Tips to Create Chord Progressions

In this post we will be looking at some tips that you can use to create chord progressions and start making your next song. I also did a little bit of that, as you will listen throughout the post. It was the result of mirroring technique, diatonic and chromatic voice-leading all put together using common chord progressions and changing them a little bit so it’s not more of the same.

Let’s have a look:

Common Chord Progressions

First off, there are some very common chord progressions or chord movements out there, that you can listen to in many songs:

tips to create chord progressions
tips to create chord progressions

Or

tips to create chord progressions

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the roman numerals refer to each degree of the scale upon which chord is built. In the C major scale, C is the first degree, D is the second and so on:

Each tonality has a set of chords that are a result of superimposing the notes of that scale on top of each degree:

If you have doubts about how this is done, check out the following links and then come back to this post:

Back to the typical chord progressions. I should mind you that, in a broader sense, any chord can succeed to any other chord. And with that said, you don’t have to feel obliged to use those chord progressions in the order I mentioned. Instead of a ii – V – I chord progression, you can switch the order of the chords and use a V – ii – I and then create a contrasting section with a vi – IV – I, instead of a vi – IV – V – I, like this:

Experiment with these and find a proper fit for what you are looking for. Those chord progressions will not let you down. But sometimes you are looking for something else, something that helps your chord progression pop.

At this point, I should tell you that you should develop the ability to at least predict if the chord you are hearing next is minor or major. This alone will take care of some of the heavy lifting regarding chord choices.

Chord Progressions and Voice-Leading

But there are other fun ways that will help you to create chord progressions. You can use those typical chord progressions as templates and then go from there. One of such ways is to use voice-leading. This consists in making sure that the notes from one chord move to the next chord diatonically – a step or half-step within the possibilities of that scale; or chromatically – moving in half-steps with notes that are outside of that scale:

diatonic and chromatic voice-leading

Whenever possible, you should also aim maintain common tones. This ensures that your chords progress from one to another in a smooth way. In sum, try to move the less possible.

Now, what you need is a departing and an arrival chord. In the middle you will try to fill in with another chord using the voice-leading approach. In the following example the departing and arrival chord are the Dsus2 7 and the Gadd9 – the ii and the V of C major. Explore this by using different chords within the same scale and do it diatonically and chromatically. Here is how you can do it:

tips to create chord progressions
The notes in red represent which notes were moved diatonically or chromatically to the following chord

Remember that any chord can succeed to any other chord. That said, you could reorganize all the above chord material and create your own chord progression in a completely different order than what was shown. The idea is to produce material that you can experiment with and use, or not. You can always adjust the chord voicings for better voice-leading. Here is another example of a chord progression produced with voice-leading movements:

tips to create chord progressions
The notes in red represent which notes were moved diatonically or chromatically to the following chord

Mirroring

As for the next approach, the technique I used here is called mirroring. As the name implies, it consists in mirroring the interval relationship between the notes of a given chord. Usually, you do the mirroring based on the extremes of the chord using those chord tones as pivot pitches, but you can apply this technique starting on any chord tone you like. 

chord mirroring
chord mirroring

Mirroring down from the lowest chord tone

chord mirroring
chord mirroring

Mirroring up from the highest chord tone

As shown, starting on the root the chord tones interval relationships are reflected down and if you start from the top chord tone, the interval relationships of the pitches are reflected in the upward direction.

You can also do it diatonically by preserving the number of the interval based on the scale you are using; or chromatically, by preserving the quality of the interval. Remember that you can apply the inverted relationships starting on any chord tone you like:

diatonic mirroring
chromatic mirroring

Here is the result of the application of those techniques in context:

tips to create chord progressions

And now, over to you! Take these tips, explore these ideas and go make some music! In case you had any trouble following along, make sure to check out the appropriate links contained in this post and then come back.

Happy composing!

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