The first step to writing a song for many beginning songwriters is the chord progression. The chord progression is typically the foundation of your song from which everything else piles onto. Writing a chord progression is easy when you understand the fundamentals of music, scales, chords, and theory. Many songwriters guess or start playing chords they think sound good together and try to write a progression. There is a much simpler approach that won’t get you frustrated when one of those chords just doesn’t sound right! You can learn to write better chord progressions!
Write Better Chord Progressions
Step 1: Pick a key and a chord you want to start on. For this blog I am going to tell you how to write better chord progressions using the C Major Scale. If you don’t know what a C major scale is, see it on our guitar page here: C Major Scale.
Step 2: Understand that to write better chord progressions, chords are to be thought of as numbers when it comes to the C Major Scale. The C chord is based off of the first scale degree C which makes it the one chord. We use roman numerals like this “I” to show a major chord built off the first scale degree. The second chord in the scale starts on D. This is shown as “ii” because it’s minor and a lowercase roman numeral. The third chord in the scale starts on E which is shown as “iii”. The fourth chord is seen as “IV” because it’s a major chord. The fifth chord is “V” because it’s major as well. Then the sixth chord built off of the sixth scale degree A is the “vi” chord because it’s minor. The last chord is a diminished “viio” so there is an o next to it. Here is a table that further explains chords in a given key to choose from when songwriting:
Step 3: Know what a progression of chords actually is. There is a simple process to write better chord progressions. You start on a tonic chord “I” then move to “V” then back to “I”. By doing this, you moved forward, progressing to “V”. Simply moving from “I” to “V” gets boring, so that’s where using more chords comes into play.
Step 4: Fill in the Gaps from the chords “I” to “V”. Chords fall under three categories, Tonic Function (I, vi, iii), Predominant Function (ii, iv), and Dominant Function (V, viio). If you write a progression of chords that moves this way Tonic -> Predominant-> Dominant ->, then you will write a chord progression that sounds great! Here is an example of chord progressions that move from Tonic, to Predominant, Dominant, and then back to Tonic.
- I -> IV -> ii -> V -> I = C -> F -> dm -> G -> C
- I -> ii – > IV -> V -> I = C -> dm -> F -> G -> C
- vi -> I -> IV -> V – > I = am -> C -> F -> G -> C
- vi -> iii -> IV -> V -> I = am -> em -> F -> G -> C
- I -> iii -> ii -> V -> I = C -> em -> dm -> G -> C
- vi -> ii -> V -> I = am -> dm -> G -> C
As you can see, all of the chord progressions start with a Tonic functioning chord, moving to Predominant functioning chords, then to Dominant functioning chords, ending on the Tonic. Now you’ve learned how to write better chord progressions!
If you would like personal assistance with any of the blog concepts, online and on-location lessons are available from Let’s Play Music and Make Art, LLC located in Derry and Londonderry, NH. www.letsplaymusic.com