C F G7 C would become Cm Fm G7 Cm or Cm Fm Gm7 Cm.
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