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Onewholovesrock

Chord Progressions

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So. Recently I have been writing more songs using the same chord progressions in the verses and chorus’s. I would rarely do that in the past as I thought it was basically wrong. Especially from reading critique’s here at the Muse. (I used to be a regular in the song critique section here for years) 

 Fast forward to the last couple years. I have been performing live on occasion. Mostly solo acoustic kinda stuff. I’ve learned like 40 or more cover songs. It also comes in handy when jamming with others. Most of these songs were hits and still stand the test of time. What do most of these hit songs have in common? They are very simple and most follow the same chord progression in the verses and chorus’s. A good portion of them also follow the same progression throughout the whole song. Sometimes not even changing intensity or anything. My point is. I think when some people are researching songwriting they read somewhere that it’s a good idea to change chord progressions between verses and chorus’s. Which it is a lot of times. But they take it as fact. They start believing that using the same chord progression is just wrong. But history definitely doesn’t back that up in anyway. I would probably argue that most of the biggest songs in the last 50 years follow a same chord progression. At least the songs I’ve been learning  are. Thoughts?

 

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I agree. And more than that, lyrics don't have to be all that special or understandable. My roots indicate that an infectious beat, bass and rhythm seems to be all you really need. Heck, much of the lyrics of my musical roots didn't really make much sense. But we loved those songs. Bands like Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Mountain, Moody Blues, Spirit, etc. Great music! Write what you feel and to hell with any rules!

=Bob=

 

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I think there's a tendency to overvalue chord structure & undervalue the context in which that chord structure is placed...overall arrangement.

Neither chord structure, nor melody exist in a vacuum, so much of the listener's impressions are determined by what's going on around those 2 elements.

Since open mic gigs generally consist of single instrument & vocal (limited arrangement), I would think lack of chord diversity would be more noticeable.

 

I've never done those types of gigs myself, but if I were to write new material specifically for 1+1 performance, I'd lean in the direction more chord & rhythmic diversity. 

To be perfectly honest...as a listener, it's hard for me to enjoy 1+1 performances...just not enough going on to keep me intrigued.

I do encounter the occasional exception, but it's rare. ;)

 

Tom

 

Good topic BTW! 👍

 

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JOe - I disagree with your statement about 'last 50 years'.  I've found this single chord pattern per song more of a trend in the last 15-20 years (at most).   I'd love to see your list of 'older' songs that do this, especially the list for "most of the biggest songs in the last 50 years follow a same chord progression".

To me - someone who plays out regularly and hears other performers play, too - I find these the most tedious songs, both to listen to and to play. I notice right away when a person is oding a osng that doesn't do any kind of musical changeup, just the vocal change (if any). 

I can certainly see/hear the value of it for someone performing solo and using a looper.  I have a friend who uses prerecorded loops, and its very easy for him when the song doesn't change chord patterns at all, otherwise he's doing the toe dance to change from loop 1 to loop 2 and back.

 

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1 hour ago, Onewholovesrock said:

the same chord progressions in the verses and chorus’s

That's what's known as the Simple Verse-Chorus structure.

It used to be very widespread in popular song, almost exclusivly so, a couple of centuries back.

During the first half of the 20th Century, structures grew more adventurous and innovative and sophisticated.

During the last half, writing/compositional approaches in popular music regressed to those earlier folky forms.

 

Thus...

People have been doing it for years.

It ain't "wrong" as much as it is farkin' boring and predictable.

The only reasons for persisting with it seem usually due to laziness, absence of imagination, lack of caring, just running out of idea, or simply not knowing about the developments that all those other songwriters have already made before us.

 

You're perfectly correct that many recent and hugely successful songs repeat that old simple verse-chorus bollocks.

And you'd be right to spot that most are built on I-IV-V.

And to notice that most people are still happily buying it.

 

I think while this simplicity definitely has a rightful place, my own preference is for it to be made more readily palatable by happening within a broader context of harmonic and structural diversity.  Otherwise, as an audience, I feel insulted and abused by it and I'm out the door pretty quick.  But that's just me.  All I am is a lyricist who cares deeply about music.

 

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There were some light-hearted songs (think ukulele and raccoon coats) in the 20's that employed a simple structure where they used a bunch of secondary dominants, and repeated the same progression (not necessarily the same duration for each chord in some cases, but the same exact order) in the chorus (or bridge if AABA).

=Bob=

 

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One of the songs I taught beginner guitar students was Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You". Three chord song structure with occasionally a parallel major chord to change the tension. Its power lies in simplicity, strong lyrics, and not a groove per se but an outpouring of heart, which the linear simplicity supported. 

Funny, after reading this thread, I got in the car and "Jane Says" came on. A basically two chord song held by a smooth, world groove, and a passionate singer telling a strong story. 

 

 

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6 hours ago, =Bob= said:

I agree. And more than that, lyrics don't have to be all that special or understandable. My roots indicate that an infectious beat, bass and rhythm seems to be all you really need. Heck, much of the lyrics of my musical roots didn't really make much sense. But we loved those songs. Bands like Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Mountain, Moody Blues, Spirit, etc. Great music! Write what you feel and to hell with any rules!

=Bob=

 

😀 Definitely! Most of the lyrics I read are like WTF is this? 

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6 hours ago, tunesmithth said:

I think there's a tendency to overvalue chord structure & undervalue the context in which that chord structure is placed...overall arrangement.

Neither chord structure, nor melody exist in a vacuum, so much of the listener's impressions are determined by what's going on around those 2 elements.

Since open mic gigs generally consist of single instrument & vocal (limited arrangement), I would think lack of chord diversity would be more noticeable.

 

I've never done those types of gigs myself, but if I were to write new material specifically for 1+1 performance, I'd lean in the direction more chord & rhythmic diversity. 

To be perfectly honest...as a listener, it's hard for me to enjoy 1+1 performances...just not enough going on to keep me intrigued.

I do encounter the occasional exception, but it's rare. ;)

 

Tom

 

Good topic BTW! 👍

 

I’m almost opposite these days. I enjoy a 1+1 low fi recording just as much as a full production song. I just posted a critique on the critique forum. It was a girl and a guitar and probably a phone video recording. Just like I do it. I thought it was pretty cool. 

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6 hours ago, Mike B said:

JOe - I disagree with your statement about 'last 50 years'.  I've found this single chord pattern per song more of a trend in the last 15-20 years (at most).   I'd love to see your list of 'older' songs that do this, especially the list for "most of the biggest songs in the last 50 years follow a same chord progression".

To me - someone who plays out regularly and hears other performers play, too - I find these the most tedious songs, both to listen to and to play. I notice right away when a person is oding a osng that doesn't do any kind of musical changeup, just the vocal change (if any). 

I can certainly see/hear the value of it for someone performing solo and using a looper.  I have a friend who uses prerecorded loops, and its very easy for him when the song doesn't change chord patterns at all, otherwise he's doing the toe dance to change from loop 1 to loop 2 and back.

 

I disagree. I feel it’s everywhere. Just a few off the top of my head from my set list. 

Jane Says

Creep

Can’t You See

Knockin on Heavens Door 

All Along the Watchtower 

Low by Cracker

Last Kiss

Simple Man

Nutshell

Blue on Black

Some CCR

Hey Hey My My I think?

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4 hours ago, Lazz said:

That's what's known as the Simple Verse-Chorus structure.

It used to be very widespread in popular song, almost exclusivly so, a couple of centuries back.

During the first half of the 20th Century, structures grew more adventurous and innovative and sophisticated.

During the last half, writing/compositional approaches in popular music regressed to those earlier folky forms.

 

Thus...

People have been doing it for years.

It ain't "wrong" as much as it is farkin' boring and predictable.

The only reasons for persisting with it seem usually due to laziness, absence of imagination, lack of caring, just running out of idea, or simply not knowing about the developments that all those other songwriters have already made before us.

 

You're perfectly correct that many recent and hugely successful songs repeat that old simple verse-chorus bollocks.

And you'd be right to spot that most are built on I-IV-V.

And to notice that most people are still happily buying it.

 

I think while this simplicity definitely has a rightful place, my own preference is for it to be made more readily palatable by happening within a broader context of harmonic and structural diversity.  Otherwise, as an audience, I feel insulted and abused by it and I'm out the door pretty quick.  But that's just me.  All I am is a lyricist who cares deeply about music.

 

I’m on both ends of the field. I love prog metal with a million different changes. I also love simple tunes like Wild Thing. Depending on mood of course. 

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1 hour ago, Moso said:

One of the songs I taught beginner guitar students was Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You". Three chord song structure with occasionally a parallel major chord to change the tension. Its power lies in simplicity, strong lyrics, and not a groove per se but an outpouring of heart, which the linear simplicity supported. 

Funny, after reading this thread, I got in the car and "Jane Says" came on. A basically two chord song held by a smooth, world groove, and a passionate singer telling a strong story. 

 

 

I absolutely love both of these songs. Jane Says is in my set list. 2 chords mostly with one small change up.

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57 minutes ago, Onewholovesrock said:

I’m almost opposite these days. I enjoy a 1+1 low fi recording just as much as a full production song. I just posted a critique on the critique forum. It was a girl and a guitar and probably a phone video recording. Just like I do it. I thought it was pretty cool. 

I too enjoy 1+1's, if they're decently recorded.  What you might think is as a "lo-fi" recording, I might think is just a crappy recording, and I seldom enjoy those.  I think your recordings are simple ones because they're recorded live in one take, but I don't hear them as "lo-fi," and I typically enjoy them because they are live and one take and still sound pretty damn good.   But, if they didn't . . .. :)

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36 minutes ago, HoboSage said:

I too enjoy 1+1's, if they're decently recorded.  What you might think is as a "lo-fi" recording, I might think is just a crappy recording, and I seldom enjoy those.  I think your recordings are simple ones because they're recorded live in one take, but I don't hear them as "lo-fi," and I typically enjoy them because they are live and one take and still sound pretty damn good.   But, if they didn't . . .. :)

When it comes to 1+1’s. You’re definitely the master. I usually enjoy your 1+1’s as much as if not more than your fully produced songs. 

 Yeah I think my videos sound pretty good for one take shots. 

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You can play the same chord progression throughout a song and still have each section completely different from each other. Tight picking in a verse with maybe quieter vocals. You can then open it wide open in the chorus with more intense soaring vocals and open chords or power chords. The bridge can drop way down in intensity and again, vary up the guitar playing. Of course you can then change up the rhythm guitar playing again and add a lead guitar solo over the top adding even more variation to the song. All while rocking the same chords over and over again. It’s been done a million times with great success. 

 I’m not exactly sure what I’m trying to get at. It might be something about people knocking on a song because there wasn’t a chord progression change between say a verse and a chorus. Just for the sake that maybe they read that somewhere and think it’s wrong. I kinda used to think the same way. Until I started playing all these older cover songs. Then I started almost thinking the other way. Most casual listeners prefer simple and familiar. Musician and artsy types like us prefer more than simple. 

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I'm with you. I don't believe a song needs complex chord structures or that it must change progression for the chorus. Sometimes, sure, if the melody asks for it, if not, just keep on trucking.

 

Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. It all depends on the melody and how you choose to present it. 

 

Personally, I love the simple stuff, it's a challenge in itself to be able to do less chord wise and more in how you actually present it. More and more I see myself moving towards simplifying my songwriting. So to speak.

 

I think MJ, on both Thriller and BAD, did pretty ok. A great example on how to use the same chords on verse and chorus.

 

Remember, the melody dictates what chords to use, they're there to support your melody.

 

You can twist it around, sure, but that can sometimes make for a slightly more "forced" melody. If you're ending up altering/adjusting your melody to fit your pre-chosen (more interesting) chords. IMHO.

 

Peter

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This actually sounds like a great idea for a song contest. Basically write the best song you can using the same chord progression throughout but still have good variation in each of the song sections. 

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10 hours ago, Onewholovesrock said:

When it comes to 1+1’s. You’re definitely the master. I usually enjoy your 1+1’s as much as if not more than your fully produced songs. 

 Yeah I think my videos sound pretty good for one take shots. 

I appreciate the props, but I'm no master, Bro. :)  I just want my 1+1 recordings to sound good, so I record the acoustic and the vocal separately.  Since I'm not gigging and don't practice my 1+1 performances beyond what's necessary to write the song and record it, and then I never really play and sing them again, to be honest, I'm not even sure how well I could play and sing them simultaneously now- at least consistently well.  I would certainly have to practice doing that a lot more than I have, and that's assuming I can even remember what tuning I used, what I played and how I played it - things I can forget!  LOL

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2 hours ago, HoboSage said:

I appreciate the props, but I'm no master, Bro. :)  I just want my 1+1 recordings to sound good, so I record the acoustic and the vocal separately.  Since I'm not gigging and don't practice my 1+1 performances beyond what's necessary to write the song and record it, and then I never really play and sing them again, to be honest, I'm not even sure how well I could play and sing them simultaneously now- at least consistently well.  I would certainly have to practice doing that a lot more than I have, and that's assuming I can even remember what tuning I used, what I played and how I played it - things I can forget!  LOL

One thing I usually can’t pull off, at least easily is  writing a music/guitar only song and recording it. Then adding/writing the lyrics and vocals afterwards without a guitar in my hand. If I do it that way. It’s usually very hard to sing and play that song if not impossible. I even notice that with some cover songs. I can usually always play songs from artists who sing and play guitar themselves. Many times I can’t play songs where the singer and guitarist are different people. 

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14 hours ago, Onewholovesrock said:

I disagree. I feel it’s everywhere. Just a few off the top of my head from my set list. 

Jane Says  1987

Creep  1993

Can’t You See  released in 73, 45 years old now

Knockin on Heavens Door   released in 73, 45 years old now

All Along the Watchtower - 2nd oldest song on your list, 1967

Low by Cracker  1993

Last Kiss  1964, from the doo-wop era

Simple Man   released in 73, 45 years old now

Nutshell  1993

Blue on Black  1998

Some CCR  - pretty much all of their songs I can think of change chord progression in the chorus

Hey Hey My My I think?   1979

 

Hardly an extensive enough list to say "most of the biggest songs in the last 50 years follow a same chord progression".  Funny thing is you have named some of the songs I HATE to play live because they're so boring - yet when requested ...

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30 minutes ago, Mike B said:

 

Hardly an extensive enough list to say "most of the biggest songs in the last 50 years follow a same chord progression".  Funny thing is you have named some of the songs I HATE to play live because they're so boring - yet when requested ...

Yeah. Maybe not most. But a lot! Those songs are a pretty good percentage of my song list. I’m assuming the more songs I cover the more of these I’ll discover as I think it’s pretty common. Another huge percentage of my song list is 2 chord progressions. I don’t generally feel these songs are boring to play. But it’s an easy way to build up a song list. 

 I should probably clear up. I very rarely use the same chord progression throughout a song. I usually throw in a change somewhere. But my main point is this. Using a same chord progression for a verse and chorus is very common and used often still to this day. Using a same chord progression isn’t wrong. Yes it can sound boring in a 1+1 format. But again. I think the general listening audience likes familiar and simple. 

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I'm glad I don't write for the 'general listening audience'!  :big.grin:

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Hey JOe my set list is the same man. 3 to 4 chorders no changes required are prevalent throughout. The key to making it good and fun and interesting is layers and intensity. Here are some I can think of we do.

 

Can't Always Get What You Want - Rolling Stones - 2 chords all song long... We play it in A. A  D  with a B when it is "time to try sometimes". We speed it up slow it down and take solos. Now my bass player doesn't want to kill me... as much. I used to beat on the Djembe to really shake it up. I think we cut out a verse for instrumental mayhem. No one cares. They just sing along with the chorus and enjoy the jam. I find it rather fun to play this way. 

 

Evil Ways - Santana - Same 2 chords all song. Gm C with a D when you "can't go ooon". Same song structure as the Stones above. It is a jam. I slip into walking on the sun by smash mouth for a second on this one for fun. It's really weird and I wasn't sure it would work. Bass player heard it and I tried it. I think it works out. People seem to like it. I might try to find something else though. Soloing over that one is fun. Major to minor works really well with the Latin feel. 

 

Can't you see - Marshall Tucker - 4 chorder - D C G D - Though I think we might have moved this key somewhere else. Not sure. Muscle memory now... I think we do it in A. 

 

With or Without you by U2 was another 4 chorder but I have to really focus on singing on that one so I certainly don't mind the 4 chords simplicity there. There is a general intensity focus on that one that increases as it goes. I like this one but have moved it off as it's vocal difficulty level is up there on a 3 - 4 hour night of singing. If I do it I hit it early in the night. For the record U2 stuff seems to be tuned a half step down on the recording. It's easier to pull off that way for sure. 

 

I think the coolest thing about these simpler songs musically is that they can give you room to focus on other things. Performance and vocalizing or guitaring you ass off over a simple progression can be a damn good time. Especially when they are giving me beer.

 

Cheers!  

 

  

 

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U2! I remember I did an impromptu unplugged act at this bar that was having some sort of contest. Me and this guy I barely knew (who was actually shit hot drummer I later learned) got up there, and our core piece was me doing a 2 chord U2 song while he, knowing the real song, riffed and made up jokey lyrics. I started off with just a single, repeating note, added another, then another, and kept going until we had full string chords. Other than that, I just played with intervals for effect. Then I wound it back down over time back to one note and we finished the song. It went over surprisingly well. Maybe the song was "Where the Streets Have No Name"? 

 

After that, we did unplugged Megadeth with some James Brown-like smooth funk and the drummer-now-singer started stripping.... the crowd really, really liked it... 

I have to be honest, I mean it was a great time and a good/interesting memory, but I recall being pretty uncomfortable onstage because the dude was getting pretty perverse, and then of course took his clothes off. 

Freakin' life is weird, man. 

 

 

 

 

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14 hours ago, Moso said:

the dude was getting pretty perverse, and then of course took his clothes off

Sounds like the measure of a good gig.

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Then of course there are those famous one-chord songs: Get this Party Started, by Pink, the amazing Chain of Fools, and the soul classic, Shotgun.  Now there’s an idea for a contest.

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I would like to write simpler chord progressions, and have other characteristics be stronger -- but when I'm writing I just can't do the typical open chord shtick. I want to be able to! As the OP said, I feel like it's just wrong. In the back of my head I feel like no matter how I write from there on that it won't be even remotely original just because of the progression. It's limiting in a way, and definitely frustrating.

However, I've found one way to at least take a step down is to write punk rock ... even then I struggle though.

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