March 24, 2011
"Selecting Your Chord Progression"
By: David Randle
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. You can watch it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pidokakU4I
In the next post I will give you some great exercises to work with to get your juices flowing around the use of
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.
David Randle is a lifelong guitarist and songwriter, with a highly developed knack for producing and arranging. He
spends a great deal of time mentoring and coaching aspiring music artists and songwriters to rise to the pinnacle
of their abilities. Music definitely is a language we all can understand.
Known as both My Songwriting Coach and the Guitar Lesson Expert, you can find articles throughout the web on The
Songwriting Blog and Music Lesson Expert.