Spice Up Your Chord Progressions!

How to manipulate certain intervals in your chords, to make your progression sound more authentic and interesting.

Ultimate Guitar
Are your chord progressions sounding dull and predictable?

Have you found yourself wondering "does this progression sound like my girlfriends favorite pop song?''

Well have no fear because cats is here! Or are here... But since it's a nickname and not a reference to a species of animals it can be plural since there's only one me... Or is there?


Writing a catchy, yet authentic and original chord progression has been a struggle for centuries. You don't want your potential hit song, for example "Love Me Tender," to sound like something completely else, let's say "Aura Lee." There are certain rules and guidelines in writing chord progressions, in order to create that harmonic/melodic tension and release we all love to experience while listening to our favorite records.

Today I'll present you a little exercise, or a tool, for you to use in order to make your chord progression sound more fresh and "original."


Let's observe a chord progression I have come up just for this occasion.

We'll have a completely predictable minorish sound, because I'm all about that melancholy, and turn it into something a bit more interesting.

Chord progression: Em | Bm | Am | D

Before we start, let's place our progression in a different position on the neck. So instead of playing our Em like this 022000, we'll move it down the neck so it is being played like this x79987.

Em - x79987
Bm - 799777
Am - 577555
D - x57775

Morphing Time

Let's observe our Em for a second.

Played in this position, it consists of the following notes:

E (root) - B (perfect fifth) - E (octave) - G (minor third/minor 10th) - B

For me, what accentuates that melancholy and ambient of the minor chord is the minor third interval, which is present here more as a minor 10th rather than actual minor third.


The first rearrangement we'll do is adding that minor third in our current state of the chord.

So let's take that perfect fifth, B note on our D string (4th string - 9th fret), and search for our potential replacement.

Our G note, minor third, is located on the same string but on the fifth fret, so now our chord structure for the Em looks like x75987, which looks and sounds unpleasant. But the next step should remove all the unwanted finger stretchings and extra frequencies. As you may have noticed, now we have two E notes in our chord structure, therefore our next rearrangement will get rid of the extra E note. Let's take that octave (3rd string - 9th fret) and replace it with a brighter and more soothing interval, minor 7th.

The note we're looking for is located just a fret below our E, which means we're aiming for the D note, on the 3rd string 7th fret. When we put all those notes together we'll get x75787. Since we've replaced the perfect 5th with the minor third, let's remove that extra B on our high E string and we have something like this x7578x.

Now, that E minorish chord sounds more interesting to me than the x79987 version of it, of course opinions may vary and one may argue but let's see what we can do with the rest of the chords.

Bm - Am

Next on the list are Bm and Am chords, and they are the full bar chords covering the 7th and 5th fret. Let's repeat the same process we did with the Em chord. To be precise, let's locate the perfect fifth, the octave and replace it with the minor third and the minor seventh interval and remove the note on the high E string completely out of the equation. After we apply all the morphing rules and guidelines we'll turn our primal state of the Bm chord - 799777 into a more soothing and exotic sounding structure - 75777x. And our Am chord turns from - 577555 into a 53555x.

Now come a part that depends on ones finger mobility/flexibility. I like to bar those three 7's & 5's with my third finger, but if it's a bit of a stretch for you, you can leave that 3rd out of the structure and just have - 7x777x/5x555x, as your typical Bm/Am 7th chord.

D major

Morphing our D major chords depends on the preference, I like to repeat the same thing and replace the fifth, octave with the minor 3rd and minor 7th. Which would usually leave me with a very jazzy sounding - x5455x chord. But if you prefer that straight forward vibe you can leave as it is - x5777x, and it may work much better in different song structures.

Another thing you can do with this D, which requires dabbling with notes that are out of the Em key, in which are initial progression rests in, is taking that E note on the 5th fret, 2nd string and raising it a half step. That would result with - x5456x which segues into x7578x quiet lovely. It creates an extra jazz to your already jazz sounding progression and may create more room for the solo guitar to experiment in.

If you play - x5456x - x7578x - 5x555x you'll hear that initial tension and then sudden release/resolution when you land on that Am 7th chord. You can play around with that progression as well to create melodic tension|release needed to spice up your playing.


Sorry for the long post, by the way, but I hope you have enjoyed and learned something new. It's nothing revolutionary or original, it's just playing with the given intervals to create different voicings and build up tensions with your chords. I tried to explain it in the most simple way possible, I have more lessons prepared which dabble into the sphere or chord voicings and melody so stay tuned!

You can check my YouTube channel out for any extra material or further question - Cats, Coffee & Guitars - and I hope you have a nice day and cheers to you all!

16 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Beware. Useful guitar playing articles incoming.
    I am not sure what you mean, since I'm low on coffe today and my concentration is not spot on xD
    I think he means most posts of this kind are useless...
    Some may find it useful, some may find it redundant and garbage it depends on ones level of playing and knowledge. @paquiquinho
    margiecooper · Sep 25, 2016 11:29 PM
    Learning chord substitution and changing certain chord qualities (secondary dominants, altered and diminished chords etc.) goes a long way to creating some really interesting progressions.
    I absolutely agree. When I started learning intervals and different inversions of the chords my composition skills have increased immensely. I haven't gone deeper into that in this article but I probably will in the potential future lessons I hope you've found this article at least somewhat useful and enjoyable cheers!