How to Write Chord Progressions for Electronic Music Producers

How to Write Chord Progressions for Electronic Music Producers




by Marc-Andre Seguin     22 Feb. 18                                                                         Length: Medium







When It comes to music theory, electronic producers always seem to ask,

“Why do we have to learn music theory?”

“All I want to do is write music. Is learning music theory really necessary?”

The simple answer is, you don’t have to learn music theory.

Some of my favorite artists never knew how to read a note of music, so it is really not a requirement to write great a great piece of music.

But the truth is, learning enough theory to be able to write out a simple chord progression will prove to be invaluable to you in the writing process.

Learning how to create chord progressions doesn’t have to be complicated. By learning just the basics, you can write emotional, interesting, and track defining progressions!

Basics

All songs start and end. If it ended in the middle it probably wouldn’t sound right. You’ve got to journey towards the ending, and chord progressions are the vehicle to get us there.

When you listen to your favorite songs, you’re basically listening to different chord progressions.

Every song is in a specific key, a tonal center that all of the other chords revolve around. That song could be in the key of C Major (CM) for example.

The key of CM is just using all the white keys on a keyboard. Each one of those seven notes (in an octave) is the diatonic scale. We can give each one of these notes a number. You will often see these scale degrees represented by Roman numerals in written materials.

The first note is the root note or the 1st degree of the scale and the rest of the notes move away from it in degrees. For example, in the above table you will see that the note E is the third note from the root of this seven-note scale. The note G is the fifth and so on.

We would be in the key of D Major if we started the table on the note D. The first degree would then be the root note of D and so on. Take a look below.

Notice that the degree numbers remain the same even though we changed the first degree from C to D.

The third of this DM scale is F#. The fifth is A.

Chords in the Diatonic Scale

Let’s harmonize each note of the CM diatonic scale (the white keys) and finally get to some chord progressions.

Chord Progressions

Musicians refer to chord progressions by the scale degrees we discussed above, and as an example.

A common chord progression is a I-IV-V-I.

So, the chords in that progression are CM, FM and G (see table below).


Play around on the keyboard, guitar, or piano roll and listen to this progression to get a feel for it.

Here are some keyboard diagrams of each chord in the progression.

CM


FM


Image

G


This chord progression would then finish back on the CM again.
It just wouldn’t sound right if we ended that chord progression on G because there is a feeling of incompleteness or tension and it must be resolved.

Chord Progression Trip

We will call the first degree of the chord progression home and if we were to continue a little further from home to the fourth we would start to feel the distance between the two chords. When we get to the fifth degree, the distance creates musical tension and it feels like the chord wants to return back home to the CM.(root chord)

That is the essence of a chord progression. The chords take you on a musical journey by providing tension that needs to be resolved back home.

Change the Key and Keep the Progression

Let’s say the key of CM is too high of a key for you or a vocalist to sing in.

All we have to do is lower the key, let’s say AM for example.
We would still use the exact same chord progression but it would just be in a different key.
Let’s take a look at it.


You are now singing in a key more appropriate to your vocal range and still using the exact same chord progression, the I-IV-V-I. The shaded chords are your progression.

What To Do Next?

This is just the tip of the iceberg for chord progression. I encourage you to experiment as much as possible with all the different possible chord progressions.

You can create a progression as simple or as complex as you would like.

To get the most out of your experimentation, every progression you make, write down how it makes you feel.

Once you have created a bunch of different progressions and the emotion that is attached with them, then you can go right into the music creation process and get the exact emotion that you want!

This is just the tip of the iceberg for chord progression. I encourage you to experiment as much as possible with all the different possible chord progressions.

You can create a progression as simple or as complex as you would like.

To get the most out of your experimentation, every progression you make, write down how it makes you feel.

Example:
A minor
I-IV-V
Emotion: Suspenseful. Maybe something good or bad is going to happen

C Major
I-III-V-VI
Emotion:
Pure Bliss. Nothing bad could possibly happen.

Once you have created a bunch of different progressions and the emotion that is attached with them, then you can go right into the music creation process and get the exact emotion that you want!

For more help on creating chord progressions, you can check out Musical U’s aricle on Exploring Common Chord Progressions.

About The Author



Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on www.JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.