3 Biggest Mistakes musicians & Songwriters Make With Chord Progressions

Updated: Sep 11, 2020

Do you know the 3 biggest mistakes musicians and songwriters make with chord progressions that kill their results?

If you want to write better music and avoid the chord progressions mistakes that stop most people dead in their tracks read this immediately because the mistakes and what to do instead are inside this article.

Mistake #1: Thinking that they can stay "good enough" knowing just enough to get by

This mistake can be summed up harshly in one word: arrogance. It’s okay, I’ve been a victim of arrogance my whole life. We all deal with situations that we think we know enough about. We’ve put in the work, we dust off our hands and say “That’s probably good enough.”

If there is a type of chord or an unfamiliar chord progression that trips you up, you can’t see that as a defeat. You need to meet the unfamiliar as a musical challenge.

Music is a pursuit. Think back to when you first tested the waters, knowing nothing, but continuing on anyway. That took courage and determination. And the journey of discovering your musical ability is exciting. Do you remember how it made you feel when secrets started unlocking and revealing themselves to you? How powerful was that? Did it feed into that drive to continue that got you to where you are today?

The reality is, that doesn’t have to go away. There are always new and interesting things to discover just around the corner that could fundamentally change you as an artist. Can you imagine how frustrating it would be if you knew you were a few feet away from striking gold, but stopped digging and settled where you were?

If you want writing music to be more than just a cute hobby that your friends and family patronize you about, you have to be the one that takes it more seriously than you’d like them to treat you. No one is going to hand you anything; making music is hard work, and making music that reaches people is even harder.

But you took a chance on yourself in the first place, you know something about your music that maybe not everyone knows yet. Dedicate yourself to improving your craft and never stop learning.


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Mistake #2: Having a narrow scope for musical inspiration

It is easy to think that when you enter the realm of writing music, the most important choice is genre. There are different ways we can approach that can of worms, but the important thing here is being aware of where you draw your influence from.

Nobody alive creates music in a vacuum. If you write music now, you will leave traces of inspiration and references. *Cliche alert* “You are what you eat”. If you listen to what you already know, you will sound like what you already know.

The problem is, everyone else already knows too. You have nothing new to offer that hasn’t already been given.

This is a mistake because, like the previous mistake, comfort kills. Settling in on the music you already like limits your possibilities and creativity.

While there are many simple chord progressions to choose from, you need to remember that templates are meant to be a starting point that you fill in and make your own.

There is a near infinite amount of sounds to sift through out there, and again, something golden that could change your whole perspective about how to approach your songwriting is waiting around every corner. To actively choose to ignore these chances to progress is letting yourself down, as well as your audience, your would-be audience, and the impact you could have had as an artist

You are no longer just a consumer of content; you are a creator. Start acting like one.

You need to choose to actively listen to all music, even the stuff you don’t like. Try to pin down why you don’t like, maybe something you would do differently. Most importantly, try to find something you do like.

If you only like hip hop, start listening to classical pieces. If you only like jazz, start listening to early 90’s skate punk. If you only like EDM, listen to “Animals” by Pink Floyd.

Try new things. When you do it long enough, you sit down to write and realise something completely new and exciting has come through you. That is when the real magic starts to happen.


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Mistake #3: Believing you don’t have to study chord progressions

Not digging deeper is obviously the recurring mistake theme here. It is easy to think that you have a chord progression that works, and that is good enough. But there are limitations to this.

If you can’t explain the reasons for using the type of chord and chord movement in your progression, you need to hit the books.

This is a critical gap that you need to fill.

What happens if any changes need to be made to the chord progression, or the melody? If there is a lack of understanding of what is in the progression and why, can you confidently make choices 100% of the time?

Can you be sure that these choices are the best possible ones to make for the situation?

This is about being prepared to excel in your work.

Scale degrees are your best friend, so use them. Having a thorough understanding of the possible jobs you can assign to a chord based on its position in the scale can change everything.

Chords imply melody, and melody implies chords. When you can leverage this, you stop smashing different elements of music together and begin writing a piece of music.

Your process goes from blindly guessing and hoping for the best, to a process of elimination and effectiveness. I don’t have to tell you which one is more likely to be hired.


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