Lesson 154: Composition - Starting with a Chord Progression
Using a Common Chord Progressions
Examples of common chord progressions:
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:
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?
Listen to the following tunes:
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