Writing chord progressions

Guitar Tricks Forum > Songwriting > Writing chord progressions

053804

Registered User

Joined: 06/11/11

Posts: 2

how do you guys come up with chord progressions when writing a song?

#1

how do you guys come up with chord progressions when writing a song?

Marshallmk1

Registered User

Joined: 05/11/11

Posts: 89

Hi there...

I would guess that a lot of people do it in a lot of different ways...some people will know each chord in any given key and will pick from those...other people will just do it by ear...

I kind of do it both ways...

One of the easiest things to do is to pick a chord you want to start on and then look at all of the chords in that key...

For example...if you start off with an E minor then the easiest thing to do is find out which chords work with the scale tones of the E minor scale

If you click on the following link and then scroll down to the E minor section it will give you all the chords that work in an E minor progression...

http://www.free-online-piano-lessons.com/scale-tone-chords-triads.html

In this case it would be

Em
F#dim
G
Am
Bm
C
D

I usually tend to ignore the diminished chord...this leaves 6 chords to choose from for your progression...they will all sound great together and you would be able to solo over those chords with an E minor pentatonic scale or natural minor and everything will sound great.

Hope this helps...

#2

Hi there...

I would guess that a lot of people do it in a lot of different ways...some people will know each chord in any given key and will pick from those...other people will just do it by ear...

I kind of do it both ways...

One of the easiest things to do is to pick a chord you want to start on and then look at all of the chords in that key...

For example...if you start off with an E minor then the easiest thing to do is find out which chords work with the scale tones of the E minor scale

If you click on the following link and then scroll down to the E minor section it will give you all the chords that work in an E minor progression...

http://www.free-online-piano-lessons.com/scale-tone-chords-triads.html

In this case it would be

Em
F#dim
G
Am
Bm
C
D

I usually tend to ignore the diminished chord...this leaves 6 chords to choose from for your progression...they will all sound great together and you would be able to solo over those chords with an E minor pentatonic scale or natural minor and everything will sound great.

Hope this helps...

Joe Pinnavaia

Registered User

Joined: 04/08/10

Posts: 57

Chord Scales are where I get the majority of my progressions from. Sometimes I just improv something and then I figure out later what key I'm in and what melody works over that. Sometimes it's a melody that I have and then I figure out the chords from there. There's no real science for me at this time.


Regards,
Joe
http://www.joepinnavaia.com

#3

Chord Scales are where I get the majority of my progressions from. Sometimes I just improv something and then I figure out later what key I'm in and what melody works over that. Sometimes it's a melody that I have and then I figure out the chords from there. There's no real science for me at this time.


Regards,
Joe
http://www.joepinnavaia.com

David Lalumiere

Registered User

Joined: 03/28/11

Posts: 17

Most of the time, I find ideas for a song when improvising within a scale, then I find the chord that are within that scale for rythm guitar. It can be good sometime to add non-diatonic chord to make things a bit more unpredictable and interesting.

#4

Most of the time, I find ideas for a song when improvising within a scale, then I find the chord that are within that scale for rythm guitar. It can be good sometime to add non-diatonic chord to make things a bit more unpredictable and interesting.

Henrik Linde

Guitar Tricks Instructor

Joined: 06/23/10

Posts: 149

I really don't think there is a set way or rule for how to write a chord progression, if you a re getting the result you want then you're doing it right.

However, a couple of things that you can keep in mind.

If you start with a theoretical approach, for instance, if you start with a chord and then use your diatonic (same key or scale) chord options, you're not even scratching the surface of all options there are.
This is a great way of figuring out keys and progressions and once you get in to chord substitutions and modes it get's really fun and interesting...BUT beware of it sounding stale and boring, you don't want your progression to end up sounding like a mathematical formula. NOT saying it will…but it can.

Another approach is to start from a listening point of view with a purpose and a goal for your progression.
What is the progression for? How should it sound? Is it for a guitar solo? Supporting a vocal? Scoring the next Tarantino movie?

Start with a sound you like and then try all different combinations of chords (you'd be surprised at how cool the "wrong" chord can sound if put in the right spot)
If you end up finding something you love (or hate) you can always figure out the theory behind it afterwards and maybe you'll figure out what it is that creates your own sound or style.

Just listen for what you're hearing and try to play it, rather than trying every theoretical possibility you know…
Music is meant to be listened to, not dissected.

Countless of genres are based on "rulebreaking".
Blues mixes major and minor tonalities, the flat 5 note etc.
Some grunge and pop music in the early 90's started replacing diatonic minor chords with major and suss chords…the list is never ending.
But one important thing about these genres and it's writers is that they weren't written with the specific intention of writing chord progressions that sounded different, they were simply expressing themselves and that's what came out.

Try every different way you can and experiment with what works for you. And also remember that the chord progression does not have to be complicated at all.
It simply needs to just serve your purpose.

Start with listening when you're writing, that's what your audience will do.

#5

I really don't think there is a set way or rule for how to write a chord progression, if you a re getting the result you want then you're doing it right.

However, a couple of things that you can keep in mind.

If you start with a theoretical approach, for instance, if you start with a chord and then use your diatonic (same key or scale) chord options, you're not even scratching the surface of all options there are.
This is a great way of figuring out keys and progressions and once you get in to chord substitutions and modes it get's really fun and interesting...BUT beware of it sounding stale and boring, you don't want your progression to end up sounding like a mathematical formula. NOT saying it will…but it can.

Another approach is to start from a listening point of view with a purpose and a goal for your progression.
What is the progression for? How should it sound? Is it for a guitar solo? Supporting a vocal? Scoring the next Tarantino movie?

Start with a sound you like and then try all different combinations of chords (you'd be surprised at how cool the "wrong" chord can sound if put in the right spot)
If you end up finding something you love (or hate) you can always figure out the theory behind it afterwards and maybe you'll figure out what it is that creates your own sound or style.

Just listen for what you're hearing and try to play it, rather than trying every theoretical possibility you know…
Music is meant to be listened to, not dissected.

Countless of genres are based on "rulebreaking".
Blues mixes major and minor tonalities, the flat 5 note etc.
Some grunge and pop music in the early 90's started replacing diatonic minor chords with major and suss chords…the list is never ending.
But one important thing about these genres and it's writers is that they weren't written with the specific intention of writing chord progressions that sounded different, they were simply expressing themselves and that's what came out.

Try every different way you can and experiment with what works for you. And also remember that the chord progression does not have to be complicated at all.
It simply needs to just serve your purpose.

Start with listening when you're writing, that's what your audience will do.

michaelsocarras

Registered User

Joined: 07/29/10

Posts: 12

I never did this before but now I bought a book and studied some of this stuff. That's what has me writing better songs.

Here are some progressions.

i VI iV IIo V

so in Em this would be Em CM Am F#dim and Bm

Some other ones are:

I IV V

V VI I

I VII

I V III IV

You can use all different variations of this.

#6

I never did this before but now I bought a book and studied some of this stuff. That's what has me writing better songs.

Here are some progressions.

i VI iV IIo V

so in Em this would be Em CM Am F#dim and Bm

Some other ones are:

I IV V

V VI I

I VII

I V III IV

You can use all different variations of this.

JoaquinCastillo

Registered User

Joined: 03/27/11

Posts: 40

I either come up with them or follow the scale harmony. But I mostly come up with them by ear.

#7

I either come up with them or follow the scale harmony. But I mostly come up with them by ear.

CSchlegel

Guitar Tricks Instructor

Joined: 08/09/05

Posts: 7744

Originally Posted by: 053804
how do you guys come up with chord progressions when writing a song?

I find it more effective to start with a melody, or melodic idea. After I have a melody, the possibilities for chord progressions practically suggest themselves!

For more on this approach look at these tutorials on music theory, improvizing & targeting chord tones:

http://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=876
http://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=483
http://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=491

http://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=166
http://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=167
http://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=146

http://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=644
http://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=759

Have fun!
Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory

#8

Originally Posted by: 053804
how do you guys come up with chord progressions when writing a song?

I find it more effective to start with a melody, or melodic idea. After I have a melody, the possibilities for chord progressions practically suggest themselves!

For more on this approach look at these tutorials on music theory, improvizing & targeting chord tones:

http://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=876
http://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=483
http://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=491

http://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=166
http://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=167
http://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=146

http://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=644
http://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=759

Have fun!
Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory