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How to Make a Boring Chord Progression Sound New and Fun

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I hate boring chords. Any chance I get, I turn a G major into a G2 or a C major into a Cmaj7sus4. I just think if I’m bored hearing myself play it, anyone who hears the song will also be bored of listening to it.

Granted, sometimes it works to keep a G major a G major because, well, it just reminds me of home, of growing up, of Simon and Garfunkel… But, for me, there has to be at least one interesting chord in my progression. So, here are some things I find will make a chord progression a bit less boring and more likely to make people’s ears perk up.

Invert Your Chords

If you’re a pianist, you probably already know what this means. Guitarists, you can do this too.

Inverting a chord simply means playing the notes of a chord in their non-traditional places. For example, a natural C major has the notes C-E-G, with the third and fifth played above the C, or in ascending order. But you can play those three notes pretty much anywhere on your instrument and it will work in the chord progression. This gives the chord a completely new voice while still keeping the notes of the melody and harmony.

You can also use inversions as a practice method! (Check this out if you’re looking for improvisational practice prompts.)

Add a Seventh or a Sus

I love sevenths. Major sevenths, minor sevenths, diminished and augmented sevenths, they just make any chord sound tastier, richer. Try this: Instead of playing C-Am-Em-G, you could make it Cmaj7-Am7-Em7-G. That will make it sound very jazzy. If that’s too much jazz for you, add a seventh only to the A minor and that will spice up the progression enough.

Also, suspended chords are super fun. Suspended fourth chords are more interesting than their more common major chord sibling. The G in the above chord progression could be split into a Gsus4/G. Little additions like that can make a typical four-chord progression a tad less boring.

Switch Up the Bass

People often forget about the bassist of a band unless they’re Victor Wooten-level good. I’m sorry, bassists, but it’s true. I used to be a bassist in a band, so I feel you. They don’t understand us, how important we are. In the same way, it’s easy to forget the importance of the bass notes in your chord progressions. By simply changing the bass notes, it can move the chords into a whole new feeling and alter the way they sit inside the progression without changing the actual chords.

Let’s take that same chord progression: C-Am-Em-G. Instead of playing the root notes as the bass notes, you could play it like this: C/A-Am/F-Em/B-G/D. It just adds a little flavor while still keeping the chord progression and melody intact.

Guitarists, Use a New Tuning

If you play guitar and haven’t yet played around with alternate tunings, you’ve got to try it. Not only is it really fun, but it also gives your chords new life.

One of my current favorite tunings is D A D F# A D — an open strum is a D major. If you’re new to it, it may take some time to figure out how to play your chord progressions in this new architecture, but it’s also just great to mess around and hear things differently. If you’d rather, you can start with drop D tuning (low E string tuned down to D) or drop Ds (both E strings tuned down to D) and play the progression in the key of D.

So continuing on with the same chords C-Am-Em-G, you could play it in the key of D in drop D tuning: D-Bm-F#m-A. Learn some more tunings here if you’re game to try new things!

Switch Time Signatures

Most Western pop songs are in the 4/4 time signature. And that’s fine — 4/4 is easy and a lot of great songs are in that signature. But it also produces a lot of boring chord progressions.

Sometimes, it’s not about changing the chords, it’s about switching the time signature. If your song just isn’t working, try playing it in a 3/4 signature. Yes, it will change the rhythm of your melody, but maybe for the better. And if you really want to get crazy, try writing a chord progression in 5/4 or 7/4 and 7/8. It’s very difficult, I’ve tried it, and so have tons of artists. But if you can do it, you for sure end up with a progression that sounds very unique.

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Caleb J. Murphy
Caleb J. Murphy

Caleb J. Murphy is a songwriter and producer based in Austin, TX., and the founder of Musician With A Day Job, a blog that helps part-time musicians succeed. He's been self-releasing music since 2009 in various bedrooms, basements, garages, and closets.