When I was in college, I was in a band with a friend of mine named Andy
. Andy was an excellent songwriter with a very strong opinion on stealing. In his own words, "all the best chord progressions have already been written. Western music is pretty formulaic so if I write a new song and later realise it sounds just like "Knights of Cydonia," I don't care. I keep it."
When I first heard this, I thought it was just plain stealing. But if you think about it, when you're playing your guitar, there's only 12 keys, major and minor that you can play in. In each of those keys there's 7 chords to play around with. This system has been around for centuries. HUNDREDS OF YEARS. In that time, most of the permutations you can make within this structure have been written.
When it comes to pop and rock music, these chord progressions are everywhere. That leads things like this:
The following article is a proposal: let's all stop pretending we're writing something new. Almost anything you write will have been written before, so let's just steal our favourite chord progressions and create our own version of the song by working on the important things.
So, here are some examples of chord progressions that I have blatantly stolen and made my own. Some examples will be very different; some will be pretty similar. But they're all mine.
Things We'll Change:Beat and Meter
- This is the time signature of your song. ¾, 4/4, 6/8, ⅞ 3/2, whatever. It means how many beats are in the bar. This is a great way to break out of the same old same old song writing ruts we all get in sometimes. Try playing in ¾ instead of always in 4/4 or vice versa.Dynamics
- Pretty obvious. Play louder or softer.Key
- This is the key we're in. If you're interested in some different keys to play in check this article out. Changing the key can really change the sound of a chord progressions.Pitch
- Try playing the chord progression higher up in a different voicing.Rhythm
- Give it a different strum.Tempo
- Play it faster or slower
Things We Won't Change:Harmony
- This is the chord progression. It's fine to steal this.Musical Instrument/Timbre
- Well we're probably stuck with guitar and our own voice, but if you wanted to be an asshole you could play the banjo instead.Texture
- We'll assume again it's just you and the guitar.Melody
- You're kind of a dick if you steal someone's melody. This should be your own.
This process works in other ways - maybe you really like the way a song was played - for examples, Ed Sheerans Lego House. Steal that idea and put a new chord progression on it. You have yourself a new song. Just make sure to thank him in your album credits.Action Steps:
Take a chord progression from your favourite song and create three variations for it based on the above. Let me know how you got in the comments.About the authorEoghan O'Neill is a former guitar teacher based in Ireland. He writes about Lead Guitar Playing, Acoustic Guitar Playing, making cool acoustic covers and throws in a little bit of Psychology and Motivation here and there.