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Weekly Workout: Cut the Chord—How to Get Out of the I-IV-V Progression Rut

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There’s no shortage of possible explanations for why so much contemporary popular music seems stuck in a rut, but here’s a good one: lack of harmonic imagination. Chords can suggest melodies just as much as melodies can suggest chords, yet many of today’s most successful writers rarely venture beyond a few standard progressions. That’s not to say you can’t still work wonders with even the most overused tropes—think of how many great tunes are oriented around I-IV-V or I-V-vi-IV. But if you’re sticking too much to the harmonically tried and true, you’re limiting your melodic choices. 

Well, if the song doctors won’t come up with something more interesting, you can.

There’s no shortage of possible explanations for why so much contemporary popular music seems stuck in a rut, but here’s a good one: lack of harmonic imagination. Chords can suggest melodies just as much as melodies can suggest chords, yet many of today’s most successful writers rarely venture beyond a few standard progressions. That’s not to say you can’t still work wonders with even the most overused tropes—think of how many great tunes are oriented around I-IV-V or I-V-vi-IV. But if you’re sticking too much to the harmonically tried and true, you’re limiting your melodic choices. 

Well, if the song doctors won’t come up with something more interesting, you can.