Writing Good Song Lyrics

5 Chord Progressions for Minor Key Verses

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Choosing a minor key for your verse has at least two nice benefits:

  1. It allows for the potential of switching to a major key for the chorus, and that sense of musical brightening that comes from the minor-to-major transition has a long tradition in pop music.
  2. Minor key progressions can briefly switch into major within the same verse, with little effort. That increases your ability to manipulate the mood of the music. (Example: Am  F  C  F  Em  G  Am).

It’s easy enough to come up with minor progressions, but let’s take a look at some that might be a little less than common. First, I’ll list them. Feel free to change them, experiment with them, change the playing style, the time signatures, etc. They’ll work in practically any genre.

  1. Am  Fmaj7 |Dm9 |Am Fmaj7 |Dm9 | G  Gmaj7/F#  |Em7    |G  Gmaj7/F#  |Em7    |
  2. Am  Bb  F  E7sus4  E7

  3. Am  Bm7  Am  Bm7  |Cm  G/D  C/E  D

  4. Am  Am-maj7/G#  C/G  Bm7/F#  Esus4  E  Esus4  E

  5. Am  Gb/Bb  Bm  Cmaj7  A/D  D  F/G  G

By the way, I call these “verse progressions” because the wandering nature of the tonality makes them excellent choices for verses. Chorus progressions often work best if they’re short and tonally strong, not wandering away from the tonic too much.

Progression #1

Roman numerals:

vi  IV7  |ii9    | vi  IV7  ii9   | (in G): I  I7/4-2  | vi7   |I  I7/4-2  | vi7   |

In this progression, all that’s really happening for the first part is that the bass note is changing; the structure of the chords above the bass stays the same, since Am, Fmaj7 and Dm9 all use the same treble pitches: A-C-E.

Then we get 3 chords that point to G major as a new tonic: G, Gmaj7/F#, and Em7. (Gmaj7/F# simply means a Gmaj7 chord with an F# note in the bass.) The Em7 at the end makes it easy to move back to Am for another run through the progression if you like.

The Em7 also makes it easy to create a pre-chorus, perhaps following the progression with this: Dm  C/E  F  G.

Progression #2

Roman numerals:

vi  bVII  IV  V7sus4/vi  V7/vi

The Am chord gives way immediately to what feels like a couple of chords in F major: Bb-F. The move to F makes it easy to slide down a semitone to E, and so the transition back to A minor is easy.

Progression #3

Roman numerals:

ii  iii7  ii  iii7  |iv  V/6-4  IV6  V

This one starts on the Am chord like the others, but it’s actually better thought of as being in G major. The Cm chord (iv) would normally be a major chord, so Cm is a modal mixture, which adds nice colour to this progression.

If you want to learn more about modal mixtures, read this: “Replacing Major Chords With Minor: Modal Mixtures

Progression #4

Roman numerals:

vi  vi4-2  III6-4  ii/6-4  V4 – 3 – 4 – 3

A bass line that descends by semitones adds considerable strength to the progression. A progression like this one, which uses a lot of inversions, may typically lack the kind of strength that comes from root position chords, so that descending bass line becomes an important kind of musical glue that pulls everything together.

Progression #5

Roman numerals:

Am  Gb/Bb  Bm  Cmaj7  A/D  D  F/G  G

vi  V6/ii  ii  IIImaj7  IVmaj9  IV  VII11  VII

Like the previous progression, musical sense happens through the constantly rising bass line.

If you like these progressions and you’d like to have a go at creating some that are just as imaginative, I recommend starting with something simple, something you know works, and then add chords (especially in the middle) that challenge the ears of your listener.

By doing it that way, you’ve got something that sounds tonally strong at the beginning and strong at the end. That means no matter how much you’ve wandered away from your starting key, you get pulled back to it, and the audience has a better chance of understanding what you’re doing.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

“Chord Progression Formulas” helps you create dozens of progressions within moments, using some standard formulas. For major and minor keys. Get it as part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle,” or purchase it separately.

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