I'm an hobbyst "music producer", using DAW software. Since I'm basically self thought I don't know almost of the basics. An important topic I'm completely ignorant is the arrangement. Unfortunately if almost all the theory we can easily find sources on the net, books and so on, I can't find anything on arrangement. So my tracks became almost boring after some seconds, even if some ideas are ( may be ) not so bad. So well, I know a song has some variations, some chord progression changes, ie if I have a song like this:


I should have a chord progression for the A,B and C part, is it correct? So, well, my ear is not so good so just listening to a song does not make me aware of the structure. Take this example:

"The Gold Bug" by The Alan Parson's Project

It appears to me that the entire song is just based on a single chord progression, am I correct ( which is that chord progression ), and the interest driver is just the melody, am I correct in my analysis?

  • 1
    Have you tried re-creating any of your favorite songs? Not just listening, but trying to play/compose/arrange the music yourself from scratch? Understanding the structures of existing music will help you understand how to use what structures in your compositions. Note that some songs have very simple structures and others very complicated ones. For example, "What I Got" by Sublime is the same two chords, over and over again for the whole song. Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 13:29
  • What type music do you want to produce? I mean what style or genre? Are you only arranging/composing the music? Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 22:38
  • @RockinCowboy Trance/EDM Commented Nov 6, 2015 at 6:04

3 Answers 3


Just to give you a little kick for starting off:

You are right - the driver is the melody. There is not really any chord progression for the dedicated parts but rather one for the whole song...

So when the Sax begins to play you have

|Dm |Dm |Dm |Dm |
|Dm |Dm |Dm |Dm |
|Cm |Cm |Cm |Cm |
|Dm |Dm |Dm |Dm |

|Gm |Gm |Gm |Gm |
|Dm |Dm |Dm |Dm |
|Gm |Gm |Gm |Gm |
|Dm |Dm |Dm |Dm |

When these patterns start repeating you can find out something about the structure of the whole song. You will find straight 4-bar patterns that give you a hint where the different parts start and end.

Just start to jot down what YOU can hear - like counting bars (1 2 3 4 - 2 2 3 4 - 3 2 3 4 - 4 2 3 4) and make an empty template to fill in later on.

And after having a closer listen at the melody you can restructure your sheet to e.g.

Intro      |    |                       (Strings whistle - tempo ad lib)

Part(1) A  |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |    (Drums and Bass)

Part(2) A  |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |    (Synth)
        A' |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |

Part(3) A  |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |    (Sax)
        A' |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |

    (4) B  |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |
        B  |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |

Part(5) A  |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |    (Choir)
        A' |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |

Part(6) B  |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |

Part(7) A  |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |    (Girl Voice)
        A  |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |    fade out

Now go to whatever instrument and find out something about the chords and fill in what YOU hear or find on your instrument - like I did above...

Having a basic grid of the whole song will give you a better overview of what you have got at hand. Even visually - without having to count bars - you will see symmetry or not and that will give you another clue where parts begin or end...

When you finally got all your parts together it should be easy to name them and write the final draft of your score.

As for tonality you may be tempted to think of the song as being in an phrygian environment because of Dm being a very strong tonal center and having a minor chord on the bVII (Cm) and the IV (Gm) is the characteristic of the phrygian mode. But that doesn't hold if you consider the melody of the Saxophon which uses D E F E D C G A. This is clearly not phrygian which would use D Eb F G A...

So you learn that you shouldn't draw conclusions about the mode just by looking at the chords ;-)

Here part A' is just a shifted sequence of A. And you might also Part B consider to be A'' - another sequence of A. At least from the structure given by the accompanying instruments. Even the first four bars of the melody have the same rhythmic pattern only different notes and later on some ornaments and a little improv.

But when you listen closely to bar 13-16 of Part(3) and Part(4) you will notice that they are exactly the same, indicating once more that B is nothing more than another variation of A.

Finally - as for tonality you should have a close look at Part(5) A. The voicing of the girls-choir are A-B-A, F-G-F, D-E-D. This boils down to a scale of D E F G A B (C) D which is definitely dorian. In Part(5) A' you find the same trick in C dorian. G-A-G, Eb-F-Eb, C-D-C and even a 4th voice Bb-C-Bb. This gives you even the complete dorian scale C D Eb F G A Bb C.

Now you can be sure of just having sequences of the same basic pattern A.

So if you don't recognize a lot of terms and concepts I have used above you know at least where you can start and what to watch out for ;-)


You know, you've probably got a better ear than you let on, but you are uneducated musically. You need both the spark to create (which you obviously possess even as a hobbyist) and a learned mind to be able to arrange RELIABLY. That's your question, right? I bet you have one or two tunes that are arranged very nicely, but you sort of randomly "happened" into it during the recording process.

So, how do you solve this? You need to know basic music theory. I'm not talking about becoming a sight reading machine, I mean KNOWING HOW chords are structured and named; scales, intervals, keys, modulation, harmonic analysis, motifs, themes, moods, timbre, counterpoint, and lots of other really awesome things about music that arrangers use.

It's about having ALLLL these really cool tools at your disposal. Sometimes all you need is a hammer and nail, but other times you need more precise tools.

Enroll in your local community college and take Fundamentals of Music Theory (if you know ABSOLUTELY nothing about musical notation) and then take Music Theory 1101 or I or whatever the first level is at the college.

Private lessons will cost well over the price of a couple community college classes, which shouldn't run you over about $1000 combined. How much money have you sunk into your recording setup? PC, interface, DAW, midi controllers, headphones, etc. Your next "gear purchase" should be some college level music courses. Totally worth it. Plus you get to network with other musicians!

  • Yeah actually I have some basics in chords and keys, I can't probably start to write anything without, of course. I read about harmonization and so on, but I reallly leak on structure and transitions... Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 16:51
  • A college music theory level 1 course would do wonders. It's a structured environment with each subject relying on the previously chapter. You ask a lot of theory related questions which are not very easily answered, I would give those to a music professor. Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 20:52

You’ve gotten some good answers here already, but let me just add that a very important thing to keep in mind while learning music theory and song structure is that these are NOT hard rules set in stone that you absolutely must follow. While you are learning do not get tripped up on having to do anything a certain way because you will find many great songs that break every rule you thought you knew. :) Music theory and song structure are to be used as tools to help you create new ideas and get the ideas from your head out into your instrument, they are not restrictions to limit you. Analyzing a specific song is great to find out what they did in that particular case, but a different song might take a completely different approach. The more songs you pick apart and the more theory you learn the more tools you’ll have in your bag to help you get a specific sound or a specific feel that you want for your music.

So in regards to your question about should you use a different chord progression for each section (A, B, C)...while you can do it that way you certainly don't have to. Whether or not you “should” do it is up to you to determine what kind of song you’re going for. No one else can tell you what type of music you want, that’s up to you to decide.

To illustrate this point, here are a couple polar opposite song examples which show the wide range of song structure you can use to achieve a great song...

The first example I think most people know is "A Horse with No Name" by America. The chord progression here is literally only two chords alternating back and forth throughout the entire song and the guitar strumming pattern also doesn't change. In addition the two chords are very simple "beginner” chords because both chords are played on guitar with only two fingers (when I used to teach guitar lessons this was the very first song I taught to beginners because it was so easy to play). And yet, this song is a classic and iconic song, so how did they make this very simple chord progression sound interesting? They built the verse, chorus, and "la la la" hook sections (or A,B,C sections) with the vocals and other instruments.

The second example is "Deadman" by Karnivool (one of my favorite songs of all time). This song is on the opposite end of the spectrum of song structure because there essentially is no “song structure”. It is a 12 minute song that never repeats so there are no verse/chorus/bridge sections at all, it just constantly changes over the course of the song and it is brilliant song writing IMO. They do bring back lyrical themes on a few occasions but the music surrounding them is completely different.

Which song structure is better? Neither! They are simply different and create different emotions and feelings. So before you decide on your song structure, you have to decide what kind of music you want first. Do you want to tell a complex story that constantly changes where you don’t necessarily want repetition? Or are you going for a simple and catchy pop tune that you want people to sing along to by the next time they hear the chorus? Neither is necessarily better than the other, just different. Use the appropriate tool to help you get the desired affect. :)

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