Simple chord progression - where to go next

Guitar Tricks Forum > Songwriting > Simple chord progression - where to go next

theMolster

Full Access

Joined: 04/30/20

Posts: 49

Hi,

I'm working on a song at the mo and I have the verse how I like it. Very simple and looking like it's currently in the key of A.

Verse goes 1 measure Bm, 1measure A, 1 measure E, 1 measure Esus4 (fingerpicked and has a very minor tonality (if that is the right phrase to use)) Lyrics for the verse are already done.

My problem is what to do next for some sort of chorus. Obvious choices seem to be Fsharpm or D but I would like to try something different but don't really have the knowledge (or the ear!) to know what my options are. Any advice would be very very welcome.

Cheers,

theMolster

#1

Hi,

I'm working on a song at the mo and I have the verse how I like it. Very simple and looking like it's currently in the key of A.

Verse goes 1 measure Bm, 1measure A, 1 measure E, 1 measure Esus4 (fingerpicked and has a very minor tonality (if that is the right phrase to use)) Lyrics for the verse are already done.

My problem is what to do next for some sort of chorus. Obvious choices seem to be Fsharpm or D but I would like to try something different but don't really have the knowledge (or the ear!) to know what my options are. Any advice would be very very welcome.

Cheers,

theMolster

Carl King

GuitarTricks Video Director

Joined: 10/08/07

Posts: 349

Originally Posted by: theMolster

Hi,

I'm working on a song at the mo and I have the verse how I like it. Very simple and looking like it's currently in the key of A.

Verse goes 1 measure Bm, 1measure A, 1 measure E, 1 measure Esus4 (fingerpicked and has a very minor tonality (if that is the right phrase to use)) Lyrics for the verse are already done.

My problem is what to do next for some sort of chorus. Obvious choices seem to be Fsharpm or D but I would like to try something different but don't really have the knowledge (or the ear!) to know what my options are. Any advice would be very very welcome.

Cheers,

theMolster

Hey theMolster!

Since the central purpose of a "song" is a vehicle / container for the lyrics (the meaning, the vocals) -- it's good to let that element dictate the chords. Is your chorus going to need to sound happy, sad? Think of it as a story. Where is it going?

I think this is probably a common problem people get stuck on. If we try to write a song in the order we hear it, it can be tough. We write the verse first and then don't know where to go, when it should be the other way around.

I have a lot of thoughts on this topic, but I'll try to boil it down. In general (there are exceptions) The Chorus is the most important, memorable part of the song. So the most attention, thought, and work should be put into that. The Verses are only there to support it. With that in mind, the verses should be a lot less interesting, a lot less going on, lower energy in any way you can achieve that. Fewer chord changes, and probably a lower melodic range. Fewer intervals. Once that chorus kicks in, you want the fireworks going off, as if it's finally breaking free.

So: what you currently have as your Verse -- if you think it's a solid idea -- might actually work better as your chorus. THEN, work backwards from there. To come up with a verse, you simplify the chorus. If there are 4 chords in your chorus, use just 2 chords in the verse. Strip it down however you can. Fewer instruments, etc.

I think the chord progression you mentioned here [ Bm - A - E ] would be really good as a chorus. Sounds good to me. But the chord you're circling around as the home base is Bm. So I wouldn't really call it the key of A, it's more of B Dorian. Regardless of that, throwing in an F# major chord at the end of it would also help because it would be a dominant / cadence chord leading your ear / expectation to go back to Bm.

I'll post a helpful chart I use for chord progressions in my next reply.

-Carl.

Carl King
GuitarTricks Video Director / Producer

#2

Originally Posted by: theMolster

Hi,

I'm working on a song at the mo and I have the verse how I like it. Very simple and looking like it's currently in the key of A.

Verse goes 1 measure Bm, 1measure A, 1 measure E, 1 measure Esus4 (fingerpicked and has a very minor tonality (if that is the right phrase to use)) Lyrics for the verse are already done.

My problem is what to do next for some sort of chorus. Obvious choices seem to be Fsharpm or D but I would like to try something different but don't really have the knowledge (or the ear!) to know what my options are. Any advice would be very very welcome.

Cheers,

theMolster

Hey theMolster!

Since the central purpose of a "song" is a vehicle / container for the lyrics (the meaning, the vocals) -- it's good to let that element dictate the chords. Is your chorus going to need to sound happy, sad? Think of it as a story. Where is it going?

I think this is probably a common problem people get stuck on. If we try to write a song in the order we hear it, it can be tough. We write the verse first and then don't know where to go, when it should be the other way around.

I have a lot of thoughts on this topic, but I'll try to boil it down. In general (there are exceptions) The Chorus is the most important, memorable part of the song. So the most attention, thought, and work should be put into that. The Verses are only there to support it. With that in mind, the verses should be a lot less interesting, a lot less going on, lower energy in any way you can achieve that. Fewer chord changes, and probably a lower melodic range. Fewer intervals. Once that chorus kicks in, you want the fireworks going off, as if it's finally breaking free.

So: what you currently have as your Verse -- if you think it's a solid idea -- might actually work better as your chorus. THEN, work backwards from there. To come up with a verse, you simplify the chorus. If there are 4 chords in your chorus, use just 2 chords in the verse. Strip it down however you can. Fewer instruments, etc.

I think the chord progression you mentioned here [ Bm - A - E ] would be really good as a chorus. Sounds good to me. But the chord you're circling around as the home base is Bm. So I wouldn't really call it the key of A, it's more of B Dorian. Regardless of that, throwing in an F# major chord at the end of it would also help because it would be a dominant / cadence chord leading your ear / expectation to go back to Bm.

I'll post a helpful chart I use for chord progressions in my next reply.

-Carl.

Carl King
GuitarTricks Video Director / Producer

Carl King

GuitarTricks Video Director

Joined: 10/08/07

Posts: 349

uploaded image

This chord chart is a "tried and true" flow-chart for coming up with standard chord progressions, from a very popular college music theory textbook. This is burned into my brain and has been since college. I use it constantly.

Here's how it works:

In this case we're in the key of C. So, Start with a C Chord.

From C, you can go to ANY other chord to the left of it, then you work your way back to the right and get back home to C.

Following the arrows, if you moved from C to F, you could then either go to Dm or G.

This also sort of "ranks" the chords in their relative importance / frequency in music, and is also based on the circle of fifths. Chords farther to the right will tend to appear more often in more simple music. The farther you go out to the left, the longer you can take your time going back to the right, and the more of a journey the chord progression will be. You could go from C all the way out to Em, then work your way back, hitting all the chords on the way.

Note: B Diminished is sort of an oddball chord there because it's more of a substitution for the G chord, which is why I greyed it out. It's optional and you could just skip it in general unless you're writing classical music.

Try going through that flowchart and coming up with chord progressions, see how they sound. What you might find after a while is that you've exhausted a lot of the possibilities, and you'll start to "get" where the chords want to go next. At first, as a teenager, this chart really upset me -- how can most music all come down to a simple chart?! But this really is the basic for most of the music out there. A very handy formula / tool!

What I do for my songs is follow that general flowchart and then intentionally BREAK it where I want to, depending on my goal. Then start over from the broken spot and follow the rules a bit, then break it again. That ends up being a matter of your own taste.

There is also a version of this for minor keys, but it's more complicated.

Another note: at some point you'll hear the argument that when writing music, MELODY comes first, and THEN chords. But I tend to write them both at the same time, to support and react to each other. Sometimes the melody will alter the chords, and sometimes the chords will alter the melody. Some may also find this chart too formulaic and sterile. But I recommend learning it as a tool which you can choose to use or not. I have used the heck out of it. :)

-Carl.

Carl King
GuitarTricks Video Director / Producer

#3

uploaded image

This chord chart is a "tried and true" flow-chart for coming up with standard chord progressions, from a very popular college music theory textbook. This is burned into my brain and has been since college. I use it constantly.

Here's how it works:

In this case we're in the key of C. So, Start with a C Chord.

From C, you can go to ANY other chord to the left of it, then you work your way back to the right and get back home to C.

Following the arrows, if you moved from C to F, you could then either go to Dm or G.

This also sort of "ranks" the chords in their relative importance / frequency in music, and is also based on the circle of fifths. Chords farther to the right will tend to appear more often in more simple music. The farther you go out to the left, the longer you can take your time going back to the right, and the more of a journey the chord progression will be. You could go from C all the way out to Em, then work your way back, hitting all the chords on the way.

Note: B Diminished is sort of an oddball chord there because it's more of a substitution for the G chord, which is why I greyed it out. It's optional and you could just skip it in general unless you're writing classical music.

Try going through that flowchart and coming up with chord progressions, see how they sound. What you might find after a while is that you've exhausted a lot of the possibilities, and you'll start to "get" where the chords want to go next. At first, as a teenager, this chart really upset me -- how can most music all come down to a simple chart?! But this really is the basic for most of the music out there. A very handy formula / tool!

What I do for my songs is follow that general flowchart and then intentionally BREAK it where I want to, depending on my goal. Then start over from the broken spot and follow the rules a bit, then break it again. That ends up being a matter of your own taste.

There is also a version of this for minor keys, but it's more complicated.

Another note: at some point you'll hear the argument that when writing music, MELODY comes first, and THEN chords. But I tend to write them both at the same time, to support and react to each other. Sometimes the melody will alter the chords, and sometimes the chords will alter the melody. Some may also find this chart too formulaic and sterile. But I recommend learning it as a tool which you can choose to use or not. I have used the heck out of it. :)

-Carl.

Carl King
GuitarTricks Video Director / Producer

William MG

Full Access

Joined: 03/08/19

Posts: 925

Hey Molster

That is really good stuff Carl wrote. I need to study it as well. While he was writing I was messing around.

Keep writing man. It's great fun and a great learning tool.

And Carl, from both of us new song writers, thanks for the in-depth information.

https://youtu.be/vnzsb5BdrjY

"If it sounds cool, it is cool!"

Mike O

Works for me!

#4

Hey Molster

That is really good stuff Carl wrote. I need to study it as well. While he was writing I was messing around.

Keep writing man. It's great fun and a great learning tool.

And Carl, from both of us new song writers, thanks for the in-depth information.

https://youtu.be/vnzsb5BdrjY

"If it sounds cool, it is cool!"

Mike O

Works for me!

Carl King

GuitarTricks Video Director

Joined: 10/08/07

Posts: 349

Originally Posted by: William

Hey Molster

That is really good stuff Carl wrote. I need to study it as well. While he was writing I was messing around.

Keep writing man. It's great fun and a great learning tool.

And Carl, from both of us new song writers, thanks for the in-depth information.

https://youtu.be/vnzsb5BdrjY

This whole thing is making me think of old westerns, Ennio Morricone, etc. Cool progression Molster has here.

-Carl.

Carl King
GuitarTricks Video Director / Producer

#5

Originally Posted by: William

Hey Molster

That is really good stuff Carl wrote. I need to study it as well. While he was writing I was messing around.

Keep writing man. It's great fun and a great learning tool.

And Carl, from both of us new song writers, thanks for the in-depth information.

https://youtu.be/vnzsb5BdrjY

This whole thing is making me think of old westerns, Ennio Morricone, etc. Cool progression Molster has here.

-Carl.

Carl King
GuitarTricks Video Director / Producer

William MG

Full Access

Joined: 03/08/19

Posts: 925

Yes. Would like to hear what Molster ends up with.

"If it sounds cool, it is cool!"

Mike O

Works for me!

#6

Yes. Would like to hear what Molster ends up with.

"If it sounds cool, it is cool!"

Mike O

Works for me!

faith83

Full Access

Joined: 04/23/20

Posts: 194

I'm just gonna quickly chime in here and suggest that maybe your song doesn't need a chorus. Not all songs do, not even the great ones. (Think of, for example, Pancho and Lefty, Annie's Song, Billy Joel's Vienna, and almost everything that Cohen and Dylan wrote and lots more than aren't coming to mind just now).

Maybe a refrain instead? (Like, say, I'll Be Here in the Morning or Hallelujiah or Vienna)

"You can get what you want or you can just get old." Billy Joel

#7

I'm just gonna quickly chime in here and suggest that maybe your song doesn't need a chorus. Not all songs do, not even the great ones. (Think of, for example, Pancho and Lefty, Annie's Song, Billy Joel's Vienna, and almost everything that Cohen and Dylan wrote and lots more than aren't coming to mind just now).

Maybe a refrain instead? (Like, say, I'll Be Here in the Morning or Hallelujiah or Vienna)

"You can get what you want or you can just get old." Billy Joel

theMolster

Full Access

Joined: 04/30/20

Posts: 49

Thank-you to all! Really useful and very kind of you all to take the time.

So...I am going to go through the replies:

Carl: really brilliant advice I think, I never thought of it like this. 'It' breaking free is a good way to describe a verse moving to chorus and I get the point about doing things backwards. I'm not so far with learning modes yet which I think Dorian is as I'm still at the early stages of music theory. I'm currently reinforcing my knowledge in GF2 after not so far off 18months/2 years of self-teaching in both guitar, music theory, songwriting (and singing - actually a lot of hard work has gone in, even to get me to this very basic stage).

My approach to songwriting is:

Lyrics (I have no problem with words and have written many lyrics that people seem to like)

Chord progression (this is why I'm here!)

Sing the melody (this is the only way I can get a melody, by singing it. I suppose as you mention, the chords and melody come together but I don't fully understand what you mean by writing a melody. Do you mean on a staff?)

Then, maybe try to add different elements in LogicPro X but this I also find tough.

So, in effect, I write some words, sit with my guitar and play whatever chords come to my mind whilst singing and try to fit the two together. Footnote: I'm also attempting to learn to sing better because even at the tender age of 52, I still like to think I will someday perform my songs somehow, somewhere.

That chart is really useful...are there any lessons on this topic on the site? I've used the chart and will continue to play with it. What do you mean about the minor version being more complicated?

Bill: I really appreciate your time. This is the second time you made a movie for me. Did you get my personal message I sent? It's commendable how you take the time to help and I always find your posts useful! Thanks again.

Faith83: I see your posts often and they are always interesting. And funnily enough, the way it's going at the moment I've sort of gone down the road you suggest. Great advice.

I really would like to get this song to a stage I feel OK with because even picking the chords at the mo and making smooth transitions is hard, let alone the singing! As soon as I think it's OK, I'm gonna open a YouTube account and post a link. Be really great to somehow colloborate on music but I don't think GuitarTricks provides that function.

So...I hope to be in touch with all of you very soon. Greetings and respect from sunny Austria!

theMolster

#8

Thank-you to all! Really useful and very kind of you all to take the time.

So...I am going to go through the replies:

Carl: really brilliant advice I think, I never thought of it like this. 'It' breaking free is a good way to describe a verse moving to chorus and I get the point about doing things backwards. I'm not so far with learning modes yet which I think Dorian is as I'm still at the early stages of music theory. I'm currently reinforcing my knowledge in GF2 after not so far off 18months/2 years of self-teaching in both guitar, music theory, songwriting (and singing - actually a lot of hard work has gone in, even to get me to this very basic stage).

My approach to songwriting is:

Lyrics (I have no problem with words and have written many lyrics that people seem to like)

Chord progression (this is why I'm here!)

Sing the melody (this is the only way I can get a melody, by singing it. I suppose as you mention, the chords and melody come together but I don't fully understand what you mean by writing a melody. Do you mean on a staff?)

Then, maybe try to add different elements in LogicPro X but this I also find tough.

So, in effect, I write some words, sit with my guitar and play whatever chords come to my mind whilst singing and try to fit the two together. Footnote: I'm also attempting to learn to sing better because even at the tender age of 52, I still like to think I will someday perform my songs somehow, somewhere.

That chart is really useful...are there any lessons on this topic on the site? I've used the chart and will continue to play with it. What do you mean about the minor version being more complicated?

Bill: I really appreciate your time. This is the second time you made a movie for me. Did you get my personal message I sent? It's commendable how you take the time to help and I always find your posts useful! Thanks again.

Faith83: I see your posts often and they are always interesting. And funnily enough, the way it's going at the moment I've sort of gone down the road you suggest. Great advice.

I really would like to get this song to a stage I feel OK with because even picking the chords at the mo and making smooth transitions is hard, let alone the singing! As soon as I think it's OK, I'm gonna open a YouTube account and post a link. Be really great to somehow colloborate on music but I don't think GuitarTricks provides that function.

So...I hope to be in touch with all of you very soon. Greetings and respect from sunny Austria!

theMolster

William MG

Full Access

Joined: 03/08/19

Posts: 925

My pleasure Molster, and yes I did get the message, thank you.

Best of luck with your song writing, great fun!

"If it sounds cool, it is cool!"

Mike O

Works for me!

#9

My pleasure Molster, and yes I did get the message, thank you.

Best of luck with your song writing, great fun!

"If it sounds cool, it is cool!"

Mike O

Works for me!