I want to give a short overview about some resources for cool chord progressions. This is less about single chords itself but about the combination of chords to form a progression. According to your needs that may be flashy or a low-key depending on what you need for your song.
I tended to think that the chord progression is THE main thing of a song (me, having a rock / pop background) and a big chance to be unique / better than the rest. But let’s be honest here: When I sit in front of my piano trying to come up with a progression, the results are always similar: Preferring white keys? Preferring that cool James Bond chord you learned last month on youtube? Prefering minor chords? Prefering major chords? Preferring jazzy or pop chords? It’s therefore a good thing to bring in some element of happy accident or surprise. Something out of your box. For this I use a mixture of presets, tools and (other people’s) knowledge. That’s how:
Chord Progression Presets (MIDI)
If you think using presets / pre fab parts will spoil your art, have a look at this article from my Productivity for Creativity series. If you’re looking for a pop song progression and you think you have to come up with something unique you should watch this video and know the chord progression it is featuring. Not only useful but amusing as well :). What I have in my (MIDI) library is this
- 1001 chord progressions by pATCHES (10.01$): Top quality for styles gospel, pop, R&B, rap, rock. Worth every cent.
- Cymatics – MIDI Chord Progressions (Volumes 1 – 4; FREE): Hey, I just saw that volume 5 is out as well. Have to check that out. Using the link you’ll find all volumes and Future Bass Midi Loops as well. Every volumen has 20 progressions which makes it 100 in total with very cool stuff.
- MIDI Chords, Scale MIDI Presets, Scale Clip Reference by Issac Cotec AKA subaqueous: This is linked to all his stuff on gumroad because he has a lot of other cool downloads there. Most of his resources are free and all of it is very good.
- Old School MIDI Stuff I bought (for younger folks: this means that I had to pay money for it and it came on floppy disk) in the 80ies or 90ies like Newtronic Intelligent Drum’n’Bass or Twiddly Bits MIDI Funk also have their genre-specific chords progressions. That may be input for you if you want to stay true to a specific genre or (like me) have fun using some genre stuff speed-up or slowed-down in a totally different context.
There are some tools helping with progressions. Some of them are providing musical theory as well. These are mine
- ProChords (5.99$ iOS): If you want unique, this is your tool. “As usual” is provided as well but right next to the same-old-same-old chords are those strange ones no-one in his right mind would pick, right? Coming with WiFi Midi the gap to Ableton is easy to gaped.
- Chord Space (VST, FREE): A bit daunting at first glance but a very useful tool if you want to learn about musical theory as well. “a map of harmonic space” is just down my alley and very helpful if you’re the visual learner.
- Single Chord Follow Action: A good technique I use from time to time are Ableton Live’s Follow Actions: Put some single chords as clips into one track and program follow action to play “Any” or “Other” clips. Sometimes it’s better to go back to the first clip by using (surprise) “First” as follow option because now the clips are not completely randomized but have a bit of a base camp to return to now and then.
- Progression Follow Action: A variation from this technique is to use Follow Actions not on single chord clips but on clips with a full progression (simple or complex ones working fine). Make sure to activate “Legato” on the Lauch tab and randomize as long as you like. Again it may be useful to contain the chaos by using the “First” option as a base camp.
- Melodics: Not really a tool for progessions only, but an excercise/trainer for finger drumming and (new feature) keys (“Lern to play. Play to Learn”). In the keys section you’ll find lessons with focus on chords and this is helpful to learn them and to realize that progressions don’t have to be complex or the chords used don’t have to be fancy to produce a cool sounding piece of music. The basic version is free and it’s fun to use. Maybe you discover your talent for finger drumming and keys on your way.
- Learning from presets is a good way to improve your knowledge as is learning chords from your favorite tunes. MIDI is awesome for that because you don’t have to figure out the chords by ear but have the note information fully available. If you want to play along you can turn the speed down to make it easier and less frustrating. If you’re too reckless to figure out the chords by yourself you should try songsterr.com, or some of the other websites with tabs for guitar, bass or piano chords.
- Watching the youtube videos of Jeff Schneider is good thing if you’re interested in Jazz, Soul, Neo-Soul. He has cool and unusual progressions and explains them very well. Check him out here.
- Another great youtuber is Julian Bradley. He has lots of progressions and other useful stuff in his channel and on his website, again well explained. He offers free MIDI from time to time which may save some time if you’re in a hurry. Check him out here.
- Revolution Harmony is another good source of knowledge on Youtube. They have chord progressions and lots of other useful stuff. Their videos are fun to watch, too, so you won’t waste your time or have at least fun while doing it.
- A full website for chords progressions is hooktheory.com They have them sorted by level of expertise (Beginner, Intermediate, Advance), popularity, genre etc. plus they show you which song uses which progression. It’s surely an eye opener how unique or not your killer / secret weapon progression is.
I hope you found that information useful and not a waste of time. If you have questions or another source I should check, please write a comment. That would be cool of you. Thanks for the time and attention and now make some music.