Wrong Notes for Better Chord Progressions
Can you hear the weakness in this chord progression?
It’s a common weakness that you hear in most songs. Did you spot it? If not, here’s the answer: all the chords are in the key! Wait, what?! Isn’t that a good thing? Well, not always…
You see, there are only seven chords in a key. That doesn’t give you much choice if you’re trying to make creative music. And to make things worse, one of those seven is the diminished chord, which is super dissonant, so most producers don’t use it.
You’ve probably done the maths already, and yes, you’re correct. Most of the music you hear these days is made using only six chords. Six chords! How many songs can you write with the same six chords before they start sounding the same?
And I’m afraid it gets even worse than that. Of those six chords, four of them work effortlessly together. In other words, a producer doesn’t need to know any theory to get these four chords sounding good. Sadly though, most modern songs don’t even have progressions with four chords, a lot of them use only three chords, or sometimes even just two!
And yes, of course, simple music can be good. But honestly, that was much easier to achieve decades ago when there weren’t tens of thousands of songs being released every day! These days, if you want to write a simple song with only three or four chords, all of which are in the key, then you’re almost certainly going to end up with something that sounds like someone else’s song.
So, presuming you want to make music that isn’t gonna get you sued for copyright infringement, how on earth do you do that? Easy, you use wrong notes!
Well, technically it’s not a wrong note if you actually intended to play it. So that’s what we’re going to do: intentionally play a note that is not in the key. And by the way, notes that are not in the key are called non-diatonic (or chromatic) notes.
Once you dip your toe into the thrilling world of notes that are outside of the scale, you open a door of endless possibilities, and you can say goodbye to boring music!
Alright, so now that you know the hack for making better chord progressions, you’re gonna learn how to actually apply it. So, open your DAW and set the tempo to 95 BPM. Then create a track for your chords and make a two-bar loop. Set the grid to 1/16 notes (or just for fun, you can set it to a 1/16 swing, like we’ve used).
The first thing you want to do is write a chord progression using three or four chords that are all in your scale. We used A minor in our example, so that’s all the white notes from A to A. And our chord progression is: Am → Cmaj → Gmaj → Em → Cmaj → Asus4. That sounds like a lot of chords, but it’s only really four, as we just repeated the C and A chords. That’s actually another cool hack you can use to make your chord progressions more interesting in this first step.
After you’ve written your chord progression, use inversions to make it flow better, and use an interesting harmonic rhythm to make it more creative. And if you need help with inversions and harmonic rhythm, then simply use the chord progression hacks in our Songwriting & Producing Course. When you enrol, you’ll get all our essential hacks for melodies, chords, bass and drums in 12 step-by-step videos.
So, now you’ve got a chord progression that sounds good, even though it still sounds predictable because all the chords are in the key.
This is the stage when most producers would click “Save” and reach for their phone to catch up on Instagram, but not you! You’re a true artist. You want to challenge yourself and push your creativity to the next level. That’s why you’re here.
So, here’s the hack that’ll make your chord progressions stand out from the crowd: change one chord in your progression from major to minor, or vice versa.
Don’t change your root chord, though, as then you’re actually changing the key. And if you need help with knowing the difference between major and minor chords, and how to change one into the other, then that’s all in our free book (link below).
This “wrong note” hack is so ridiculously simple, but as you’ll hear, it totally transforms the chord progression! And as a bonus, when you have a standout chord progression, it will inspire you to write a standout melody over the top, and a standout bass line below.
And just a quick warning, but it’s actually really important. Remember that some of your chords are inverted, so their notes are in a different order. This means you need to be extra careful that you move the correct note when changing chords from major to minor, or vice versa.
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