top of page
Search

Chords and Progressions Exercises

Learning how to write an effective chord progression is one of the most useful and fundamental skill sets any composer can master. A solid chord progression can be used to inspire melodies, motifs, arrangements, and more!


The wonderful thing about strong chord progressions is that they don’t need to be complicated in order to be effective. In this article, I will talk about chords and progressions exercises you can use to improve your ability to create memorable and impactful chord progressions in your music!




The only requirement for a chord progression to be effective is to form some sort of pattern between the different chords you’re using. These patterns can be as complex as functional harmony or as simple as a common-tone progression, but so long as you’ve got at least one pattern, your chord progression will sound effective!


Below I’ll describe some of the most useful patterns you can use to create interesting and unique chord progressions along with a few recommended exercises that my students often use to master their harmonic chops.


Chords and Progressions Exercises - Common Tone Progressions

Definition:

A common tone progression builds a pattern of chords that all contain at least one note in common with each other. For example, a Common Tone Progression built on the pitch of C-natural would consist only of chords that contain a C-natural as one of their chordal tones. 


Example: 



In this chord progression, every single chord contains the pitch "C-natural."

To help emphasize this, I've written several of the chords as inversions, to keep the common tone static (as middle C)


Common Uses: 

Any type of chord progression can be used for just about any type of music, but Common Tone Progressions are particularly useful for ambient tracks and sound design. Their use of sheer repetition to establish a tonal center also makes them an excellent foundation for highly chromatic pieces. 


How to Practice: 

  • Start by selecting a single note to use as your common tone. 

  • Write at least 3 different chord progressions using your common tone as the unifying element for each progression (8-bars each)

  • Experiment with using triads, sus chords, and 7ths, to see how each one impacts the sound of your progressions!



Chords and Progressions Exercises - Sentence Structure Progressions

Definition: 

As the name suggests, sentence structure progressions use a melodic structure known as “sentence structure” to create their pattern. 


Sentence structure follows a simple 4-step pattern: 


  1. Establish a simple motif (2 chords that you like)

  2. Repeat that motif, but this time with a bit of variation (if desired)

  3. Common Variations: 

  4. Invert one of your chords

  5. Change the quality of one of your chords 

  6. Quality = if the chord is major or minor

  7. Example = Turn A- into A major

  8. Transform one of your chords by changing a single note so it turns into a new chord that has two common tones with the original. 

  9.  Example = replace G with A to transform C major into A minor

  10. Establish a new motif (2 new chords that you like)

  11. End the whole thing with a Cadence (2 chords that you think help end the progression nicely). 


Example: 



In this example, I ended the chord progression with something called a "modal cadence." If you want to learn more about modal cadences, you can find a short but useful video here.


Common Uses: 

Any type of chord progression can be used for just about any type of music, but sentence structure tends to be very useful for film music and themes that involve adventure. Its gradually changing and growing shape makes it perfect for any theme that involves growing energy. 


How to Practice: 

  • Make a list of two or three 2-chord motifs that you like. Remember that the only requirement for this is that you find two chords that you think sound good together. 

  • Use each 2-chord motif in your list to kick-start two or three-chord progressions using Sentence Structure 

  • For example, if you decide that you like A- and D as one of your motifs, use it to start three different chord progressions, each one using sentence structure. 

  • Experiment with each of the three strategies I’ve shared for adding variation to your motif. 


Chords and Progressions Exercises - Period Structure:

Definition: 

Period structure progressions are very similar to sentence structure progressions. They’re both built using traditional melodic structures, but the primary difference comes from the order of their motifs. 


Period Structure follows the order of : 

  1. Establish your initial 2-chord motif

  2. Introduce a brand new 2-chord motif

  3. Repeat your original 2-chord motif (with or without variation)

  4. End with some sort of cadence. 


Example: 



Common Uses: 

Any type of chord progression can be used for just about any type of music, but period structure tends to be very useful for film music and songs that involve love, peace, and happiness. Its cyclical shape makes it perfect for any theme that involves peaceful energy. 


How to Practice: 

  • Make a list of two or three 2-chord motifs that you like. Remember that the only requirement for this is that you find two chords that you think sound good together. 

  • Use each 2-chord motif in your list to kick-start two or three chord progressions using Period Structure 

  • For example, if you decide that you like A- and D as one of your motifs, use it to start three different chord progressions, each one using period structure.


Chords and Progressions Exercises - Conclusion:

The secret to creating any effective chord progression is to simply use your chords to form some sort of pattern. In this article, we covered three common and useful patterns that don’t require a lot of music theory. However, the more theory you study, the more options you have for finding and creating interesting patterns. 


If you’re interested in learning how to apply music theory to use functional harmony in your progressions, you can read my article on the topic here.


59 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page