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Songwriting Lessons- Selecting Your Chord Progression

Songwriting uses the chord progression as the setting for the song, kind of like the set and scenery in a play. Just like the actors move and speak and have their being upon the stage, set, and scenery, so do the words and melody dance on that very stage that is created by the progression of chords.  If you have a deep understanding of how the lyrics, the melody, and the chords interact, and you can select the chords to elicit the same mood that the words are depicting and the melody conveys, then you have a great shot at creating a powerful song.

If you’re very observant, you will notice that a whole lot of songs use very similar if not identical progressions. That similarity is what allows the songs to lock into their genre and styles and be seen as in the pocket of the style they are competing in. Some progressions have a harder edge and are perfect for hard rock, metal, and strong blues. Others are way more relaxed and support strong, singable melodies, and as a result, are more pop and light rock sounding, even folky sometimes, although that depends more on the arrangement than the song itself.

We have cycled through the use and borderline overuse of several main progressions over the years. The I-vi-IV-V progression was everywhere in the 1950s and 60s. In addition there were hundreds, maybe thousands of songs written to the I-IV-V-IV progression , like Twist And Shout, La Bamba, Good Lovin’, Hang On Sloopy, Summer Nights (from Grease), Louie, Louie (with a modified V chord making it minor), and a whole lot more. I’ve included a video here by the Axis of Awesome demonstrating the current popularity of the I-V-vi-IV progression in today’s music. There’s a little bit of swearing, but it makes the point really well about how many songs can very creatively use the same progression, and yet sound completely original.

In the next post I will give you some great exercises to work with to get your juices flowing around the use of chord progressions.

And remember, if you’re looking for a coach to help you get your songwriting where you want it to be, we recommend My Songwriting Coach.

Songwriting Lessons – Can Songwriting Really Be Taught

Songwriting lessons are out there to be found, but do they really work? Can someone actually teach you to be a songwriter if you’re not one already. Well I’d like to answer that with some observations. Every type of artist receives inspiration and then processes that inspiration through their knowledge base. Painters paint, sculptors sculpt, poets write in verse, novelists write prose; you get the picture. We can even break down the process to a finer level. Painters paint according to their understanding and training. Some painters paint in oils, some in acrylics, some in watercolors, some use colored chalks, and many more variations. Even painters who paint in oils vary from using brushes to a palette knife, painting on canvas or painting on board. This all happens according to their knowledge base.

David Randle, My Songwriting Coach

My Songwriting Coach

So what happens when that inspiration comes to an aspiring songwriter? Well, if our songwriter only knows a couple of chords, we’re likely to get a two chord song. Now I’m not disparaging two chord songs. The band America had a major hit with a two chord song called “Horse With No Name.” But it’s one thing to have a broad knowledge base and choose to express with two chords, as opposed to being forced to write with two chords because that’s all you know. Understanding chord progressions, cadences, chord extension and substitution, secondary chords, and relative and parallel key areas will equip you with powerful tools that you can creatively use to express yourself. I maintain that the more you know, the wider the possible range of expression to interpret your inspiration. more…