Practical Chord Progressions: Overview

In this series, I will be discussing the use of chord progressions in songwriting. My approach will be a little unusual, however. For the most part, I will not be discussing stock chord progressions that a player can integrate into his or her repertoire. Instead, I will outline some techniques for becoming familiar with basic chord relaionships.

These techniques are not just meant to help players learn theory. They’re meant to be practical methods for coming up with songs. Each article in this series will serve as a recipe for writing a verse, chorus, or bridge.

Here are some of my aims in writing this series:

  1. Provide beginners with some practical starting points for songwriting (so they won’t get stuck staring at the instrument wondering what to do next).
  2. Provide methods for breaking out of habits and looking at simple chord progressions in new ways.
  3. Illustrate how many different kinds of songs can be written around the same simple chord changes.

In light of #3, I’ve created a section of the site where musicians can submit their own results applying these methods.

I highly recommend getting a digital dictaphone or other portable recording device for these and other exercises on this site.

So why not get started now?

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John Thomas Mumm has been writing and studying music since 1997. He has recorded hundreds of songs and five self-produced albums. His day job is as an academic philosopher, and in his spare time he writes fiction and brews beer. Most recently, he's started studying the fine art of the cocktail. So far he's finding that the principles of balance in drink mixing aren't completely unrelated to the principles of balance in songwriting.

2 thoughts on “Practical Chord Progressions: Overview”

  1. I can play the piano pretty well but alwyas use sheet music. I have taught myself, and I know that there is a methodology (for want of a better word!) to which chords you play for which notes. Is there somewhere I can find out more information about which chords are which and which notes they sound best with? I would like to write some piano arrangements and am fine with the melody (right hand) but just don’t know where to start with the left hand!

    1. The basic method is to figure out what scale your melody is in and play chords from that key. For example, if your melody is in C major (all white keys with C as the root), then you should be able to build a progression out of chords in the key of C major.

      To get a feel for these relationships, you could try working through my Practical Chord Progressions series. By the end, you should be able to pick a key and write songs that stay in that key. Eventually, I’ll add posts on modulation which will teach you how to also move to other keys in the same song.

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