Many songwriters begin their songs by strumming a chord or two. Without really thinking about it, they let the chord progression lead them through the song. If you write that way, though, you may end up spending more time thinking about what chord comes next than your lyrics and melody. You don’t hear listeners talking about how much they LOVE that chord progression. They respond to the lyric and a memorable melody. Chords are low on their list, so why should they be at the top of yours?
Melodies and lyrics ARE copyrighted, but, in general, the chord progressions that use I, IV, V plus a couple other familiar chords are not. C-Am-F-G belongs to everyone! What this means is that you can use this type of generic chord progression in your songs! I am going to suggest that, for now, you do just that.
Here’s a great video that demonstrates just how many hit songs are based on the same four chords: The video is called “4 Chords” by Axis of Awesome.
Chord Progression Resources
LISTEN & LEARN: Let’s say you like Pop/Rock songs by groups like Nickelback or Country hits by a star like Toby Keith. Many of these songs use generic, four-chord progressions that are the basis of lots of hit songs. These progressions are not hard to learn; just by listening to the track, you can learn to play along pretty easily on either guitar or keyboards.
If you decide to use one of these chord progressions to practice writing a song of your own, just be sure you don’t use any of the melody or lyric of the song. Remember, those are protected by the copyright law.
BOOKS: Here’s a list of my favorite songwriting books. On this list, you’ll find The Songwriting Sourcebook by Rikky Rooksby, an excellent source of chord progressions.
ONLINE: There are web sites with chord progressions for hundreds of hit songs. Just do a search for the title of the song plus the word “chords.”
WEB SITES: If you don’t play an instrument, check out www.JamStudio.com where you can play around with chords until you find something your like and put together a full band track. It’s a lot of fun!
by Robin Frederick
This post is based on my books Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV. Each book includes over one hundred useful, real-world shortcuts that will show you how to write songs that work for today’s music market, plus dozens of hands-on exercises to get your creative ideas flowing.
Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. Reprints by permission.