A Simple Songwriting Tip for Coming Up With Chord Progressions for Your Songs

One way to come up with a chord progression is to take a chord progression from a song we like and change the length of each chord, independent of its strumming pattern, tempo or anything else.

We’ll do this in one of two ways:

Lengthening each chord (doubling each one is usually easiest to apply)

Shortening each chord (halving each one is usually easiest to apply)

Or you can use a combination of the above. Shorten some chords, and lengthen others. You can even keep one or two chords the same length as they were in the original song.

Let’s use the chorus of “American Pie” by Don McLean as an example. The chords in the chorus where the lyrics are “Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie” are G-C-G-D. The song is in 4/4 time and each one of those chords is played for about 2 beats.

Grab your guitar or keyboard and play those chords either to a metronome, or while tapping your foot, to get a feel for the length of each two-beat chord.

Got it?

Now play those same chords, but play each one for four beats instead of two. Do you see how it gave the song an different feel? It sounds like you’re playing it at half tempo now. It sounds different than the original, but let’s change it some more to give it a more different feel.

Try this. Play the first and third chords (the G chords) for two beats each, and play the second and fourth chords (the C and the D) for eight beats each. So in 4/4 time, it’ll be like this:

G (for 2 beats) – C (for 8 beats) – G (for 2 beats) – D (for 8 beats)

Do you hear how different that sounds from “American Pie?” Pretty cool right? You have the same exact chords, with the same exact tempo and strumming pattern, but by simply changing the length of only two of the chords (the C and the D – we kept the length of the G chords the same as the original), we have a completely new sound. This is a great way to look to another song’s chords for inspiration, without blatantly copying what they’re doing.