Boring Chords? Change This...
Are your chord progressions a bit boring? Well don’t worry, cos in this tutorial you’ll learn the one thing you need to change in order to bring your chord progressions to life. And, it only takes a few seconds to change! But first… Tea.
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So here’s a chord progression that’s similar to a few songs we heard in the new releases this week. It’s in the key of A minor, so that’s all the white notes from A to A, and the chords are: Am→Em→Cmaj→Dsus2 (hear example in video/podcast). It sounds pretty good, cos we’ve re-arranged the notes around the common note E, which is on top of every chord. By the way, if you wanna learn about that, check out our Songwriting & Producing PDF. So yeah, these chords all flow smoothly into each other, and that’s the main reason why it sounds nice. But (and it’s a big but!), if you listen to this chord progression a few times, it gets boring real quick!
MIDI Screenshot: Solid but boring chord progression (Am→Em→Cmaj→Dsus2)
This example highlights how you can have a really solid chord progression, yet it still isn’t enough to catch the listener’s attention. So, what’s missing from this chord progression? Rhythm! Well, to be precise: harmonic rhythm. Harmonic rhythm is simply the rhythm of the chords in your progression. You can think of it as where each chord starts, and how long it lasts. Now, most songwriters and producers don’t know about harmonic rhythm, so they just do it by ear, which almost always results in a predictable harmonic rhythm. And a predictable harmonic rhythm is one of the best ways to bore your listeners. That’s why we’re sharing this hack with you, cos friends don’t let friends use boring harmonic rhythms!
Okay let’s get to it! Start by setting up a loop that contains at least two cycles of your chord progression. Why not one? Well, most songwriters and producers just loop their chord progression as it is, which means their harmonic rhythm is the same every time their chord progression repeats. Unless you have an incredibly interesting chord progression though, that’s also gonna get boring real quick! This hack essentially turns a two-bar progression into a four-bar progression, or a four-bar progression into an eight-bar progression. So, to take your chord progressions to the next level, use a different harmonic rhythm every second time.
Right, now it’s time to create your two interesting harmonic rhythms, one for each progression in your loop. Depending on your tempo, you’ll probably want the grid set to 1/8 notes, but if your BPM is really slow, then set your grid to 1/16 notes. Next, just play around with moving the starting point and ending point of each chord, and see where that takes you. There are no rules, but we recommend finding a balance between chords that start on the beat, and chords that start off the beat. This approach will keep your progression accessible, but also super fresh!
MIDI Screenshot: By simply changing the harmonic rhythm, that boring progression is now totally captivating!
And remember: Everything is connected! So the bonus of having an interesting harmonic rhythm, is that it will result in a far more creative lead melody on top of your chord progression, and a far more captivating bass line and drum beat underneath. This hack is about a lot more than just your chord progression! Alright, now let’s have a listen to the Before & After of our progression, so you can hear the massive difference that an interesting harmonic rhythm makes (hear example in video/podcast). Just before the playthrough though, we’d love to share one more thing with you.
Regarding the current situation around the world. As music teachers, we can’t offer much help through this difficult time. However, as most people are now stuck at home, what we can offer, is a meaningful and productive timeout from the difficulties. It’s with that intention in our hearts that we offer you 50% OFF our online course Apprenticeship #1. It contains 17 hours of video that teach every step of the writing process, from blank screen to finished song. You will literally learn everything you need to know in order to write great songs, and finish them! We know that most people are sadly on unpaid leave right now, so we hope this half-price offer helps alleviate some suffering, and we truly hope you and your families are all safe and healthy. Lastly, please remember that music is magic, so keep pumping those uplifting tunes! Thanks for being here, and until next time, happy songwriting and producing.
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