Using Chord Progressions to Write Songs

Here's the deal...you’re probably not going to strum an A minor throughout an entire song (although you can, of course), so it’s time to recruit some chords and assemble them for your song. Gathering and organizing your chords is the act of building a chord progression. This chord progression is going to be the backbone of your song.

Depending on how you write, your chord progression can be formed or inspired differently. Some writers think up a cool vocal melody and build a song around it, which is a very effective way to write if that’s how music comes to you. This vocal melody will probably follow some sort of chord progression, or contain the notes that fit into or harmonize with a chord progression. In other cases, the chord progression may be strummed out on guitar, or developed on the piano or violin, then vocals come in later. Either way, this chord progression is going to set the mood and tone for your song.

There are an infinite number of different chord progressions with different notes and melodies layered in available at your disposal. A progression containing minor chords will sound dissonant and sad or ominous, while major chords will sound more optimistic and happy. These can be great tools to help establish your mood – if you’re writing a song about a bitter heartache, you’re not likely to fill the chord progression with major chords that will make it sound like a sunny walk in the park. Conversely, if you’re writing a happy song and the progression is mostly minor, the meaning can get lost in the dark, moody tone.

If you aren’t that chord savvy, but come up with great riffs or modes, you can reverse engineer them into chord progressions, you just need to find the chords that go with the notes you’re already playing. Barre chords can be really helpful for this when you’re just starting out on guitar. Coming up with a great riff is a huge challenge in music, but you don’t want to just keep playing it throughout the whole song, turning that riff into separate chords and strumming them at some point in the tune helps develop layers and make.

Also, if you’re having trouble writing a vocal melody, but you have the chord progression down, looking within that chord progression for notes to sing makes it much simpler. Simply noodle around your chord on the piano or guitar until you hit either a note in the chord that sounds good. Some great vocal melodies were written via guitar riffs from bands like Alice in Chains, The Rolling Stones, etc. These bands do great jobs of weaving vocals in with their riffs, and often harmonize or sing along with the notes in their chord progressions.

If you’re having difficulty coming up with a chord progression or a melody, simply listen to some tunes you like and try to build off of the chord progression in that song. Maybe add in another chord, or take one out. Using existing music can be a great help in songwriting, as having a song you’re working with already written, and generally by a band you enjoy, is a great platform on which to build.

Basically, songwriting can be hard, and using all of the available tools (like Lyricnote) to do it is what is going to make it easier to piece something together, or finish your inspiration that was only 80% complete. Chord progressions, whether written first, second or third, serve an important function in songwriting. Learning how chord progressions are formed and practicing them yourself are fundamental to good songwriting. Now get out there and throw some chords together!

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