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For those trying to write their own chord progressions

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Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 5349
Topic starter  

Just for the fun of it I've been trying to come up with a simple set of 'rules' that would allow anyone to come up with good sounding chord progressions. Ofcourse this is just to get started writing your own songs and it's not a replacement for learning theory. So far I've come up with the following:
To keep things simple only diatonic chords are allowed. In the examples we'll be using the key of C, which means the following chords are allowed:
Dm D F A
Em E G B
Am A C E
Bdim B D F

Now we'll create four 'groups', with each chord belonging to one of them.
I: C
II: Am, Em
IV: G, Bdim

From every chord you may proceed to a chord that follows atleast one of these rules:
1) Both chords share two notes. Eg: A-minor and C-major.
2) Both chords belong to the same group. Eg. A-minor and E-minor
3) The second chord belongs to the next group. Eg. A-minor and D-minor
4) As a special rule the chord of group I may also go to the chord a fifth higher or lower.

This means that each chord can lead into the following chords:
C: Am, Em, G, F
Dm: F, Bdim, G,
Em: C, Am, F, G,
F: Dm, Am, G, Bdim
G: Em, Bdim, C
Am: C, Em, F, Dm
Bdim: C, Dm, G

General rules for the progression itself:
1) The progression should consist of an even number of measures.
2) The progression should end on a chord from group I or IV.
3) The progression should start with the chord from group I.

Just a few examples of 'allowed' progressions:

So in short: start at C and then just follow the table. Ofcourse this applies to every key. Let me know what you think of it.

Honorable Member
Joined: 22 years ago
Posts: 646

Well, the rules could be more effective, for example they eliminate the common and important movements of C->Dm and G->Am.

Also I most definitely don't like the names (Roman Numerals) you use for chord groups:
I: C
II: Am, Em
IV: G, Bdim
because the Roman Numerals already have a very fixed and important function in musical notation.

The usual grouping is:

Tonic: I (C) and vi (Am)
Subdominant: IV (F) and ii (Dm)
Dominant: V (G) and vii (Bdim)
Ambiguous: iii (Em) (but usually serves a subdominant function)

There are several schemes similar to yours (for example ) that are more complete.

The one above misses the common V->IV movement though.

Helgi Briem
hbriem AT gmail DOT com

Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 5349
Topic starter  

Well, the rules could be more effective, for example they eliminate the common and important movements of C->Dm and G->Am.

Very true. And there's way more that's left out. The problem is that I'm looking for a simple set of only a few general rules that still leads to a pretty big ammount of possible progressions. The final result I'm looking for is a few lines of text that would allow anyone, even those who've never ever heared music before, to write a song. To be complete would unfortunately require specific rules, which I've so forth been able to limit at just one. On a sidenote, the link you gave me allows leaves the entire Bdim chord out.

Thanks for thinking along! :)

Noble Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 2261

When you're happy with the rules, give me a shout - I'll turn it into a webpage that spits progressions out at the click of a button... - Guitar Chord/Scale Finder/Viewer

Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 5349
Topic starter  

Chords: Thanks for the offer, I'll remember it! :) But it's not even remotely near anything usefull. This only works for major keys and doesn't help with getting a chorus, for example.

Sport: Both ways are possible. Forget conventional theory and try it for yourself. As both chords contain an F and A note the difference between them is so small you can go both ways with little problems. You can continue that as long as you'd want, you can even totally ignore the function of the chords. Take for example the following progression of eigth meassures.



It's a somewhat weird progression as you constantly expect a more 'final' progression but it is on itself no problem. Put a nice melody over it and it works excellently.

Active Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 10

Ignore convention and theory, trust your ears...

Music, while definitely finite in regards to how notes resolve to eachother, should not be dictated by "rules".....

There are only 12 notes.....its that simple....


Trusted Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 35

Ignore convention and theory, trust your ears...

Yes... this guy is wise... why sounds the way "the man" wants you to?

"my choice is what i choose to do
and if i'm causing no harm
it shouldn't bother you
your choice is who you choose to be
and if your causin' no harm
then you're alright with me"
~Ben Harper

Noble Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 1157

How did you separate your chord groups( The part Helgi didn't like)?

Chuck Norris invented Kentucky Fried Chicken's famous secret recipe, with eleven herbs and spices. But nobody ever mentions the twelfth ingredient: Fear!

Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 5840

Music theory does not consist of rules. It is the consolidated musical experience of millions of musicians over several hundred years.
Theory is the grammar of music. It tells you what works best and is most acceptable to all concerned - it does NOT stop you ignoring those conventions and doing something completely different. The fact of the matter is, that most musicians start out by flouting the "rules" (as they see it) of music theory, only to discover, by hard experience, that the end result of their rebellion is conformity to musical convention, i.e. musical theory.
The most efficient way to walk is by putting one foot in front of the other. You can do whatever gymnastics you like, but, in the end, you'll come back to putting one foot in front of the other, like everyone else.

I started with nothing - and I've still got most of it left.
Did you know that the word "gullible" is not in any dictionary?
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