How To Write Chord Progressions That Inspire You (Songwriting Tips For Beginners)

songwriting tips for beginners

Chords that are chosen well and put into good chord progressions make our songs sound interesting, emotional and pleasing to the ear. As a beginning songwriter, you might wonder how to make your own chords and how to come up with chord progressions for your songs.

I'm going to break it all down and help you find chords that will inspire you to write your next song. So this is going to be super practical. I share a beginner friendly and intuitive approach to chord progressions, sparing you the overwhelm of music charts, scales, time signatures and theory. You're going to walk away with a sense of direction and a set of hands on strategies that will help you get unstuck and finish your next song. Let's crush some chords together!

How To Make Chords

Most often, good chords come from musical instruments. If you don't play one, don't worry, I've got you covered in a sec. Assuming you already play an instrument though, start playing copycat with your favorite songs. You've probably already done this. When learning an instrument one of the most exciting things is getting to learn your favorite songs. If you’re new to your instrument, figure out what chord progressions are being used in your favorite songs. This can be done through a quick youtube search or google search. You can find tabs for your guitar, a video of someone playing piano or ukulele, banjo, etc. It’s amazing. If you’re able to pick things out by ear, you can simply play around until you find the chords. As you’re playing copycat, notice the verse chord progressions and the chorus chord progressions… Do they differ? How do they differ? What changes, what jump did they make? Start gathering these chords and patterns that resonate with you. Start practicing these transitions. If you do this consistently, you’ll start storing these chords and patterns in your head and muscle memory.

The same steps apply if you don't play an instrument. You can use loops or samples to play copycat with your favorite songs. An advantage of using samples, is the ability to filter search. You can zero in on specific instrument loops and samples. So if one of your favorite songs mainly uses guitar, find some guitar loops. If another uses electric ukulele (is that a thing? I sure hope so...) you could literally track down that specific sound. Awesome resources for loops and samples would be websites like "Splice" or DAW's that come with loops like Garageband (free for apple users) or Logic Pro X (for apple users, not free). Once you own legal access these, you can use them however you want since they are royalty free (which will save you legal trouble if your song blows up).

How To Choose Chords

We’re trying to get inspired here, not technical. It’s hard to write a song when nothing is inspiring you to write, so we want to use our instrument or loops/samples to put ourselves in a position to be inspired. So when you pick up your instrument to try and write something, have no intention of learning anything... You're not perfecting technique of your instrument playing, you’re simply letting your muscle memory from before and experimentation in the moment collide. Don’t force this. Which is easier said than done. But this should be a free flowing time, where you’re not expecting to figure out the perfect chords for your next song. You’re just playing. And there’s something really special about these moments. However you’re walking into your bedroom, your home studio, your couch in the living room the patio outside… whatever headspace you’re in, whatever mood you’re in, the life you’ve lived up to the moment you grab your instrument, the DAY you’ve had up until that moment... It can just influence the chords you find. It’s one of the few parts of songwriting I believe there’s “mojo” not to be messed with. I’m don’t subscribe to the whole magic moments every moment... the idea that a song is lost if you didn’t “capture the ghost” and the stars aligned. The stars don’t need to align to make a good song that you’re proud of. However, this process of writing good music for your song, making interesting chord progressions and emotional chord progressions you’re going to write to and create a story with… I just believe there’s some “magic” to be had in the moment.

Remember, you’re not going to strike gold every time you search for it. You will have these magic moments, you’ll catch a glimpse of something and flesh it out just enough to make sense of what you stumbled into. When that happens, you simply lean in and most importantly repeat that cool part and practice it in the moment so you remember it.

You've got this!

– Nathan

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