Playing for example, pop songs can be boring, max 6 chords are used. When I listen to pro players, they add more weird, dissonant chords while transiting from one of that 6 chords to another.

Now, what I'm looking for is formulas to build that chords. This far I know that before chords I can add its V7 (I think that's called tonisation), before first chord VIIdim7 (or sth like that). All I want is to make song more dynamic, dramatic, more colorful.

Please share with me your experience with this topic, I seached all internet about his, havent found much.

  • 4
    You might want to look into parallel chord, parallel mode, reharmonization, and chord substitution. Jun 7, 2015 at 19:43
  • 1
    Just play anything. I make it a point to experiment with chords and entire progressions all the time. And, why bother with a formula? Just play. There are phone apps that can give you the name of whatever you're playing. (e.g. "Reverse Chord Finder" on Android).
    – johnjps111
    Jun 8, 2015 at 11:56
  • I would also check out the book store, there are also a lot of books full of different chords that you could possibly need! Jun 8, 2015 at 14:42

7 Answers 7


I totally understand what you are after. When I first learned guitar, I just played the basic chords of the song with a strumming pattern that worked. My playing was okay, but I noticed that when more experienced guitar players played the same songs with the same chords, the arrangement sounded far more interesting and musical.

Eventually I discovered that the key to spicing up a basic arrangement is to add fills, licks, runs and other easy little "tricks" during the playing of a particular chord or in between chords.

Through just playing and experimenting, I learned many interesting and melodic (and easy) ways to embellish any basic chord progression and make the guitar arrangement sound more "colorful".

For example - while playing any chord, you can move one or more fingers to fret different notes that you can reach while maintaining the basic chord shape. I choose notes that go with the melody of the song (either actual melody notes or notes that harmonize with the melody).

A very common and frequently used example of this technique (probably because it is so easy to do) is while playing an open D chord in first position using XX0232 you can add your pinkie to the 3rd fret of the e string and play a Dsus4 (XX0233) then release the pinkie again to play the D chord again and then lift your finger off of the e string to play a Dsus2 (XX0230) and then back to D.

You could say that this is a sequence using 3 chords (D, Dsus4, and Dsus2). But I think of it as adding notes to a D chord because I am maintaining the basic chord shape while putting down or lifting up one finger each time I play a "different" chord.

Another way to do something like this is to use your pinkie to add a G note on the 3rd fret of the high e string while playing a regular first position open C chord.

To add even more spice to this technique, try using hammer on's and or pull off's. For example, try playing an open C chord and then lift any one finger off the fret board, play the open string and then hammer back down where you lifted your finger without striking the string again. This allows you to add two quick individual notes in succession while strumming the C chord. Often you can do this with several different fingers before moving to the next chord.

Another trick I often use is sliding a note or two (or the entire chord) up a few frets. Try this for an example. Play an open D (XX0232) then play a Dsus4 by adding your pinkie to the 3rd fret of the e string (XX0233) now slide that entire shape up two frets then back then back to the open D again.

Another way to enhance an arrangement is by playing little fills or runs while transitioning between chords. I often play a little run using hammer on's on the 2nd fret of the A and D and playing the open G string to transition between an open G chord and a C chord.

Another way to make many arrangements sound more interesting is to use bass walks between chords. For example, if you are going from a C chord to a G chord you can do a little "bass walk" from C to G by playing the notes c (third fret A string) b (second fret A string) the open a (open A string) and the g (3rd fret of low E string) before playing the G chord. I call this a "walk down". If I am going from lower notes to higher notes I call it a "walk up".

These are just a few ideas of things you can easily do to add interest and spice and make any arrangement sound more advanced and colorful. There are other similar ideas that you can discover through trial and error or by watching others play and trying to break down what they are doing and emulate them.

I am not sure there is a formula that will work to tell you what chords to use to transition from a particular chord to another chord on guitar. Even if there was - it might not be practical. I say this because, on a guitar (unlike a piano or other keyboard instrument) each chord is played completely different and some chords are difficult to play and some chords don't lend themselves well to certain type embellishments.

For example if you wanted to play a common I, IV, V progression on guitar in the key of G you can easily play G C and D and add many types of embellishments and fills and runs between those chords using many combinations of fretted and open strings that will fit with a melody in the key of G. But that same I, IV, V progression transposed down a half step to Gb means we now must play a Gb, Cb and Db chord - which don't allow for the same runs and fills and added notes to compliment the melody while playing those chords.

By the same concept, transitioning to a particular passing chord from a given chord in one key might be relatively easy. But in another key it might require an awkward shift in position that only the most acrobatic, nimble fingered, (perhaps double jointed) freaks of nature would be able to pull off.

Therefore any "formula" for passing chords or transition chords, might only be practical or useful for one or two keys (and their relevant chord set).

My recommendation is to play around with some of the ideas presented above and other ways (by watching videos or other players) to easily add notes and fills and licks and runs that fit your song either during or between the playing of the basic chords in the chord progression.

As you experiment with different ideas, you will develop a vocabulary of possible fills and licks and tricks that can work between various chords and while playing certain chords - like the D, Dsus4, Dsus2, D trick that works more often than not when the progression includes a D chord (but not so easily with other chords). As you continue to use the tricks you learn, you will eventually be able to instinctively know what is going to work in any given situation.

Good luck and enjoy the journey.

  • That sus2/4 also works easily and effectively on open A.
    – Tim
    Jun 9, 2015 at 6:51
  • @tim I agree, it is relatively easy on open A and I use it often. Some folks play open A with a mini barre though and it's not as easy from that formation. Jun 10, 2015 at 3:14

The mainstay chords for most standard pop songs are I, IV and V. The minors are sometimes used - ii, iii and vi. The 7th chord, a dim., isn't put into a lot of songs. All these start as triads, and can have extra notes played with those 3. The most common is a 7th, although 9ths, sus 2 and 4, and 6ths work well.

Alongside those are chords from the parallel key. As in C major, use chords from C minor. So as well as C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am and Bo, there are Cm, Do, Eb, Fm, Gm, Ab and Bb. There's 14 to be going on with! Just using triads!

Start thinking about tritone substitution, et al, and actually in any key, almost any chord known to Man can be used, quite legitimately.


Check out the Frank Mantooth book Voicings for Jazz keyboard. He gives some excellent worked examples, and the section on fractional dominant chords is an eye opener. That chapter alone lets you voice II-V-I progressions with gorgeous voicings for the V chord. Use this book to spell chords so they don't sound triadic and twee - but instead sound quartal and grown up. The chord spellings are based on descending fourths rather than ascending stacked thirds. Highly recommended.

But you are going to have to so some(!) work so you can spell the chords in all the common keys, and so you can see a chord name and your hands spring to the right voicing straight away.

The other good thing is that once you start playing these new chords, you start to hear when other people use them too. So instead of hearing 'weird dissonant' chords, you start to be able to identify precisely what's being played.


There's a lot of possibles when going into this topic and a lot to be learned. Let's take a look at a typical progression in the key of C to just get an idea of what is possible:

  C  -  F  -  Dm  -  G
  I  - IV  -  ii  -  V

The progression above is very typical and consists of triads built in the key. Without going outside the key, we can replace triads that share a lot of common tones. One simple example is replacing the G with a Bdim:

  C  -  F  -  Dm  -  Bdim
  I  - IV  -  ii  -  viio

Still using just the notes of the scale, we can also add 7ths to all the triads to give us:

  CM7  -  FM7  -  Dm7  -  G7
  I7  -   IV7  -  ii7  -  V7

There are plenty of other extensions we can take advantage of that are in the key. We can use a C6, a Dm11, and a G9 which all use notes in the key and are more then just seventh chords:

  C6  -  FM7  -  Dm11  -  G9

We can also borrow from related keys/modes the simplest thing we can do in this progression to change it this way is borrow an F minor from the parallel minor to give us:

  C  - Fm  -  Dm  -  G
  I  - iv  -  ii  -  V

Another possibility is we can also replace the F chord in the first progression with an Ab which is also borrowed from the parallel minor and gives the progression a little chromaticism.

  C  - Ab   -  Dm  -  G
  I  - bVI  -  ii  -  V

We can also introduce secondary chords such as a secondary dominant into this progression by replacing the Dm with a D.

  C  - F   -  D    -  G
  I  - IV  -  V/V  -  V

These are all just very simple changes to a basic progression. There are way, way more out there this is just an example of how you can take a basic progression, what to look for and what is possible. There are a lot of questions on this very site that explain what chords to use and where and how substitutions/ alterations can be made and I'll link them soon, but this should get you started and thinking what is possible.

  • 1
    In your 3rd block, it's awkward calling a major 7th I7 or IV7. That's dominant. In your 5th block, Fm doesn't come from the relative minor (of Am). It comes from the PARALLEL minor. In the 6th block, Ab would be bVI - it's not minor. In 7th block, V/V is o.k., but could also be II. Yes, it's showing that D is the dominant of the dominant G, but that's pretty obvious. Not sure if viio should be VIIo, as it's neither maj or min? None of this is to denigrate a good answer!
    – Tim
    Jun 10, 2015 at 7:02
  • 2
    @Tim thanks for the catch on the parallel minor and some of the analysis. I wrote this kind of fast. Also the 7ths in roman numeral analysis are always built from the key so I7 would be a major 7th even though the chord symbol would be CM7. Also a diminished chord is typically lowercase with the circle in analysis.
    – Dom
    Jun 10, 2015 at 14:52
  • Didn't know about I7 being maj 7. So how would dom. 7 be written?
    – Tim
    Jun 10, 2015 at 16:13
  • @Tim if it's not in the key Ib7 because the 7th is lowered. Also a pet peeve of mine for the secondary dominant is to always show function in analysis which II does not. I'm kind of a sticker for that in my analysis posts even though the other way is acceptable.
    – Dom
    Jun 10, 2015 at 16:18
  • Fair point, although II followed by V can ONLY be a secondary dominant!
    – Tim
    Jun 10, 2015 at 16:21

My saxophone teacher gave me an exercise for practicing the arpeggios of various chords in a given key that contain the root note. The form might be difficult to play on guitar, but I think it could be a useful exercise on piano. The different chords are mostly formed by changing one chord tone by a half step each time. Each arpeggio returns to the root of your chosen key, which makes it a sort of circular pattern. This was the progression:

Generic: I, Iaug, VIm, IV, IVm, I Im, Idim, Isus4, I

Key of C: C, Caug, Am, F, Fm, C, Cm, Cdim, Csus4, C

Arpeggios (you can add additional octaves if desired):

C E G c G E | C E G# c G# E | C E A c A E | C F A c A F | C F Ab c Ab F |

C E G c G E | C Eb G c G Eb | C Eb Gb c Gb Eb | C F G c G F | C E G c G E C


"All I want is to make song more dynamic, dramatic, more colorful."

That is very vague and I have trouble understanding what you are asking. If you are trying to make music, everyone wants to make it more colorful, dramatic, and dynamic. So please forgive me if I answer the wrong question.

Pop music uses the same few chords, often, and the use of them is formulaic. In terms of chord structure, I agree: much of pop music is not colorful. But music is about the basics, and sometimes just playing a chord with fervor or beautifully makes for better music than playing a bunch of weird chords.

Here's some formulas:

Classical music, older jazz, and competent musicians/composers/music theorists have a wide range of chords at their disposal, unlike Pop music. They use chords like the diminished 7th as pivot chords to change key, or secondary dominant chords to "tonicize" a chord. These different chord structures (built on concepts like the circle of fifths, the way the dominant or fifth chord is heard, etc.) allow the composer to not only get to a key or place they want to go harmonically, but to add flairs, emphasize certain chords, and create beautiful music.

In short, beyond the "I, IV, V" structures, i.e. C, F, G, C or maybe E flat, A flat, B flat, E flat, you have to get creative. You aren't using a formula.

You said originally you only know 6 chords. I suggest you try and learn all the chromatic chords, that is, 12 major chords and 12 minor chords, one for each note playing up a piano. This allows you to play in any key and play what you hear instead of modulating what you hear into the key of C or some other familiar key.

If you are looking for dissonance, then try looking at secondary dominants or seven (not seventh, which has four notes. Although things get strange with the seven-seventh chord) chords in music (like B in the key C). The seven chord behaves similar to but not identically to the five or dominant chord (G in the key of C) because it shares two notes.

If you are playing guitar, inversions may not come naturally (C/G, C/E), but they can add a lot musically. It's very common to use first inversion chords (like C/E in the case of the C major chord) to make the bass-line in a piece of music step up or down as the chords progress.

I've taken entry-level music theory and it took about half the class to get to chords, so you may not have understood all that. If not, you seem capable and able to learn off the internet.


According to a music theory channel I have been following, one way to make your chord sound more colorful and interesting is to not think of a chord as triads or sevenths with extensions, but as collection of notes from a certain scale played together. For instance, a major chord could be constructed by picking notes from the Lydian or the Ionian mode. So you could view, say, a chord consisting of C, E, F#, A, D and a chord consisting of C, G, A, B, F# as different versions of the same chord (the C chord in this case), and thus you could use any version (not just these two, of course) in place of the traditional or regular C or Cmaj7.

Another way to make your chord spicy is to think of the chords as with multiple components, each moving independently from each other. Below are some common applications of this trick.

  1. Pedal tone: This is common since the age of classical music (Baroque period or even older than that). You could think of it as you split the chord into the bass note and the rest first, and then the second part would move without being restricted by the bass, which is held constant.

  2. Polychords: This is pretty self-explanatory.

  3. Bass walks under static chord: The parts are as in 1. and instead of the chord moving and the bass being held constant, it's the other way around.

  4. An extreme application of this trick: You could thinking of the chords as having multiple parts, each consisting of exactly one note. This might give you some unexpected spicy harmonies.

(And there's still more, of course.)

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