“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook bundle includes “Writing a Song From a Chord Progression”. Discover the secrets of making the chords-first songwriting process work for you.
There are songs that really sound so good, but if someone were to ask you what makes it so great, you might find it hard to say. But as a songwriter, you really need to know why, or else there’s nothing that you’ve learned, nothing that you can apply to your own songs.
Lately I’ve been really enjoying Sting’s song “Shape of My Heart” (Gordon Sumner, Dominic Miller) from his 1993 album Ten Summoner’s Tales. It’s a perfect example of a song that almost seems better than the sum of its parts. I can listen to it over and over, and keep hearing more.
For me, after listening many times, I think it’s the chord progression that’s really made this song exemplary. I love the choice of the minor key, but really love the engaging shift toward the relative major in the middle:
You can spend time looking at the lyrics and seeing what that mood shift does to the power of the words in each verse, but even before you get to analyzing the lyrics, you really feel that the music has taken a really interesting journey that starts in the realm of melancholy, shifts to something more hopeful and optimistic, before ending with a more pensive feel.
I also love how the guitar keeps emphasizing the note A throughout the progression, as a kind of inverted pedal point. This happens in the vocal line as well: Sting keeps singing the note A, returning to it over and over again. In a way, it makes the voice sound more hopeful, as if it’s yearning to find that relative major world of A major. The melody only ever gives us the note F# at the very end.
And one other thing I love regarding chord choice in this song: the quick shift to the key of C# minor for the instrumental break in the middle. There’s a kind of musical excitement that comes from that key change. The instrumentation fills in and increases musical energy, and you find yourself wondering: Where are we going?
All of these chord and key choices are pretty subtle, and the progression itself, though it’s relatively simple in construction, uses some modifications that keep things interesting: the sus4 on C#, and the inverted suspension on the penultimate chord.
As I say, I had to give this song many listens before I realized that it was the subtlety of the chords that made this song really work for me. I could listen to it all day. (Not ignoring the excellent lyric, of course.)
In your own songs, you don’t need to do much to make this kind of interesting chord progression. You can start with something very simple, something that barely goes beyond the standard 3-chord progression, and by throwing in a few 7ths, suspensions, and inversions, you’ll have managed to create something that grabs attention in the same way.
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle” includes several eBooks that are meant to make your chord progressions better, including “How to Harmonize a Melody.” It shows you, step-by-step, how to add chords to that melody you’ve created.