Every songwriter experiences this at one point that the chord progressions of a song start sounding too flat or simple. Here are some ways to spice up your chord progressions.
Harmonize your progression (using substitute chords)
Let’s say you wrote a song using a particular progression, maybe a – C Dmin G F. After you’ve written the song, or finalized the melody, you can change the progression a little bit. Instead of using the exact chords to go with the melody, you can harmonize them. Like using an Fmaj in place of Dmin, and etc. There is no particular thing to do here, you can experiment as much as you want. Try singing the same melody but playing different chords from the same scale and choose whichever sounds the best. One thing you can do is, after you’ve composed the melody, you can compose a harmony for it and use the chords that go along with the harmony. If you don’t know what a harmony is, or how to use substitute chords, a simple Youtube search will get you there!
Use chord inversions
Using different inversions of a chord can also make a huge difference in the sound. There are multiple ways to play a chord on the guitar as well as the piano. For example, here are some inversions of Gmaj triad.
Again, a simple Youtube search will take you through various inversions for all the chords. So if your progressions sounds flat, try using some inversions in place of the regular open or barre chords.
Use extended chords
Extended chords are built from triads, by adding extended notes to them like the seventh, ninth, eleventh note etc. A Cmajor triad consists of the notes C-E-G, so if we add a seventh note, which in case of a Cmaj scale is B, we get a Cmaj7 chord; which consists of C-E-G-B. Likewise, we have 7th chords, 9th chords, 11th chords, Added second chords, etc. Youtube again, will help you understand the concept, and then you can use extended chords to spice up your chord progressions.
Using borrowed chords can add in a completely unique shade to your songs. Borrowed chords are the chords which are taken from parallel scales or modes – like if you’re writing a song in C major scale, you can borrow chords from C minor, C mixolydian, C dorian, and etc.
The best example that comes to my mind is Bruno Mars’ ‘When I was your man’. It’s in the key of C major, but it uses a Dmaj chord and an Fmin chord as well, at one point in the chorus. Dmaj and Fmin do not occur in the C major scale. Then where do they come from? Well you can think of it in several ways. But I understand them as borrowed chords. Dmaj, i.e. the major ii occurs in a C lydian mode. F min, i.e the minor iv, occurs is a C minor scale. Similarly you can use such borrowed chords at some places in your song, to give it a certain flavour. If you don’t know what are modes and borrowed chords, you need to learn it. It’s incredibly helpful in songwriting.
That’s all! One last thing I’d like to say is, don’t use a four chords progression, unless your song sounds really good with it. They mostly sound flat because they are overused in pop music. Even if you want to use a four chords progression, alter them in your pre-chorus and chorus so that they don’t sound monotonous. For example if your verse uses the progression (in a Cmaj scale) of I IV vi V (Cmaj Fmaj Amin Gmaj), you can use vi I VI V (Amin Cmaj Fmaj Gmaj) in your pre-chorus and I iii V vi (Cmaj Em Gmaj Amin) in your chorus, and etc. Even changing one chord in the progression can make a huge difference!
To sum it up, you can use the following to add more colors to your chord progression:
I’ll update this post whenever I find something new.
These were some ways to spice up your chord progressions. Use them in your songs, learn more theory and you’ll find some other too, which can make your songs more interesting!
Also check out: 7 things that will help you evolve as a songwriter