Gary Ewer

The Secrets of Harmonizing a Melody
by Gary Ewer

Return to Essential Chord Progressions  | Visit “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting" website


 

INTRODUCTION

There exists more confusion with regard to how chord progressions work than with almost any other aspect of songwriting. And more songwriters get stuck at the harmony-stage of writing than any other stage.

But creating good chord progressions need not be a mystery. With a little bit of knowledge, you can create chord progressions that work, progressions that can help make your next song a winner.

The "Essential Chord Progressions" site contains free chord progressions that you can use right now in your own songs. And I have a couple of other suggestions for you:

1) Back on the main page, subscribe to the FREE monthly Songwriter's Quick-Tips Newsletter. Because it takes more than a good set of chords to make a killer song. And...

2) Check out the downloadable songwriting e-books here that can show you every aspect of how songs work, from creating goodchords, to writing great melodies, lyrics, and more. If you really want to clear up the songwriting muddle in your brain, these e-books show you everything you need to know.


 

THE TWO MOST COMMON PROBLEMS

There are two reasons why chord progressions fail:

  1. CHORD COMPLEXITY: Songwriters try to use too many chords.
  2. CHORD CONFUSION: Songwriters use chords haphazardly without considering how chords like to move.

A good melody is like your house, and a good chord progression is like the land you choose to build your house on: it's got to be more or less smooth, or placing the house will be tricky. And while you want your landscaping to be beautiful to behold, landscaping is all about the house. Good landscaping makes a house look gorgeous!

 

STRONG and FRAGILE PROGRESSIONS

In general, most progressions can be categorized as being either STRONG or FRAGILE. And a good song usually uses both.

A strong progression is one that strongly points to one chord as being the key (or "tonic") chord. A strong progression will often use chords whose roots are a fourth or fifth apart. Take the following example, in the key of A major:

Chord Example #1: (click here to play)
A F#m Bm E7 A

The second, third, and final chord have roots a perfect fourth away from each other. B is four notes up from F#. E is four notes up from B. And A is four notes up from E.

And because the chords as presented really only exist in A major, there can be no confusion that the key is A major. EXAMPLE #1, therefore, IS A STRONG PROGRESSION.

Now take a look at this one:

Chord Example #2: (click here to play)

D Bm A Bm

This is a good example of what we call a fragile progression. The Chord roots are all a second or third away from each other. And these chords exist in D major, but also in A major, or even F# minor. This kind of ambiguity makes it a fragile progression.

Does this make it a bad progression? Certainly not! In fact, it's quite beautiful, and good songs need fragile progressions.

But you have to be careful where you place this progression. We call this a fragile progression because it does not strongly emphasize the key you are in.

 

VERSES and CHORUSES


So fragile doesn't mean bad. But you have to know when to use fragile progressions. Here's a good rule of thumb to always consider:

FRAGILE PROGRESSIONS work best in verses.
STRONG PROGRESSIONS work best in choruses.

Not only that, you will discover that the tonic note (i.e., the key note of the piece) will want to appear more often in a chorus than in a verse melody.

It's all part of structuring your music. If you aren't structuring your music in this way, your songs will feel like they lack energy and direction.

 

HOW CHORDS WORK: The Cause of the Chord Progression MUDDLE

We tend to think of all the various chord progressions as just simply... one chord following another. We write one, then... on we go to writing the next. This can result in music that is weak and riddled with failures. It is one of the biggest reasons why songs fail.

Not all chord progressions are the same. Some progressions are very strong, and we need them in crucial structural moments in our song. Other progressions are less likely to point to a particular note as being the key note. In that sense, they are fragile.

Now - THINK BACK to every piece of music you tried to write, songs you tried to make work. Did any of those failed songs have chords that sounded like... something just wasn't working? I have no doubt at all that those weak songs have fragile progressions where strong ones were needed, and too many strong ones where fragile progressions were needed.

But now... I know you want to get going right away, and so here are some chord progressions you can use right now, chords that will help get you going right away!

1) A F#m Bm E7 F#m (click here to play)
This one ends on F#m, which we call a deceptive cadence

2) A E7sus/B A/C# Dadd9 (click here to play)
This progression features three useful aspects of chord progressions: 1) Pedal tone. In this case, it's the note E that keeps sounding through each chord of the progression. 2) Inversions. An inversion occurs when a note other than the letter name of the chord appears in the bass. 3) Added tones. In this progression, the Dadd9 simply means that you should play an ordinary D major chord, and add the note E to the chord.

3) A D E A F | Bb Eb F Bb (click here to play)
This is a progression that will help you modulate (change key) up a semitone. The progression is in A major, but that F chord at the end of the first bar helps move you into the key of Bb major.

4) A G/A D/A A (click here to play)
This is another example of a progression that uses a pedal tone.

5) A F#m Dm A (click here to play)
And this final progression features what is called a "borrowed" chord, or "modal mixture." The Dm chord normally does not occur in the key of A major: it normally comes from A minor. But for this progression, we "borrow" it from the minor mode to add a bit of colour. in the music world. It's a great way of subtly getting your audience's attention.

 

LAST PIECE OF ADVICE

Don't forget... if you really want to know how to get your songs working, and how to start writing the songs that you've always wanted to write, you've got to get "The Essential Secrets of Songwriting" suite of songwriting e-books today, and start writing great songs.

If you have any questions at all, please don't hesitate to contact me:

gary@pantomimemusic.com

 

Return to Essential Chord ProgressionsVisit “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting" website