Guitarist - Songwriter

There’s No Such Thing as a Killer Chord Progression

The notion of the so-called killer chord progression is a bit of a myth that I used to hear songwriters discuss years ago. It’s a myth, not because chord progressions can’t be powerful and epic, but because songs are nearly always about a partnership of many different elements.


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A song might have a killer chord progression, if that progression:

  • properly supports the notes of the melody, and
  • properly supports the mood that the melody and lyrics are trying to create.

So in that case it’s not that the chords are killer, but it’s the fact that they partner up with the other elements of the song properly; the relationship of all those bits is what’s killer.

I only mention this because you can waste a lot of time trying to create chord progressions — or any song component — that you hope are going to rise to the level of being considered “killer.”

There are so many songs that have interesting chords that seem to transport my musical imagination, but when I consider those chords as separate from the melody, instrumentation and lyrics of the song, they seem less remarkable.

When songwriters talk about a killer chord progression, they usually mean something relatively short but remarkable — with something unexpected about it that really grabs our attention. Perhaps the vagueness of that definition is why some seek for so long for a progression that fits the bill: the impression a progression makes differs from person to person.

For me, I love longer progressions that take us on a journey. Because I grew up in the 70s, I’m going to have a different opinion on what makes a progression powerful. In my mind, here’s one that has it all: solo chords, then partnered up with imaginative lyrics, powerfully creative instrumentation, gorgeous bass lines: “Blood on the Rooftops” (Genesis, from their 1976 album “Wind & Wuthering”). But there are so many more!

As I say, you can waste a lot of time trying to come up with “the killer chord progression.” Good songs will always be about how one element, considered by itself, sounds great, but takes itself to a new and powerful level when considered by all the other excellent elements within that song.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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