How to Write Music

This is our old "How to Write Music" course. It has been replaced by our new Pop Music Theory course.

4. Chord Progressions


Lesson 4: Chord Progressions

(This lesson is a basic introduction to chord progressions. If you already know what a chord progression is, you can skip to Lesson 5: Playing Chord Progressions or Lesson 7: Create a C-F-G Progression.)

You learned what a chord is in Lesson 3: Chords; in this lesson, we discuss how chords can serve as the foundation of a song.

A string of chords played one after another is called a chord progression. Here's an example, using the chords C, F, and G. Click the > button to play it:

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    | C   F | G   C |

If you play a chord progression (e.g. on a guitar or piano), and at the same time you sing or play a melody, that's all you need for a basic song. However, any old chord progression doesn't usually sound good with any old melody; the two need to fit together. So, you need to either (1) write the chords first and then write a melody that fits those chords, or (2) write the melody first and then write a chord progression which fits that melody, or (3) write both the chords and melody together. It's much easier to learn how to (1) write the chords first—in fact, you probably have to know how to do this before you can do (2) or (3)—so that's why I start teaching chord progressions before melodies.

By the way, you don't actually have to write your own "original" chord progression in order to write a song. Chord progressions aren't necessarily unique between different songs the way melodies are, so they aren't generally copyrightable. In fact, some very common chord progressions, like the "12-bar blues" progression and the "Rhythm changes" (I-VIm-IIm-V) progression, have been used for thousands of different songs. This means that you can often take a chord progression from an existing song and reuse it in your own song. Or, to be more original, you can take short chord sequences from two or more songs and combine them. But if you want to really write your own chord progressions, then you will want to learn the theory that makes chord progressions work, and/or experiment a lot with combining different chords into progressions.

Now that you know what a chord progression is, you can play a chord progression in Lesson 5: Playing Chord Progressions.

by Conrad Albrecht 2015. Questions, comments, ideas? Tell me on Facebook!

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