Chord Progression for Songwriters

Chord Progression for SongwritersChord progressions are a vital part of song writing. Let’s learn how to construct a chord progression for songwriters.

Start with the musical scale

To start out here is a C major scale…

C major Scale

In the illustration each note of the scale is assigned a number form 1 to 7.  With the C note being “1”.  This is the starting place for creating chords.

Here is the list of names for the other degrees of the scale:

Note Position Technical name
1 TONIC
2 SUPERTONIC
3 MEDIANT
4 SUBDOMINANT
5 DOMINANT
6 SUBMEDIANT
7 LEADING TONE

To create a chord, use the basic scale using the numbers to build the chord.  The first chord is C.  To make a C chord all that is need is to use this simple formula 1-3-5.  With each number representing the number in the scale.  The C chord is C-E-G. That is the C = 1, E = 3, G = 5. Basically the chord is made up of three note at ever other note interval

The Harmonic Scale

The harmonic scale is a scale made up of chords.  This illustration show the harmonic scale.  It was built using the C major scale and the 1-3-5 formula.

Harmonic Scale

In this scale each chord is assigned a Roman numeral.  The uppercase roman numeral is a Major chord, and the lowercase represent minor chords. Using roman numerals also make is easy to transpose to different keys.  Rather than using a chord name, use the roman number to represent the chord.

Chart To Help Build Chords

Use this Chart/Grid to Help Build Chords Based on the C Major Music Scale

Fundamental Harmonic Principles

Each key comprises of three different classes of chords.  These classes are called, Tonic, Dominant, and Sub-Dominant.

The tonic class consists of two chords, one built upon the first scale step.  The tonic note is the first note of the major scale,  The two chords of the tonic class include the I and vi chords.

The dominant class consists of notes based on the fith scale step. The dominate also has three chords.  These chords include the V,  iii and vii chords.  The vii is seldom used.

The last class of chords is the sub-dominant.  This class contains two chords.  These chords include the IV and ii chords.  The basis of this class is built on the second note of the scale.

Basic rules for movement.

  1. The chords in the Tonic class may progress or move to any other chord in the the same key
  2. The chords of the Dominant class can primarily progress into those of the Tonic class.  On occasion, it the dominant move to the sub-dominant but preference is given to the tonic.
  3. The chords of the sub-dominant class mostly progress to the dominant class.

The Chord Progression Chart

With the understanding of the basic rules for chord movement, a chart can be constructed. This chart shows the most common and best sounding chord change flow.  Please note that because the vii chord is rarely used in contemporary music, it has been omitted from the chart.

To begin using the chart to construct a chord progression start on the I chord. After the tonic chord, follow it with anything. But once you’ve played a tonic chord, you can leap to pretty much any chord in your list of seven chords. You don’t have to start on the tonic chord, but for this exercise we will.

Chord Progression Flow Chart

Using the Chart let’s create a chord progression.  First start with the “I” chord.  Since this chord can go to any other chord. let’s make the second chord the “IV”.  At this point the progression is

I - IV

Going back to the chart the IV has four options I,  ii, iii and V.  For this example let’s use the ii chord.  Make the progression now..

I - IV - ii

From here there are now 2 options V and iii.  For sake of this example let’s use the V chord. Making the progression

I - IV - ii - V

Using the C major scale,  Lets translate this progression with chord names. Here is what you get.

C – F – Dm – G

There you have a chord progression,  Keep in mind you do not have to start with the I chord. You could just a easily start with vi chord.

One addition note regarding this system.

The chord changes representing in the chart are the most common changes.  But they are not the only ones.  You do have the option of not going to a recommended chord to create something completely unique. After all this is an art form. Use this chart to help you create chord progressions.  If you are unsure about the next chord this chart will help you.

Some of the most common Chord Progressions for Songwriting

Harmonic Scale

This shows the position and chord name as determined by the c music scale

C

Dm

Em

F

G

Am

Bdim7

I
ii
iii
IV
V
vi
vii

 Chord Progressions for Songwriters

This chart provide a list of popular chord progression used in many popular songs.  The first column shows the “Nashville” number.  The second column provides a sample of the progression in the key of C.  Of course you are free to transpose any of these progressions into other keys.

I – V
C – G
I – IV
C – F
I - IV - I - V
C – F –  C – G
I – IV – V – I
C – F – G – C
I – IV – V – IV
C – F – G – F
I – V – IV – V
C – G – F – G
I – ii – IV – V
C – Dm – F – G
I – ii – iii – IV – V
C – Dm – Em – F – G
I – ii – iii – V
C – Dm – Em – F
I – IV – ii – V
C – F – Dm – G
I – vi – IV – V
C – Am – F – G
I – V – vi – IV
C – G – Am – F
I - iii – IV – ii
C – Em – F – Dm
I - vi - ii – V
C – Am – Dm – G
I - vi - ii – IV
C – Am – Dm – F
vi – IV – I - V
Am – F – C – G
I – ii – V – I
C – Dm – G – C
I – vi – ii – V
C – Am – Dm – G
I – iii – vi – ii – V7
C – Em – Am – Dm – G7
ii – iii7
Dm – Em7
vi – V – IV – vi
Am – G – F – Am
vi – V – IV – V
Am – G – F – G
iii – V – vi – iii – ii – VI – vi
Em – G – Am – Em – Dm – F – Am
I - V - vi – IV
C – G – Am – F
ii - V7 - I
Dm – G7 – C
V – IV - I
G – F – C
vi – V – IV – iii
Am – G – F – Em
I- IV- I- V- IV
C – F – C – G – F
I - V - ii - vi - iii – vii
C – G – Dm – Am – Em – Bm
vi - I - IV - V
Am – C – F – G
vi – IV – V
Am – F – G
ii - V
Dm – G
ii – V – I - vi
Dm – G – C – Am
ii – V – I - IV
Dm – G – C – F
ii – V – I – IV – V - vi
Dm – G – C – F – G – Am
I – II – IV - I
C – D – F – C
I - vi
C – Am
I – iii – IV - V
C – Em – F – G
I - V - vi - iii - IV - I - IV - V
C – G – Am – Em – F – C – F – G

Continue here for more information on Understanding Chord Symbols

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9 Responses to Chord Progression for Songwriters

  1. Mitchell Batavia says:

    This is really helpful
    2 questions;
    What is the chord progression Map based on; that is, how was it developed?
    Are the classes of chords formed because they are made up of the same or similar notes eg C and Am for Tonic?

    • songwriter says:

      To understand the chord movements that the Map is based on look at the section above titled Basic rules for movement. The classes of chords are based on the position in the scale. In regards to the C and Am as both being int the tonic class is because they are relative to each other.

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  4. Wow, that’s what I was exploring for, what a material! existing here at this web site, thanks admin of this website.

  5. Greg Fox says:

    Now do the same with the harmonic minor or other scale.

  6. chord chords says:

    thanks for share.. this Chord Progression for Songwriters | Learn How to Write Songs post realy inspire me. :)

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