Using Chord Leading in Songwriting

Here are some great ideas to make you a better composer using chordleading!

Ultimate Guitar
You can create a chord progression using any combination of chords that sound good to your ears. Music theory, in all, isn't just math. Although, some of the chords naturally lead to other chords, which can be descried by theory. This is called "chord leading" (quite obvious, isn't it?). This concept is very useful, when you are stuck in songwriting, or you just want to practice some progressions that you are not familiar with. Anyway, the rules are ridiculously simple, let's go. For the sake of convenience, we will use the key that everybody is familiar with - C major. Play a C major chord, which is a I chord in the C major scale. To learn which chord lead where, check this table:
This chord          Leads here           
I                 | any                 
ii                | IV,V,vii*           
iii               | ii,VI,vi            
IV                | I,iii,V,vii*        
V                 | I                   
vi                | ii,IV,V,I           
vii*              | I,iii               
How to use this table? Example: That said, when you play a C chord, you can move to any chord. Let's pick a iii chord, which is a E minor chord. Looking at this table, iii chord leads either to ii, IV or vi. Let's pick IV, which is a F chord. IV leads to I, iii, V or vii*. Let's pick V - G chord. G leads only to I, so after playing G, we get back to I chord, and our progression is over, and looks like this: I-iii-IV-V C-e-F-G Pretty easy, isn't it? If you had problems knowing which chord is which one in that key - check this table below, and read the example again. I - C major ii - D minor iii - E minor IV - F major V - G major vi - A minor vii* - B dim You can try also working backward from the final chord. Usually, the final chord is the I chord, so if you want, you can try doing this in reverse, like this: if the last chord is I, check which chords lead to I. These are: IV, V and vii*. Let's pick IV. To IV lead ii, iii and vi chords. Let's pick vi. As the I chord leads anywhere, let's go to I, and the progression is over. It looks like this: I-vi-IV-I C-a-F-C Using this method, you can create infinite number of chord progressions. Then, you can do with them whatever you want. Use them as a framework, or leave them as they are. Whatever fits you. Keep in mind, that you don't have to finish every progression at the first I chord, you can continue this as long as you wish. Here are some ideas to have a party with chordleading. Remember, that music theory should be only a guide. Important guide, but still only a guide. Don't be afraid to experiment, and here are some points that you can start with. Not all of them will sound good at first, but it may lead to some good discoveries. Keep an open mind! Create a chord progression using chordleading and... 1. Change all chords to powerchords. 2. Play every chord as a bar chord, then let the notes ring freely, or play every note stacatto. 3. Play every chord sweep picked, turning them to arpeggios if you can. If you can't, maybe it's a good idea to start practicing sweeping? 4. Change progression - play it backwards. 5. Tap every chord on one string, instead of playing it. 6. Change every chord quality to 7th chord and solo over it using blues scale. 7. Change every minor chord to major, and every major to minor. (results may be very weird). 8. Re-harmonize chords, adding extensions and alternate some notes. 9. Break the rules completely, and use a random chord in the middle of your progression. If it sounds really bad, try adding more chords before this one, untill it sounds ok for you. 10. Play the chords only on the three low strings, in the lowest position possible. 11. Play the chords only on the three high strings, in the highest position possible. 12. Play all the chords using the same bass note, to cluster the harmony on one tone - try placing every chord root on the A string, playing always an open E string. Then solo over this progression, focusing on E note... or avoid E note. Whatever you do, be creative - try to do extraordinary things! About the Author: By Daniel Kaczmarczyk. As always... Mostly have fun, and don't forget to like my Facebook page.

22 comments sorted by best / new / date

    V chord could also lead to vi chord and it's used in many songs (I-V-vi-IV for example which is one of the most common progressions). And V could also lead to IV chord, for example the basic rock progression I-IV-V-IV. I would say vi chord can lead to iii chord too - that's also pretty common (for example I-V-vi-iii-IV-I-ii-V). You may also want to correct that table - it says iii chord leads to ii, VI and vi. It should be ii, IV and vi. And the most important advice - use your ears. And no chord progression is breaking the rules because there are no rules in music.
    Just to inform, In your table you have the iii chord leading on to the ii, VI, and vi chords, where it should be the ii, IV, and vi chords. I know you know what it should be, just pointing out the typo! Otherwise an interesting article, friend!
    Damn, I wish i could read this article 2-3 years ago. This could help me a lot. Nice work, daniel.kPL ! The problem with: iii - ii,VI,vi Is still not fixed! Please, correct this, newbies could be misinformated. Also, It'll be nice, if you will write same article about cord leading in 7th. And explain to newbies about this: vii*-B dim. Why is B dim? How to bick it? What chord will it be in 7th? As I can see, it can be a problem for some people, who dont know what to search. Thanks!
    I've wrote a message to admins, since I cannot edit the articles on my own. Waiting to be done. 7ths are a different pair of shoes, and it will take some time to explain it carefully
    Great lesson! but what about the formula for the minor scale? is it the same?
    Yea minor and major scales are simply based off one another. In a modal sense, c ionian(major) is the one. If you'd like to follow the minor scale (aeolian) you'd start from the 6th chord/ note of ionian which is in this case, a minor. The rules are still the same though. Note that the major scale starting from its 2nd and 3rd notes are minor modes too but conventionally when one is talking about the minor scale they mean aeolian. I hope I was clear enough for you.
    Very nice, very interesting ideas. I like the inclusion of the "this leads to that" chart, it's a very helpful guide. I also like how you encourage creativity over strict rules. Like, maybe i want to go from V to IV instead of IV to V (gasp!). All in all, very good and informative lesson. Thanks
    Most important tool that you can use is your ear. The rest of theory stuff are only guidelines. Do a lot of memorization just to increase your toolkit, but always trust your ears. If it sounds good, it's good
    So you just used your ear to make that handy chart?
    You could easily. Try it out. Pick a key. Then, lay out the chords in the key. Which chords sound like they naturally work together? If you play a V7, where can you go? Well, anywhere...but what sounds good, without extra embellishment?
    No, it's a very big subject and the information in this aritcle is a good "extract" to people who are unfamiliar with chordleading.
    Is there a key to knowing what chords lead into what? Or do I have to just memorize them? Also, great article.
    I've never understood this, you say you start with C major and it's a "I" chord. Is C major the only "I" chord or what?
    The I chord has to do with the key you are in. The I chord is always your tonic. It can be C, it can be Eb or whatever. It's the chord that feels like home. It's the most "stable" chord and everything wants to come back to it in the end. It sounds resolved. You need a context to know which of the chords is the I chord. Play C-F-G-C and C is the I chord. But you can play the same progression in G major - G-C-D-G - and then G is the I chord.
    I think to understand it you need to read the full sentence. The author writes: "Play a C major chord, which is a I chord in the C major scale." Its the I chord in the C major scale. G would be the I chord in the G major scale (and so on). Hope that makes sense.
    Actually, it would be more correct to say "Play a C major chord, is the I chord in the key of C major". Keys > scales, dude.