6 In-Depth Tips On How To Pick A Chord Progression To Match Your Lyric Melody
by Ellie Palmer
Picking the right chords to match your lyric melody can make the difference between a good song and a great song. It can also make the difference between an upbeat song and a more ballad-esque song.
We’ve put together 6 top tips for you on how to pick the perfect chord progression to match your lyric melody, PLUS we’ve included a bunch of our own ideas for you…
1. Decide whether you want to be in a major or minor key
This is the very first thing you need to do after you have written your lyrics and lyric melody. The best way to figure out whether your chord progression is going to be in a major or minor key is to spend some time honing in on the emotional value of your lyrics. What are you trying to convey to the listener? Is the song about a sad time? A happy time? Have a good think about whether you are trying to convey a happy or sad tone.
Happy? Try writing your chords in a major key.
Sad? Try writing your chords in a minor key.
2. Build a set of chords using the notes in your melody
The next step is to built a set of chords using the notes in your melody. This is one of the most popular ways of coming up with the perfect chord progression for your melody.
First of all, you need to find the perfect pitch for your lyric melody. Once you have that nailed, write down the notes of your lyric melody - whether that be on paper or within the music software programme you may be using. The best way to do this is to sing out your melody and find the notes on your piano (or any other instrument). Take the first few notes of your melody and search for a chord that has most of these notes in it. For example, if your melody starts with C, G and B, you could try starting with a C7 chord or a Gsus4 chord. Repeat this for the rest of your melody.
3. Alternatively, take a chord progression from a song that you like
At the end of the day, we love reverting back to familiarity. Choosing to take and adapt a chord progression from one of your favourite songs is a really great exercise.
First of all, it isn’t stealing. Nobody has ever copyrighted a chord progression, so you are safe! Second of all, being able to successfully adapt that progression into something that is your own is a skill. The more you can practise mixing chord progressions around, the more creative you will become as a musician.
Here are 3 quick tips on how to change and adapt your chosen chord progression:
- Change the chords to seventh chords
- Change any sixth chord to a second chord and vice versa
- Play the chord progression backwards
4. Want to be adventurous?
Once you have picked the key of your song, try to include certain chords that are not within that key. This is particularly effective in ambient pieces. Moving from chord I of your key to a completely different chord will evoke a tonne of different emotions within the listener. It’s all rather exciting!
Here are two quick tricks for you to try out:
- Move from chord I to the minor V - for example, D major to A minor. Michael Jackson uses this trick in his hit The Way You Make Me Feel. Have a go.
- Move from chord I to the major VI - for example, G to E major. Your audience will be completely surprised.
5. Keep the adventure going… create a circle of sixths
Yes, I said sixths not fifths! In order for this to work, you need to already have a simple chord progression that we can then take and manipulate. If you haven’t yet come up with a progression using the above tips, use our example for the time being.
Let’s go with VI V ii for ease. Say we are in C. These chords would be Am G Dm. Play these through twice. Now, in your next bar, move the key signature up a sixth, to A. Your new chords will be F#m E Bm. Again, play these through twice. The switch from C major to A major halfway through is surprising, but it also lifts the song up to a whole new level. It’s a great trick to use if you are entering your bridge, for example.
6. Still unsure? Try out the most universally-known chord progression in the world
Did you know that hundreds of chart topping songs over the last 5 decades have all used the same chord progression? No Woman, No Cry by Bob Marley, I’m Goin’ Down by Bruce Springsteen, Cryin’ by Aerosmith, No Scrubs by TLC, Numb by Linkin Park, In My Head by Jason Derulo, Out Of The Woods by Taylor Swift and Girls Like You by Maroon 5 - along with hundreds of other songs - all use the exact same four chords:
I V VI IV
In C major, these chords would be C, G, Am, F.
So, if you are well and truly stuck, try out these four chords! Some of the world’s greatest musicians have resorted to it, so you are in good company.