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Lesson 154: Composition - Starting with a Chord Progression

Using a Common Chord Progressions

Examples of common chord progressions:

  • pop progression #1: C - Am - F - G ( aka "the 50's progression")
  • pop progression #2: C - G - Am - F ( listen to Four Chord Song by The Axis of Awesome)
  • pop progression #3: Am - G - F or the variation #3B: Am - F - G
The pop progressions #1 and #2 are also often started on the third chord and we get:
  • pop progression #1B: F - G - C - Am
  • pop progression #2B: Am - F - C - G
Pop progression #2 is also often started on the fourth chord and we get:
  • pop progression #2C: F - C - G - Am
Another much used chord progression is from classical music:
  • Pachelbel's Canon progression: C - G - Am - Em - F - C - F - G

Contrafact, Reharmonization and Messing with a Chord Progression

A contrafact is a new melody written using a familiar harmonic structure. Composing contrafacts was very common in jazz during the bebop era, when musicians wanted to use and improvise on standard chord progressions but wanted the composer's royalties for themselves. Contrafact is still a very viable technique, unless it is done too obviously.

One way to avoid being too obvious is to use reharmonization, which means to substitute chords in a progression. I have written a few lessons on reharmonization - check out lesson 7, lesson 35, lesson 102, lesson 105 and lesson 138.

You can also have a lot of fun and get a lot of good ideas if you mess with standard chord progressions. I have shown the B and C versions of the pop progressions above. You can try starting any chord progression on any chord and you may come up with a very interesting result. Just take the infamous II - V - I progression Dm7 - G7 - C and reverse it. This is called retrograde and what you get, C - G7 - Dm7, is called a retrogression. Write a melody on that and you will have something different...

Inventing a Chord Progression of Your Own

You can also invent an original chord progression. Just try to come up with a few chords that sound good together and you're off.

The composition Lighthouse that I co-wrote with Tom Forsman was written that way. I came up with the very original chord progressions for an A and a B section and Tom Forsman improvised the melody.

Another example is my composition Innocent Mental Mood:

  1. I started with the chord progression Bbadd9 - F - Cadd9 - Gmadd9
  2. I developed it a little, it became Bbadd9 - F - Cadd9 - Gmadd9 ( x3) - Bbadd9 - F - Ebmaj7#11
  3. I added a melody
  4. the melody then developed into a B and a C section, it wanted/ needed a new chord progression for the C section, this new chord progression became F - Dm - Am - Bbadd9 - F - Gm - Am/E, which then returned to the development of the original progression Bbadd9 - F - Cadd9 - Gmadd9 - Bbadd9 - F - Ebmaj7#11

A third example: I tried starting the chord progression Bbadd9 - F - Cadd9 - Gmadd9 on the F chord. I got F - Cadd9 - Gm7 - Bbadd9, that sounds very smooth and it inspired me to write a new song with that chord progression in the chorus. It became a pop song ( I haven't written many of those during the last 10 years or so) and I called it Pick Me Up!. :-)

A fourth example: my composition Blue Tango. Blue Tango is an AABA tune with the following changes:

A section:
Bm		| C#/F		| Gmaj7		|		|
Gm7		| Gm6		| Bm		|		|
B section:
Fmaj7		| Fmaj7#11	| Em7		|		|
Gm7		| Gm6		| Fmaj7#11/A	|		|
This is actually a rather advanced reharmonization of a very well-known jazz standard. I came up with the chord progression first and then I wrote the melody using a motif and motivic saturation. I wrote the melody many years after I had come up with the chord progression. At one point I was going to name the tune Unfinished Tango or a pun on that - Un-Finnish Tango.

Some more examples: why not be really creative and original?

  • Try the progression Bm - F(b5) - E - G#m ( rather scary and dramatic, isn't it?)
  • Or start it on the G#m chord: G#m - Bm - F(b5) - E ( now it is slightly less scary)
  • Check out my composition Tone-Deaf Blues, where I move the same constant structure, a minor chord, down and up

Examples

Listen to the following tunes:

  • Basket Case by Green Day
  • Blue Monday by New Order
  • Don't Let Me Down by The Chainsmokers
  • Don't Look Back in Anger by Oasis
  • Faded by Alan Walker
  • Get Lucky by Daft Punk
  • Full Moon Celebration by me
  • Layla by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon
  • A Major Hit by me
  • One Man One Song Part I by me
  • One Man One Song Part II by me
  • Our Man in Sweden by Kenneth Nordman
  • Resurrection by me
  • Rude by Magic!
  • Stockholm by me
  • Stormy Sea by me
  • Tilda by Kenneth Nordman
  • Too Many Lonely Nights by me
  • Turn Around by me
  • Viva La Vida by Coldplay
  • With or Without You by U2
  • Without Words by me

2016 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.