How To Create Chord Progressions

Almost everything I write starts with lyrics – guess years as a journo has made the words the part that comes easiest! So what I’ll generally do is draft the lyrics, then come up with a chord progression. From there, while singing the lyrics over that progression a melody will emerge. Simple enough, but coming up with chord progressions is something I find particularly tough, especially as my knowledge of music theory is somewhat limited.

Over the last couple of months I’ve been trying something new. First off, I’ll play around with two or three chords that I like – generally using the circle of fifths as something of a reference point (more on that another time). Then I’ll actually type those two or three chords into a Google search and see what comes up – and generally there will be a whole bunch of songs that include those chords. I’ll then check out what other chords are used in those songs – but I never listen to the songs to avoid duplicating the sound/feel of what that artist has done with them.

My song “Senses” is a good example. I’d come up with an A/Bm7/C#m7/Bm7 progression but didn’t know where to go next. Punch those chords into Google and songs by Michael Jackson, Prefab Sprout, Elton John and Savage Garden popped up (amongst others)!  D cropped up in a couple, as did Dm – so I mucked around with both and before I knew it those two chords (together with an A) created a chorus pattern.

Cheating? I think of it more as a shortcut that can lead to some interesting results, but nothing that I couldn’t have done with a broader music theory knowledge (and I do try and work out the theory behind why those chords work, so at least I’m learning a bit of theory each time).

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