How to Make Generic Chord Progressions More Interesting

hands-playing-guitar-1528655-1599x829When you’re learning the craft of songwriting, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut with the same ol chords, same ol’ progressions.  After all, there are only finite number of chords available — after a while the combinations all start to sound similar.

But there are ways to develop an ordinary-sounding chord progression into a more interesting one.  Here are some ideas to kick-start your experimentation.

  • An easy place to start is change up the rhythm.  A song with interesting rhythm is an interesting song, so look for opportunities to create variations.  In particular, anything you can do that emphasizes the “up” beat is a low-hanging fruit in terms of getting more life out of an ordinary progression.
  • Try changing one note that makes a chord, and then resolve that note before switching to the next chord.
  • Another interest you can add is a passing chord, or two.  Look for opportunities where two chords can be “bridged” by inserting a chord that relates to both.  An easy place is if the chords are a 3rd apart, then inserting the chord that would fit between them usually works.
  • Secondary dominant is an out-of-key chord that resolves to the chord that follows it.  It provides a very strong color.
  • An advanced move would be to change the meter.  It can sound jarring at first but that could play to your advantage, or you can repeat it a few times and audience will get used to it.

(photo: Matthew Gann)