There’s no particular songwriting principle that says that there needs to be a noticeable connection between the various chord progressions within a song. If you’ve got a song that uses a verse-chorus design, you can use a completely different progression in each section, progressions that have absolutely no obvious similarity.
Having said that, there is a benefit that comes from finding ways to connect those progressions, even if your listeners don’t notice those connections.
“How to Harmonize a Melody” shows you, step-by-step, how to add chords to that melody you’ve created. If working with chords has always been a tricky part of your songwriting process, this eBook will get you sorted!
You can do something that really flies under the radar, but is still very effective. For example, McCartney’s “Penny Lane” uses a verse progression that results in a descending bass line for the verse. Then in the chorus, the chords he chooses result in a bass line that moves upward. That contrasting of downward for the verse and upward for the chorus is very effective.
The same thing happens in The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” (Brian Wilson, Mike Love): a verse with chords that result in a slowly descending bass line, then a chorus where, even though the progression is almost static — a one-chord progression, in a way — it then gets shifted upward in key little by little, providing the same kind of contrast we hear in “Penny Lane”
And you can, of course, choose to use the exact same progression for the verse and chorus. Since verse progressions can work well if they’re the wandering, tonally ambiguous sort (the ones I like to call “fragile”), using the same progression for both the verse and the chorus means making sure that it works well in the first instance as a chorus progression: short, strong and locked into the key of the song.
Another way to connect progressions is to play around with chord quality, which is a term that refers to the major/minor aspect of chords. “Soon We’ll Be Found“, written by Australian singer-songwriter Sia and Rick Nowels, shows this kind of interesting contrast within the verse itself, but this musical tool can be just as good at pulling together a verse and chorus.
She begins with a minor key progression in the key of C minor, giving us this: Cm Fm G (i-iv-V). The second half of the verse gives us a progression that suddenly pops us into the key of Eb major — the so-called relative major key.
And that new progression, while not an exact translation of the minor progression we just heard, starts with the same basic chord function (I-chord that moves to the iv-chord), though now in a major key: Eb-Abm…
There are lots of ways you can make a connection between verse and chorus other than the ones I just mentioned. Here are three more:
- Use the same chord list, but try them in a different order. Example: VERSE: C Am Dm G C || CHORUS: C Dm Am G C
- Use the same progression, but shorten it up for the chorus. Example: VERSE: C G Am Em F C Dm E7|Am G C C/E F C F G || CHORUS: C Am Dm G C
- Use the same progression, but use a bass pedal point. Example: VERSE: C F G Am Dm G C Bb C || CHORUS: C F/C G/C Am/C Dm/C G/C C Bb/C C
Regarding that final idea, if you’re not sure what a bass pedal point is, give this article a read.
How do you know if you’ve done something that works? As always with songwriting, your ears will be your guide. And I’ll just reiterate that there is no principle that requires you to make any kind of connection between verse and chorus progressions. But creating a connection using one of the ways I’ve outlined in this post can be an effective way of pulling all the various parts of your song together.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.
“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.