4 chord progression tips you wish you knew earlier

Across all sorts of styles and genres, chord progressions are consistently one of the most key elements of an arrangement.

In this tutorial video, we use the instruments available in Arturia’s V Collection 9 to demonstrate four chord progression tips we wish we knew earlier. See below for a summary of top takeaways, and watch above for more details and to hear how each tip applies in the DAW.

1. A little syncopation goes a long way

Syncopation is a technique where rhythms that avoid the downbeat (or wherever else the ‘expected’ accent lies) are emphasized. Even if you’re not making math rock or djent, a little bit of syncopation can go a long way in adding some additional interest and energy to your music. Above, we discuss both how to apply syncopation on the grid as well as how timbre and envelope settings can also play key roles.

Go to 0:19 in the video to hear more on this topic and see how it applies in action.

2. The ii – V – I chord progression is iconic for a reason

The ii – V – I chord progression is seen as a staple in jazz, but the truth is that it can be used in almost any style of music. One of the qualities that makes the sequence so widely applicable and pleasing to the ear is how it encapsulates a miniature cadence, moving from a predominant chord (ii) to dominance (V) to the tonic (I).

Above, we walk through what the ii – V – I chord progression looks like in major and minor keys, how to voice it in effective ways, and how to get comfortable with the sequence in various keys.

Go to 4:51 in the video to hear more on this topic and see how it applies in action.

3. Chord substitutions are your friend

Chord substitution is a technique where you swap an existing chord with a less expected option. While there’s a ton that can be done even just within your primary key, the possibilities expand exponentially when you also start incorporating chords from closely-related and distant keys.

Above, we showcase two popular techniques that provide some structure to chord substitutions from outside keys: borrowed chords and tritone substitution.

Go to 8:16 in the video to learn more about these techniques and hear how they apply in action.

4. Arpeggios shouldn’t be underestimated

Arpeggiation—a technique where you break up a chord into its individual notes—might be seen as a relatively basic technique. However, the use of both MIDI devices and resampling can take your arpeggios to totally unique territory.

Go to 13:01 in the video to hear more on this topic and see how it applies in action.

Let us know your chord progression tips

What were your favorite chord progression tips from the video? Do you have any additional go-to techniques of your own? Let us know in the comments section of the video, and subscribe to the Splice YouTube channel for more music production tips and tutorials.

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October 9, 2022

Harrison Shimazu Harrison Shimazu is a music composer, content strategist, and writer who's passionate about democratizing music creation and education. He leads the Splice blog.