Starting Your Progressions on Something Other Than the I-Chord

If you want to know what key a song is in, it’s typically the chorus you should be looking at. That’s because verse progressions might wander about, making identification of the actual key a bit difficult.

But by the time you get to the chorus, things usually become clearer.

It’s not unusual, for example, for a verse progression to focus on a minor key, and then move to the relative major for the chorus. “King of Pain” by the Police (Sting) is a good example, where the verse is in the key of B minor, switching to D major for the chorus.

By switching from minor to major, you create a nice sense of contrast that pulls listeners in and makes your song more interesting.

There’s another way to create a similar sense of contrast, which is to use the same key for both the verse and chorus, but to start one progression — either the verse or the chorus — on something other than the I-chord.

Here’s how that might work, and it really only requires two steps:

  1. Create a chord progression that’s tonally strong, something that could work for both your verse and your chorus. Example: C  Am  Dm  F  C. (The C chord is the tonic (or I-chord) in this example.)
  2. Take the first chord away, and you’re left with: Am  Dm  F  C. This becomes your verse progression, and you then use the full progression (C Am Dm F C) for your chorus.

In this particular case, since the second chord of the original progression is a minor chord, you give the sense that you’re using a minor progression for your verse, when all you’ve really done is to remove the first chord, which happens to be a major chord.

If you want, you can use this process as simply a starting point. You could take that initial C chord away, and then use Am Dm F C as just part of your verse, expanding on it and developing it before returning to C Am Dm F C as your chorus.

The benefit to this chord progression hack is that you don’t need to think about relative major/minor relationships. You simply come up with one progression, lop off the first chord, and you’ve still got something that works.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter. Hooks & Riffs“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how a good hook can make the difference between songwriting success and failure. With great examples from pop music history.Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook BundleIf all you need are tons of progressions to try out, you need “Essential Chord Progressions” and “More Essential Chord Progressions.” They’re both part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle.

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