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Algorithmic songwriting

Try applying algorithm to chord progressions if you feel like you can’t find something new.

This can be really simple or really complex.



Use every third chord in the key.

If you’re in the key of C…


Cmaj       Dmin       Emin      Fmaj       Gmaj       Amin        Bdim


…every third chord would be.


Cmaj      Emin      Gmaj      Bdim       Dmin       Fmaj      Amin       Cmaj


There might be a couple of moves in there that you like, moves you wouldn’t have thought of without using this technique.


A little less simple

Two rules: Use every third chord in the key; make every fourth chord  a seventh chord.


Cmaj     Emin     Gmaj     Bdim7     Dmin      Fmaj     Amin7    Cmaj    Emin     Gmaj7            Bdim      Dmin     Fmaj7      Amin7      Cmaj   etc


Less simple still

Three rules: Use every third chord; every fourth chord is a seventh chord; change key every fifth chord. I’m changing keys by going around the circle of 4ths: Cmaj – Fmaj – Bbmaj – Ebmaj.


Cmaj     Emin     Gmaj     Bdim7    Fmaj      Amin      Cmaj7     Edim     Bbmaj      Dmin7       Fmaj Adim    Ebmaj7   Gmin   Bbmaj    etc.


I find this a bit limiting since it basically just plays the same four-chord progression in a different key. Let’s try making every fifth chord the I chord in the new key and move by thirds in that key. The keys are now Cmaj – Dmin – Emin – Fmaj


Cmaj     Emin     Gmaj     Bdim7     Dmin     Fmaj    Amaj   C#dim7    Emin   Gmaj   Bdom7       Dmin   Fmaj7    Amin7    Cmaj    etc.


These are just off the top of my head. They aren’t designed to be earth-shattering; they’re just for teasing out sounds that you may not have discovered by doing things the way you normally do them.

These ideas can be extended. For example, alternate moving the chords by a third and then by a fourth (i.e. Cmaj to Emin is a third; Emin to Amin is a fourth, etc.)  Notice that I’m staying in the key of C.


Cmaj     Emin      Amin     Cmaj     Fmaj     Amin     Dmin     Fmaj     Bdim      Dmin


With this technique, you get chords repeating themselves more often.

The basic idea here is to think of something to change, and then make that change at a regular time-interval (every third chord; every sixth beat, etc).

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