Don't Write A Chord Progression

Sep 04, 2021

Don’t write chord progressions.

What do I mean by writing chord progressions?

I mean writing from a “G, A, C” or “V, vi, I” standpoint.

There’s a difference between writing chord progressions and constructing chords as you write music.

When I talk about “writing chord progressions”, I’m talking about pulling out your guitar, playing G, D, and C chords, and calling that the beginning of your song.


Writing A Chord Progression Results In Less Interesting Chords

Songwriters want to maximize interest, right?

You don’t want your listeners to be bored. The more interesting your song, the better. 

If your melody is great and your chords boring, you’re probably doing alright. 

But if your melody is great and your chords are great? Now you’re onto something.

When you watch a movie, do you want great characters, great plot, or great characters and a great plot? 

Obviously option #3, no?

When you watched The Dark Knight were you disappointed that it had a great villain and great hero and great plot? 

I doubt it.

So why wouldn’t you want to have an interesting melody, lyrics, and chords?

Be honest, when you sit at your guitar or piano and come up with a chord progression, how often is it interesting? Did you gravitate to C, D, and G again? Maybe E, A, and B?

And, when you come up with your chord progression first, do you write an interesting melody or just find one that works with your chord progression?

If neither the melody nor the chords are very interesting when you write a chord progression first, why would you write that way?


Chords Should Be Influenced and Dictated By More Important Parts

Tell me, what do you remember most about a song?

I’m going to guess it’s one of the following:


Bass Line

Guitar Riff

Piano Riff


Drum Beat

Is it ever the chord progression? Do you listen to a song and think “Dang, that’s one sweet chord progression!”?


You probably love the groovy bass line or epic guitar riffs. Maybe you love the song for its memorable melody or catchy drum beat.

But you almost definitely don’t remember and love a song by its chord progression.

So, if the chord progression isn’t the main thing you remember, shouldn’t you lean towards writing the more memorable stuff first?

I’ve said before that songwriting is a funnel- with each creative decision you move further down the funnel, limiting your creative choices more and more as you go.

Once you choose a key and tempo, your choices become more limited. You no longer have all the notes to work with and you have a specific tempo you need to be able play and sing at.

Once you have a melody, the syllables of the lyric must fit with that melody.

Once you have the melody, the chords must match with and complement it.

So shouldn’t we maximize creative room on the parts people will actually remember? If you can have a totally blank slate for your melody or guitar riff, shouldn’t you take that over a blank slate for your chord progression?

What is important to note here is that melody doesn’t color chords, chords color the melody.

Generally, you build a room before you paint it, right? You don’t color the baby’s room until you know what gender it will be. 

You don’t color a room blue and then decide it should be a bathroom. You decide it’s a bathroom and then color it blue so you’re more calm about your bowel issues.

If the room is small, you may color it more brightly so it appears bigger.

Similarly, the camera work in a movie helps to supplement the message. Maybe they’ll use a blue tint in the filmography to help an already-sad film appear even more sad.

Similarly, chord progressions help to color a melody. The melody doesn’t color the chord progression. 

The dominant emotional force is the melody, the chords help to supplement and add to that.

Just like you’d write a movie before you’d decide on camera hues, you should write your melodies, hooks, and other more important parts before writing your chord progression.

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