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Create more by using less

Constrain yourself

Sometimes it’s hard to get started because there’s just so much you could do. When you’re in that space, think about eliminating possibilities.


Progression variation

For instance, you might have two chord progressions that you really like. You’re thinking of using one for the verse and the other for the chorus, but it doesn’t seem to be working. They simply don’t flow together.

Just eliminate one. It doesn’t matter which one. Tell yourself you’ll use the other one in another song.

Now take the one you’ve kept and explore the possible chord sequence combinations. For instance, the following chords – G Am Em D – could be combined as a progression in the following ways:


  1. G Am Em D
  2. G Am D Em
  3. G D Em, Am
  4. G D Em Am
  5. Am G Em D
  6. Am Em D G
  7. Am D Em G
  8. Am D G Em


Use the same process starting the progression with Em and then with D. At the end, you’ll have 16 progressions you can use. Some will be similar to others, but some will be different enough that they can be used side by side. In other words, one can be for the verse and one can be for the chorus.

Stay open to adding an extra chord if you think it’s necessary. Constraining yourself should be about generating ideas. This means that, when appropriate, you get to step outside of the box you’ve created.


Chord Duration

Another technique is to determine how long each chord can be. To keep it simple, stick to either 2 beats or 4 beats.

For instance:

G / / / | Am / / / |Em / / / | D / / / | can become


G / Am / | Am / / /|Em / D / | D / / / | .


If you repeat portions of the progression, more possibilities present themselves.

For instance,


G / Am / | G / Am | Em / / / | D / / / | or


G / Am / | G / Em / | G / / / | D / / / |


Combining progression variation and chord duration helps you generate a ton of possibilities. The work is always to find variety in a small amount of material.

When you do this, you find yourself writing more stuff. That other progression that you wanted to use for the chorus now becomes a completely new song.



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