Wednesday, June 19, 2019

5 Tips for Writing Better Chord Progressions

This post we are turning our attention to another important part of songwriting: Chord Progressions.

1. I, vi, IV, V is a good starting point - A lot of songs rely heavily on the use of the BIG FOUR, the I, vi, IV, and V (for those of you who are unfamiliar with those Roman Numerals think C, Am, F and G.) These chords are a great place to start writing a song that sounds "popular," because so many songs use these chords. And there's nothing wrong with starting there, but a really striking song will progress beyond these songs doing something to break out of the mold and make the listener more interested in the song.

2. Falling Chords - One of the quickest and most Beatles-y ways of breaking this mold is to use falling chords. The most popular falling chords are from the major V to the minor v. Or from the major IV to the minor IV. You can hear both of these in the songs "To Make You Feel My Love" by Bob Dylan, and the major to minor IV fall in the song "Don't Look Back in Anger," by Oasis. Other ways to fall include going from the I to the minor i.  You can do the same if you borrow a chord, such as a major II and then dropping down to the minor ii, or the major VI to the minor vi.

3. Rising Chords - If you get bored with that technique, why don't you try raising the chords from minor to major? Easy choices are the ii to the II, or the iii to the III, or the vi to the VI.

4. Modal Borrowing - Now you're getting to be a pro at modifying your chord progressions, now try some modal borrowing. Throw in a bVII or a bVI or a bIII.

5. Copy the Classics - So now that you've learned how to do all of this, you might find yourself stuck for new inspiration. Why not go back and study some of the chord progressions that some of the classical composers used? Perhaps you will find a progression that does something unique and unusual that fits perfect with your song. John Popper did this with "Hook" by copying the chord progression from Pacabel's Canon. Oasis also did it on "Don't Look Back in Anger."   

So there are a few more ideas to help improve your songs. If you found these tips helpful, you can find out more about songwriting tips and tricks in my new book: "Lyrics and Music: Music Theory for Aspiring Songwriters" available now at, or with several additional Appendices at Barnes and Noble..;jsessionid=6F73A94CC7BEF9C130CFFEF90E7B8008.prodny_store01-atgap06?ean=9781987082869

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