5 Creative Chord Progressions to Reignite Your Creativity
In this article, we’ll go through 5 captivating, out-of-the-box chord progressions, each using different chords outside their key, that any songwriter can use immediately to make your chord progressions more interesting, sophisticated, and creative.
This article is a summarised transcript of our video “5 Out-of-the-Ordinary Chord Progressions for Songwriters (easy to hard)”. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.
Understanding Chords in a Diatonic System
All the chord progressions that are about to be explained involve chords from outside the key. Before we can delve into that, we first have to understand the diatonic chords in a Major key. Shown in the image below are the chords in a Major key:
It’s important to remember this sequence because these chords form the basis of the majority of songs written. However, using only these chords causes a sense of boredom, and that’s why it’s important for songwriters to learn how to use non-diatonic chords.
Click here to get a free PDF which contains the key analysis and chord shapes of all 5 progressions that we’ll discuss in this article:
Chord Progression #1: Ⅰ – Ⅱ7 – Ⅳ – ⅳm6
Our first chord progression involves using two chords that’s non-diatonic to the key – which are the Ⅱ7 and ⅳm6. These chords are known as borrowed chords. In the key of C, this progression would be C – D7 – F – Fm6.
The addition of a Ⅱ7 chord adds brightness to the progression.
Chord Progression #2: I – ⅴm7 – IV
This is a simple 3 chord progression which involves changing the V of the key to a ⅴm7. In the key of D, this would be D – Am7 – G
When you play the V as not just a vm, but a ⅴm7, it gives your progression a sort of soul and R&B feel. In addition, using the ⅴm7 adds a sense of somber melancholy in lieu of the brightness of the I and IV.
This progression can be heard in Brandi Carlile’s song The Joke.
Chord Progression #3: I – i/b – bVImaj7 – V7
Now, we get a little complex by not only using chords from outside the key, but also an inversion of a non-diatonic chord as well. In the key of G, this progression would be G – Gm/Bb – Ebmaj7 – D7.
Gm/Bb refers to the first inversion of Gm. This means that we take the 3rd of the chord and put that in the bass instead of the root. The remainder of the chord consists of all the other notes in Gm i.e. G and D.
On the other hand, the bVImaj7 is a chord borrowed from the parallel minor of G, which is Gm. You can emulate this without delving too deeply into the theory behind it by finding the normal vi chord of the key, then taking it down a half step and turning it into a Maj 7 chord.
By blending chords from both major and minor keys together, it allows us to use two different kinds of tonal palettes. So, we get to mix the darkness of the minor key with the brightness of the major key.
Chord Progression #4: vi7 – vm7 – I9 – IVmaj7 – III7
This progression might look complicated but it’s all about understanding the relationship between the chords.
You could think of this progression in terms of E Minor instead of E Major – which would make the vi7 a i7 instead. However, for the sake of consistency, we’ll describe this progression from the point of view of E Major. In the key of E, this would be C#m7 – Bm7 – E9 – Amaj7 – G#7.
The section of this progression that goes Bm7 – E9 – Amaj7, can actually be described as a ii – V – I progression when viewed in context of the Amaj7. You can delve deeper into the theory behind this chord progression in this video here.
However, it’s possible to emulate this effect without understanding the theory behind it. Simply keep the target chord – in this case IVmaj7 – in mind, and ensure that the two chords prior to it are the ii and V in relation to the target chord.
Chord Progression #5: Imaj7 – #iv⊘ – IVmaj7 – bVImaj7 bVIImaj7
The final progression on our list features a diminished chord. In the key of A Major, this would be Amaj7 – D#⊘ – Dmaj7 – Fmaj7 Gmaj7.
Part of the reason this chord progression sounds great is due to the descending chromatic bass line that’s created by moving from #iv⊘ to IVmaj7 i.e. D#⊘ to Dmaj7. The movement from a chord outside the key to one inside the key creates a sort of tension and release in the progression.
In addition, the movement from bVImaj7 to bVIImaj7 i.e. Fmaj7 to Gmaj7 and back to the I creates a modal cadence.
Conclusion: 5 Creative Chord Progressions to Reignite Your Creativity
These 5 examples are a great starting point for you to experiment with using chords outside the key to spice up your chord progressions. By studying them, and the progressions of songs you enjoy, you’ll be able to create less boring chord progressions in no time.
If you would like more details, explanations and examples, then be sure to check out the video now.
Level up your songwriting with five radically practical exercises used by professional songwriters around the world: