Number Of Chords Per Song

A rant on the subject of another 'aspect' of a good song.

Ultimate Guitar

Chord progressions are my favourite aspects of songwriting. I love listening to songs with intricate progressions that leave your mind too fish out the emotion from each chord, and the transitions between them describing the brain patterns that link the two emotions.

But is the subject of whether or not a song is any good actually relate to the number of chords? I would say no.

Of course referring to popular music: my favourite 'pop' song is This is the Life by Amy Mcdonald. This song harnesses four chords: C#m, A, E G#m - 1, 6, 3, 5.

If one scans the comments on many YouTube videos of this song you will assume that the song is not muscially strong because it only has four chords. I believe this is down to people being scared to use the 'cliche' chords (G, D, Em, C).

I also am an avid listener to John Frusciante and Dot Hacker, both these artists can use up to 7 different chords in just one song. Does this mean that these are stronger songs than four chorders?

I find that the more chords there are, the more complex a song is. If the song is about a series of intertwining, complex emotions then this should be a consideration, but there is little merit in using eight chords in one song about the concept of hatred.

So the morale of this story: if you like the chords you have in your song, then use them. Don't change the quantity because you think that they are lacking in quality. I would rather hear less of a shit song than a shit song trying to be recovered by using obscure chords.

7 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Personally I don't think that number of chords relates at all to how complex a song is. Theolonius Monk's "Blue Monk" uses 4 chords, but any (jazz)guitarist that is improvising over that can still come up with a complex line. It's not about the amount of chords.
    1 6 3 5=chords you got are wrong 1 isnt a minor. 6 is a minor etc
    Yeah, also the 5 chord should be either a major or dom7 or dom7#9 or whatever.
    interesting article, it's true; just because there are more chords doesn't necessarily'y mean that it's a better song. The most famous rock riffs or chord progressions are usually VERY simple.