Practical Chord Progressions

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or you’ve never written a song in your life, the following exercises can help you build, expand, and rethink your songwriting.

If you want to become a great songwriter, you have to practice writing music. But you’re going to make greater progress faster if you practice with purpose and awareness. That’s where my Practical Chord Progressions series comes in.

Does the word “theory” send chills down your spine? You’re in luck. If you follow this series from start to finish, you’ll develop a working grasp of some of the theory that matters without memorizing arcane formulas. You’ll be spending your time creating music instead of reading about it.

All the chords you need to know are listed here. If you’re a beginner, don’t worry. They’ll be introduced one at a time.

Finally, these exercise use a series of metaphors to describe the relationships between chords. Keep in mind that there are many other possible ways of thinking about these relationships. This series provides one useful starting point for exploring chord progressions.

I. Chords in the Home Key

An Overview
I (The Tonic or “Home Chord”)
V (The Dominant or “Magnet Chord”)
IV (The Subdominant or “Neighborhood Chord”)
vi (The Relative Minor or “Shadowy Twin”)
ii (The Supertonic or “Magnetic Tunnel Chord”)
iii (The Mediant or “Moody Chord”)

II. Light and Shadow

Light and Shadow Part 1: Verse and Chorus
Light and Shadow Part 2: Creating Depth through Contrast
Light and Shadow Part 3: Reversing the Polarity of a Chord Progression

III. Secondary Dominants

Secondary Dominants: Introducing the Seventh Chord
II7 (V of V): Portal to Another World
VI7 (V of ii): A Chord Cycle