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Creative Chord Progressions

Do you want your songs to take off in surprising directions, avoid cliches, and bypass the
tried-and-true? I created this page to help songwriters expand beyond I-IV-V chord
progressions and vanilla major and minor chords.

Welcome to Milo Ippolito's unschooled approach to music theory and composition.

Don't worry. I won't lead you to atonal hell. For me, the point of writing music is to create
ear-pleasing compositions that sound like nothing you've heard before. If you share this
passion, please read on.

A Word on Music Theory
Use it to expand your horizons; don't let it reign you in.

The most important rule is: If it sounds good, do it.

Opening Chord Changes: Roads Less Traveled
The first two chords set a progression in motion. Start off in an unfamiliar direction and you
will discover new musical territory to explore.

Below I've suggested opening changes taking you to each step of the chromatic scale. The
chord changes are written in Roman numerals (followed by a random example).

 im7 - I6 (Em7 - E6)
 i - bII (Em - F)
 I - iim#5* (D - C/E*)
 I - bIII (A - C)
 IM7 - III6 (FM7 - A6)
 I - IV7 (C - F7)
 i - bv dim (Bm - F dim)
 I - V sus (D - A sus)
 I - bVI aug (E - C+)
 I - VIm7b5 (C - Am7b5)
 i m7 - bvii m7 (Am7 - Gm7)
 I - VII7 (C - B7)
Closing Cadences: There's More Than One Way to Get Back Home
There are plenty of ways to bring home a chord progression without the V7 cliché. Here are
a dozen alternative turnaround chords—one for each step of the chromatic scale. The
chord changes are written in Roman numerals (followed by a random example).

To my ears, all of these cadences do a good job of creating harmonic resolution. I doubt
you'll find many alternatives that work quite as well. And sometimes V7 is still the best
solution.

(Note: Many of these turnaround chords will also resolve to the relative or root minor.)

 I sus - I (D sus - D)

C7) Original Chord Progressions: Steal These or Write Something Better Don't limit yourself to standard chord progressions. Respect cliches for what they are.G7 .E)  iim7 . so have at 'em.B7.G)  ii .I (E7#5 .C6 .I (Dm6 .V7. but try not to fall into the trap of using them all the time.Am .I (Dm7 . you will probably wind up using one of these for the harmonic backdrop.IV .G .F)  I .i (G7 .V7 .ii . Music is out there in the air. Below are some unusual progressions I've used in creating songs. you can probably play 99.V (C .I (Ab dim . Finally.V (C . Cliché progressions can sound pretty cheesy if not used carefully and sparingly.I+ .I (E+ .  bII7 .bVII .G)  I . If you know these. V7#5 .V7 (Am .G .IV7.C)  bVII7 .D)  i .C)  bIII7 .) .IV (C .C)  I .vi .A)  bV dim . They've definitely been overused. Writing an original chord progression—that sounds good—is tricky.F . Start off in an intriguing direction. They make singing a whole lot easier.A)  bVI dim .I (F# dim .G)  I . Here is a short list of common chord progressions presented in Roman numeral form followed by an example. If you write a song starting with the melody. You'll know it when you hear it.C)  VI sus .Am .F .Em)  III7sus .I . But there's a reason for that.D)  VII aug . You may write a great song using a standard progression.bVI . and we just find it.I (A sus .vi .Dm .Am .C)  V7sus .IV (A .I (C7 .C .G .I6 .F . Use your ear to discover where the music wants to go next.I7. I may not be the only person to come up with these chord changes. They work.vi .E7)  I7.bVII .I7 (C .IV7 (E7. try out different ways to resolve the progression.I (Dm .V (C .C)  ivm6 .I (E7sus .F) Standard Chord Progressions: A Song Your Mother Would Know There are several tried-and-true chord progressions.A7 E7.9% of all songs ever written.I (E7sus .IV .V .A).C+ . (FYI: Chord progressions cannot be copyright protected.I (F7 .A7)  I .  I .

They prefer the company of other fluffy cloud chords.F)  Minor Seventh (A .E7 | E7 . They can also be moody. Progressions built around this chord have a distinct character and should be considered as a category of their own.E . Take what you can use:  ||: Dm7 . Don't feel stupid if you don't recognize some of these. Common three- note chords just don't fit in.)  Major (C-E-G)  Minor (A-C-E)  Suspended (C .Bb69/G :|| (F7) |  | Bm | C | Fm | E dim |  | D | C/E | F | A/E |  | A | C | Bm | A |  ||: FM7 | A6 :|| C | E + |  ||: A | D7 :|| Cm6 | E7#5 |  ||: Fm | B dim :|| (Gm7) |  | D | A sus | E | B sus |  | B | G+ | E | A7 |  | D | Bm7b5 | D | Em7 | D | Bm7b5 . followed by an example from the key of C or thereabouts.Eb+ | Em | Minor Seventh Chord Progressions: Songs From Dreamland The minor seventh chord is special because it is the only four-note chord that sounds as stable and consonant as a simple major or minor triad. The extra note gives the minor seventh a fluffy cloud feel. Here are the chord names.G)  Augmented (Ab . (Some chords don't belong to any key.D6 :|| (Bb7) ||: Gm6 .D .E)  Seventh (G . To maintain the mood.D7) |  | C | B7 | Em | B+ | C | B7 | Em .G) .Here is a list of "original" chord progressions that sound good.F.Gm6 | D |  ||: Em7 | Dm7 :|| (Dm6) ||: CM7 | Dm7 :|| (Fm6 . And they have elitist tendencies. gravitate toward the following chord types:  Minor seventh  Major seventh  Suspended seventh  Minor sixth Standard Chord Library: The Basic Harmonic Tool Kit I'll get into some weird stuff in a bit. First let's start with a list of the basic chords everyone should know.B .C .C . Minor seventh progressons have a dreamy sound. and please don't be offended if this is all too obvious.

The ones here sound intriguing and are potentially useful for the right song.E. Here are the three most useful inversions:  Minor (first inversion) Am/C  Major (second inversion) C/G  Seventh (third inversion) G7/F Non-traditional Sonorities: Are these Even Chords? I've been experimenting with chords that are unnamable in the traditional musical language: chords that don't fit into the categories of major. suspended.A .E . minor.A)  Minor Sixth (D .D . fifth.E . There's a fancy way that classical composers write inversions. To my ears.A) .B .F) Chords Seldom Heard: Use at Your Own Risk The following are nameable but rarely used chords. There are plenty of other possible chords (that sound like crap).F . Here they are:  One two six (C .B)  Minor Seven Flat Five (B . I'm trying to find ways to work them into progressions myself.D . etc.G# .C.C .E)  Major seventh sharp 5 (C .E) Chord Inversions: The Movable Bass Note An easy way to give simple chords a fresh sound is to move the bass note.E)  Sixth (C .G .A)  Diminished (Ab .B .F)  Sixth suspended 2nd (C .C .F .F)  Major seventh suspended 2nd (F .  Added 2nd (C . The easier way is to put a backslash after the chord followed by the bass note you want used.G . try putting the bass on the third. The minor sixth is a sublime inversion of the spooky minor seven flat five.D . They're more like harmonic clusters.  Major Seventh (F . Instead of always having the bass play the root.A)  Seventh suspended 2nd (G .D . I guess.D .C . some chords sound better inverted.D ." But to me.F)  Seventh Suspended (G .G .A .D . My classical music friends call them "sonorities.Ab .A .E . any group of notes played at the same time is a chord.B)  Minor major seventh flat 5 (F . The sus2 is a smoother-sounding inversion of the sus4.G)  Minor add b6 (A . or seventh interval of the chord.

melody on major 7th (E)  Minor Seventh (Em7). It makes sense. a suspended 2nd or add 9 does the trick. to be Taken Lightly You've probably discovered that a lot of these are damn near impossible to shape into guitar chords. melody on root (C)  Added Ninth (F add 9).B . If you absolutely need the "ninth" in the harmony. Put the melody on a note outside the chord once in a while. Complex harmonies work best with simple melodies.F)  Six-Nine (C . step out on a ledge.  One five six (C . If the melody relies on a third or fifth. . thirds and fifths.E) Ninth Chords: Number Nine. These are the only ninth chords that really do it for me:  Seven Sharp Nine (E . melody on 6th (A)  Seven Sharp Five (B7#5). Notes outside of the chord usually serve as passing tones.G#)  One five major seven (F . spice up the chord around it. your melody will fall on intervals of the accompanying chord: roots.E .  Play only the triads and let the keyboardist color in the chord.E)  One flat five sharp five (C .  Remove one of the E-strings. Here are a dozen melody/harmony relationships that are worth a try:  Sixth chord (C6). Unless you are a jazz virtuoso. . but it can be done. a seventh chord is good enough. .G .A .D .D .B .G . I'm not a huge fan of ninth chords. melody on 7th (D)  Suspended (Csus). Here's my best advice for wrestling with the damn six string:  Play everything in C or Am.G)  Minor Seven Flat Nine (E .D) A Note to Guitar Players . Number Nine . I'm just not. You will need to depend on stable harmonies and traditional scales most of the time. It's like teetering on a tightrope. melody on augmented 5th (G) .A)  One two three (C .G .Gb . I find that composing on a keyboard instrument allows me to be more creative. But every so often. For me.C .D . guitars can limit your songwriting.  Google alternative tunings.  Learn to play the accordion.  Play bass live and let the guitar chords be someone else's problem. Balancing Melody and Harmony: Much Like a Bird on a Wire In most cases. .G# .  Leave out the fifth or the root and let the bass player handle those notes. without any tritone dissonance. But is making sense all we want out of music? Try creating more interesting relationships between melody and harmony.

melody on 4th (C)  Sixth Suspended Second (C6sus2). melody on 2nd (G)  Seventh Suspended (E7sus4). melody on flat 5th (D)  Seventh Suspended (G7sus4). melody on major 3rd (E)  Seventh (Ab7). Minor/bass on flat third (Dm/F). melody on minor 3rd (B)  Major/bass on fifth (F/C). melody on 5th (A)  Diminished (Ab dim). melody on flat 2nd (F) .