One thing that brings a smile to my face is thinking about the fact that chord progressions work pretty much the same way today (in a pop song) as they did more than 300 years ago (in a Bach aria).
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That means we can use the lessons that Bach, Mozart and Brahms learned about chord progressions and apply them to practically any genre of music today.
So what are the kinds of things that composers from classical music’s kings of composition learned about chords? Here are five tips we all need to keep in mind:
- Fast tempo songs should use progressions with fewer chords. When the tempo is fast, a chord progression with lots of chords tends to sound panicky and frantic. It’s better to create shorter progressions, even if you repeat those progressions many time. (Bach’s faster music used simple progressions that were very predictable, like the last movement of his Brandenburg Concerto No. 3)
- If you like longer, more complex progressions, use them in slower ballad-style songs. When a song is slower, the listeners have time to digest the intricacies and complexities of longer progressions that take more twists and turns.
- Don’t be afraid to use the same progression in different sections of your songs. It’s completely fine to use the same progression in a verse and a chorus.
- If you think your progressions lack some flair, try simple modifications before complicated ones. Simple changes might be something as basic as using inversions (slash chords), or perhaps substituting one chord with another one from the same key.
- Try changing other elements of your song to create musical excitement. Rather than automatically targeting a chord progression, try other musical surprises, like changing the tempo, the instrumentation, or even the time signature. Listeners love to be challenged by complex lyrics and innovative melodies, but often get confused with chord progressions that move in odd directions.
Regarding the fifth tip above, there’s nothing wrong with a chord progression that has surprises. But for those who haven’t had a lot of experience, a modified chord progression can sound perplexing. I’ve always felt that you can make more effective music by modifying other musical aspects such as lyrics, melody and instrumentation as a first choice.
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