If you like starting songs by working out the chord progressions first, you may be aware of one notable difficulty: melodies can sometimes get neglected. And that’s a problem, since the melody is the part that you hope your listeners will be humming.
But there are ways to make sure that the chords-first songwriting process works for you. The following is an excerpt from “Writing a Song From a Chord Progression.” It’s one of the eBooks in “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle,” and if you use the chords-first process a lot, you’ll find it to be very helpful.
Why We Like Starting With Chords
Creating a melody first almost always implies chords and rhythm. Creating lyrics first will also make you think of rhythm and, to a certain degree at least, the melody (if you think of the inflection of the voice as you say the words). Creating chords first comes with the curse of having not much else, and it can leave you feeling frustrated.
So why do so many songwriters find it important to get a good chord progression working first? Why do we like starting with chords? It probably has to do with the fact that of all song elements, chords are the least unique. You can create two completely different songs that use the exact same chord progression. It gives the impression (a true one, I believe) that there aren’t a ton of progressions out there for your use. And so at least getting that part right feels more important.
Here’s another way to look at that. There are hundreds or more beaches in Hawaii. The one thing they all have in common is: they’re in Hawaii. If you want to go to the best beach in Hawaii, you have to start by considering the one thing all those beaches have in common: you need to get to Hawaii. Once you’re there, you need to drive down the unique set of roads that gets you to the one beach you’re looking for.
So there’s a feeling in songwriting that you want to start with the musical element that is least unique (if you’ll permit the term) – the chord progression and accompanying rhythms – and then move to the elements that are truly unique – the melodies and lyrics.
There is a problem, however, in starting songs with chords, which is that in chords-first songs, melodies and lyrics tend to get ignored. With lyrics, that’s not an insurmountable problem. Lyrics can be constantly tweaked and shaped until you get something better and better. Melodies are harder to tweak, because they’re inextricably linked to the chords you created in the first place. So that limits the notes you can come up with. And then there’s a second problem: The voicings you choose when you play your chords place certain notes as the highest ones. This in turn causes you to hear those highest notes as a kind of melody, and that further limits your musical imagination and stifles your ability to “hear” other (better) melodies. And trust me, the melodies that are implied by the top notes of chords are rarely good ones.
We Need a System
So what can we do about this? If you find chords easy to create, but hard to do anything else with, this booklet is meant to help you. And it will help by showing you a way to find possible melodies based on your chosen chord progression, using an existing song as a model. Its great benefit is that you can create songs with little or no initial ideas! Just a chord progression, and away you go!
In reality, it’s not so much a system as it is a series of potential steps that will help you get the most out of chords-first songwriting. Done well, you’re going to love what playing around with a chord progression can do for your songwriting. Rather than limiting your ideas, we want to turn chords-first songwriting into a world of possibilities.
If you want to take a closer look at this eBook, as well as the other eBooks in the 10-eBook bundle, please visit the Online Store. You’ll find descriptions of this one, as well as all the others in the bundle.
Get “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBooks. They’ll help you polish your technique, and make you the best songwriter you can be. Comes with a Study Guide, tons of chord progressions, and information covering every aspect of how to write good music.