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Help, Ive run out of Chord

Progressions!
July 28,

Posted by Tom under Chords and harmony

3 Comments

2011

Help, Ive run out of chord progressions was the gist of a forum thread over at the 50/90 site.
User Temily said: Its only day three and Im already stuck for chord progressions. Does anyone have
any extras they feel like sharing?
Some people replied with specific progressions they like. Others directed people
to chordmaps.com which is a great site even if the design is like going back to the internet of the late
90s.
These were great contributions people talked about all the standard chord theory circle of fifths, V
I, common chromatic chords.
All good advice, and perhaps the sort of thing I should be talking about on indiesongwriter.net.
However, Im not going to talk about the obvious chord theory stuff because a. you can find that stuff
elsewhere (Google Gary Ewer, hes great for this stuff) and B. because Im one of those annoying
people who always wants to be contrary and disagree.
My contribution was:
Other tips which may or may not be good ones:

The best chord to put after C is Eb or F#. Or both.


E, Eb and D are good notes to sound at the same time.
Chords without 9ths or clusters are boring and wrong.
You can put any major chord after any other major chord.
The same with minor chords.
Every chord wants to fall a semitone. Or rise a semitone.
Dont have chord progressions of 4 or 8 bars long. 3 or 5 is good.

Lets explain my facetious little list:

The best chord to put after C is Eb or F#. Or both.

Why did I suggest F# or Eb after C? Because both of those chord contradict the key of C. Whether on
a macro or micro scale, this is often a good idea to do. Letting the listener only hear C F and G with
the occasional daring leap to maybe an Aminor or Eminor can easily become dull. Throwing in either a
section, or just the occasional chord that comes from somewhere else is a great way to make things
more interesting.
Do you need to know loads of theory to do this? It can help, and I would recommend learning as much
as you can but all you really need is an ear. Find something that sounds unexpected but right and use
that. Dont worry if its original, thats boring. Find something thats new to you.
This is an important principle so Ill repeat it play with expectations. Dont always give the listener
what the expect.

E, Eb and D are good notes to sound at the same time.


Chords without 9ths or clusters are boring and wrong.

My favourite chord voicings are those that contain clusters and notes that are only a tone or semitone
apart. Dense chords can be very evocative. But possibly not all the time simplicity has its place too,
particular during hook lines and choruses.

You can put any major chord after any other major chord.
The same with minor chords.

Every chord wants to fall a semitone. Or rise a semitone.

Absolutely true if you dont know what to do next, maybe moving the same kind of chord around the
fret/keyboard until something sounds right is the way to do it.

Dont have chord progressions of 4 or 8 bars long. 3 or 5 is good.

Everyone does 4. Dont do it! (All right, having 4s and 8s most of the time but the occasional 3 is
perhaps the best way to do it.)
So there you are. A few ideas for chord progressions. And hopefully you wont run out of ideas.
PS. Chord progressions do not exist in isolation. Best to be thinking of melody and lyrics and structure
as you write em.
Related posts:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

Why You Should Be Writing Chord Progressions Backwards


What do you do when youre bored of all those chord progressions?
Basics standard chord progressions
Basics Standard Chord Progressions 2
Basics The Five Guitar Chord Shapes.

3 Responses to Help, Ive run out of Chord Progressions!


1.

Darren LandrumJuly 29, 2011 at 12:07 am


The song that Im currently working on goes like this:
Am9->Dm7->Em7->Dm7->Am9
With a section like this:
Cm7->D7->Cm7->D7->Em7->Dm7 and so on.
You can hear a snippet of it here: http://soundcloud.com/darren-landrum/my-only-wish-excerpt
This is my most bog-standard progression, largely because in the end its still all built on i-iv-v. I have
a cool melody to go with it, though, so I guess it works. And its kinda cool to resolve a progression on
a 9-chord in a minor key.

What do you do when youre bored of


all those chord progressions?
April 14,

Posted by Tom under Chords and harmony

No Comments

2010

Have you ever found yourself frustrated with the chords youre using? As if youve used all the chord
progressions that could possibly exist, not just once but hundreds of times. I have, and I know lots of
others have as well.
According to this rather good article on chord progressions even Johnny Greenwood from Radiohead
has felt the same.
Radioheads Jonny Greenwood once said There are only 12 power chords, and I think weve had
about 20 years of them, so maybe its time to move on. He even went as far as to issue a message
(half-jokingly) to the bands fans to send him in any unusual chord progressions they could write.
So whats the solution? I can think of a few possibilities.
1. Are you sure youve exhausted all the possibilities?
Have you really tried every possible chord progression? What about jazz chords? Gospel Chords?
Sometimes learning something new about chord progressions is what we need. A new nugget of
information can help you find something fresh to say.
2. Dont think vertically, think horizontally
In pop music we often think vertically a C chord in this bar, an Aminor chord in that bar notes
stacked on top of each other, changing all at the same time. That isnt how our system started
though. Western music developed from single lines by accident we happened to develop a written
system that allowed us combine more complicated lines of melody (thats a huge oversimplification,
but you get the idea) chords happened through the combination of single lines blending together.
So why not write like that? Dont have any instruments playing chords, give them melodies and riffs
and see what you come up with that way.
3. Stick to percussion
Do you really need chords?
4. Use a drone
A drone can be a wonderful thing one note, or perhaps a perfect fifth to define your tonal centre, but
everything else is fluid the key could be major, minor or modal, the pulse can shift and vanish, the
bar line stops being a barrier. Why not forget chords, and just use a drone?
We all feel Johnny Greenwoods frustration from time to time. Hopefully those 4 ideas will get the grey
matter firing.

Basics standard chord progressions


March 25,

Posted by Tom under Basics, Chords and harmony

1 Comment

2008

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FX--7gFHkU0&feature=related]
There are chord progressions that get used over and over again. So often, that you already know
them. Even if youve never thought about it, once youve had it pointed out, you will recognise them.
The purpose of this post is to show you a few of the more common ones. Ill show you them in the key
of C, but obviously they can be played in any key you like.
Beware of Cliche!
Before we start, lets make one thing clear. If you use these chord progressions as they are, your song
will be in danger of sounding like several others. These are standard progression, so theyve been
used hundreds of times before.
Does that mean you should just avoid them?
Maybe. Its up to you. I certainly think you should be aware of what youre doing. After all you cant
break a rule if you dont know it exists.
Standard progressions.
C Am F G (used in Stand by Me, Every Breath you Take and many more)
C G Am F (used in all sorts including Today by the Smashing Pumpkins)
Twelve Bar Blues: C C C C F F C C G F C C (each chord for a bar. Used in countless blues and rock n
roll numbers)
Circle of fifths: C F Bb Eb Ab Db etc (lots of variations on this, often used in Jazz standards)
C Bb F (As used in Sweet Home Alabama)
Em C D (a common heavy rock/metal progression. See: most Iron Maiden songs)
Another example:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwqhhZnl8G4]
I started off by saying these chord changes get used over and over again. Now, sometimes we need to
be original when writing songs, and sometimes we dont. Knowing these common tools gives you a
short cut, a place to start.
Besides which, Every Breath you Take was composed a long time after Stand by Me, and it more than
makes up for having common chord changes, doesnt it?

Basics Standard Chord


Progressions 2
September 6, 2008 Posted by Tom under Chords and harmony

2 Comments

As my previous post on standard chord progression has been sitting at the top of my top posts list for
quite a while, I thought Id write a follow-up.
These progressions all come with a warning they have been used extensively before, you might
want to add your own variations. However, sometimes we need to compose quickly, and using a
standard progression can save you a lot of time (another option is to just use one chord).
The progressions from the previous post were:

C Am F G (used in Stand by Me, Every Breath you Take and many more)
C G Am F (used in all sorts including Today by the Smashing Pumpkins)
Twelve Bar Blues: C C C C F F C C G F C C (each chord for a bar. Used in countless blues and
rock n roll numbers)
Circle of fifths: C F Bb Eb Ab Db etc (lots of variations on this, often used in Jazz standards)
C Bb F (As used in Sweet Home Alabama)
Em C D (a common heavy rock/metal progression. See: most Iron Maiden songs)

To which we can add:

Em C G D (as used in the chorus of the mildly obscure, but very good Bruce Dickinson song
above, as well as countless others.)
C Am D7 G7 (a common jazz turn around, mildly cheesey. Turn the D7 back into a Dminor if you
want).
Am F E7 (the basis of a great many songs, for example Seven Nation Army by the White Strips)