In songwriting, a formula amounts to a set of steps that are predictable “responses” to whatever has just happened. And in general, they’re not necessarily desirable.
What’s so undesirable about formulas? It comes down to this: most of your listeners like to hear musical ideas that are generated in a spontaneous sort of way, and a songwriting formula implies that you’ve generated musical ideas as a sort of predictable response to whatever’s just happened.
“How to Harmonize a Melody” gives you a step-by-step guide for adding chords to that melody you’ve got in mind for your next song. Get it separately, or as part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle.
You can see formulas if you look at several of your latest songs and compare their main characteristics. You might be resorting to songwriting formulas if:
- All of your songs are in verse-chorus-bridge format.
- All of your songs use the same, or almost the same, chord progressions.
- All of your song melodies show a similar shape.
- All of your lyrics resort to clichés or other kinds of stock phrases.
It’s not possible to avoid all songwriting formulas, and actually not necessary. Regarding that first point in the list above, the verse-chorus-bridge design as a kind of formula can be quite easily avoided by considering other formal designs. You might add an instrumental solo instead of a bridge, or perhaps start a song with the chorus, for example.
Chord Progression Formulas
There is one kind of formula that actually helps to make songs better, as long as you use different formulas for each song you write, and it’s chord progression formulas.
Most chord progressions are, in fact, a kind of formula. That’s because chords like to progress in a certain sort of predictable way, and that sense of predictability does a lot to strengthen song structure.
It’s worth pointing out here that you can actually be quite creative with your chord progression while still also having them progress in a somewhat predictable manner. To you, a predictable progression might be something like this:
- C F G C
- C Am F G C
- C Em F G C
But within a predictable progression, you can have a small moment of surprise where the progression goes in an unpredictable direction, like these ones:
- C F G Am | Bb F G C
- C Am F F/Eb | D G Am F C
- Cm Fm Ab Eb | Db Ab Fm G Cm
But I should mention that most listeners to your song don’t actually give the uniqueness or creativity of your chord progression much of a thought. For most of your fans, creative melodies, lyrics, phrasing and instrumentation are what they really want to hear.
There are many songs that use the same 4-chord progression from beginning to end, and they often are the kinds of songs that make it to the top of the Billboard charts.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try to have creative progressions, but the kinds of chords you use will often be determined by the genre of your songs.
In that regard, don’t worry too much if you feel your chords aren’t creative enough. Spend more time on your melodies and lyrics, and take advantage of the structural strength that comes from using good chord progression formulas.
My eBook, “Chord Progression Formulas“, is one I wrote specifically to help songwriters come up with strong progressions, and to do so quickly. With any one of the formulas I’ve included in that eBook, you can generate many progressions within moments.
That eBook is available as a stand-alone eBook, or as part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle. Visit the Online Store.
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook bundle comes with a free copy of “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process”, along with an all-important Study Guide!