60-Second Songwriting: Songwriting Building Blocks—Chord Progressions

60-Second Songwriting aims to offer quick, concise, song-craft tips, basics and blasts for the time-crunched and attention-challenged 21st-century musician.

In terms of the architecture of a pop song, in its simplest form, a tune can be broken down into a few key elements or building blocks—chord progressions, top-line melodies, lyrics, tempo-rhythm and song structure. As songwriters, we casually discuss these foundational elements all the time — “Why don’t we switch up that top-line on the last chorus? How about adding a bridge to the song structure?” But how often (if ever) do we really stop to think, beginner or advanced writer alike, about the nut-and-bolt concepts behind these everyday fundamentals of our trade?

In this edition of "60-Second Songwriting," we focus on one of songwriting’s building blocks—the chord progression. We’ll take a look at its basic function through the specific lens of the songwriter and explore the progression’s purpose in service of the song.

Chord Progressions

  • Chord progressions can be viewed as the bed or foundation of a song. A framework on which all else can be built upon.
  • Just a few simple chords, in the same key, played in series, forming a circular pattern is really all you need to create the foundation for a section of your song. Come up with two or three other chord progressions in the same key and now you’ve got some related (via sharing a key) sections which, when strung together, can become a song.
  • Chord progressions also serve an additional function. They act as a sort of blueprint or song map pointing you in the right direction when it comes to creating the other elements of your song. The notes that make up the chords can imply a top-line melody and its accompanying harmonies, while our chord progressions can also offer a feeling or mood (happy, sad, confused, etc.). A mood that can give you a leg up on what type of subject matter you might want to tackle when writing appropriate lyrics for the song.

Listen to your chord progressions, in their own way, they’re telling you what the song wants to be when it grows up.

Mark Bacino is a singer/songwriter based in New York City. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists, composing for television/advertising and teaching songwriting via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark also is the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus, a website dedicated to exploring the art of songwriting. Visit Mark on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.