Where do songwriters get inspiration for chord progressions?

There are many ways to get inspiration for chord progressions. One way is to find one of your favorite songs and learn the chords of the songs. Once you get a few songs figured out you may begin to notice certain patterns emerge. Of course there are other ways to find and discover chord progressions.

Here is a basic “Formula” for creating chord progressions.

  • 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 fifth 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.

  • The chords in the Tonic class may progress or move to any other chord in the the same key
  • 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.
  • The chords of the sub-dominant class mostly progress to the dominant class.

To help you further along. Here are the classes in the key of C:

Tonic = C or Am
Dominant = G, Em or Bdim
Sub-Dominant = F or Dm

Here is a link that will provide additional information  Chord Progression for Songwriter

Not only does it provided an explanation about how chord progression are built, there is also a list of the most common chord progressions. I hope this helps you.

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  • Songwriter Tip:

    We’ve all heard the stories of chart topping hit songs being penned on a napkin in a matter of minutes, and the other extreme of songwriters hung up for years waiting for the next spark of inspiration. It is critically important to recognize that inspiration in itself does not constitute commercial viability. No matter how much inspiration is drawn on, to masterfully compose a technically excellent and beautiful song about how much you love your green and yellow feathered parakeet will probably not sell to those who don’t have a green and yellow feathered parakeet. If there was a green and yellow feathered parakeet genre of music, I’m sure such a song would go platinum overnight. As basic as the analogy is, the point is adequately made that all commercially viable songs are the ones that large masses of people (the larger the better) can relate to from their own experience.