In regular pop music for example, I know I can play the I, the IV and the V (In that same order).

I also know I can replace the I with the III and VI, the IV with II and the V with VII.

I know the V is used to establish tonality and that V - I is important, yara yara.

When doing progressions using these replacements, they really don't sound that great. I see people playing all sorts of crazy chords. How can I do this? Are there any techniques you can point me to thanks?

I'm a piano player trying to compose a song, I'm working on the harmony first.

BTW: I've studied some jazz, I know about extended chords (#9/b9, #11, b13, etc) I also know the modes, and the modes of the jazz scale (aka: minor major).



When you say "crazy chords" you could be referring to a lot of different things depending on what style you are referring to.

But to keep this helpful instead of exhaustive, let me recommend a few interesting things to explore in your chord choices.


To make major and minor chords, you stack thirds, such as C - E - G or D - F - A. If you keep stacking thirds, you get 7th, 9th, 11th and even 13th chords. (adding extensions can be done diatonically by staying within a key signature or with chromatic alterations, such as sharping an 11th or flatting a 9th.) For example, when you add a B onto a C major chord, you get a C major 7th chord. Add a D on top of that and you get a C major 9th chord. Play around with stacking thirds up to the 9th for each root note of a major scale (the first two in C would be C-E-G-B-D and D-F-A-C-E).

Borrow from other keys

Try using chords from other keys to bring different colors to your song. Some great chords to try are bVII major, II major, iv minor, v minor, or bVI major (in the key of C, these would be Bb major, D major, F minor, G minor, or Ab major.) Sometimes just one of these can make your song feel really fresh. Combine these chords with some extensions from above and you will start to feel pretty cool.

Learn Famous Chord Progressions

A few chord progressions get used over and over again because they always seem to sound great. One to know in and out is the falling 5ths (or circle of fourths) progression: iii vi ii V I, or the shorter ii V I (in C this would be Em - Am - Dm - G - C, or just Dm - G - C). These progressions can again sound great with extensions of all kinds.

Another might be Pachabel's chord progression: I - IV - V - iii - IV - I - IV - V. Or any chunk thereof.

Finally, just learn a lot of songs that you like and copy their chord progressions verbatim. Chord progressions are not copy-righted, and many great songs are built on the chords from other songs. Wikipedia gives a partial list of 16 songs built on "Rhythm Changes," i.e. the chords to Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhythm_changes

I hope you find the crazy chords you're looking for soon!

  • Extensions: So for example if I add a Flat 9 to a C minor. I would change it to a Phrygian (Or Locryan), That would change the scale, it wont be Aeolian anymore. Is that something I can do whenever I want without problems, changing the mode like this?. Borrow from other keys: This sounds good, how do I know which chords I can borrow? is it just trial and error? This sounds very good. Learn famous chord progressions: I'll try that! You're really helpful man! – Nelo Oct 21 '16 at 16:07
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    Scales change all the time as a song progresses. In my experience, when the scale underlying your chord choices changes a little bit, the song takes a slight turn, and when the scale changes dramatically, it's either for passing through to another scale or for an abrupt contrast. Borrowing chords from either the parallel minor/major (same root different mode) works well, and borrowing chords from closely related keys (1 step away on the circle of fifths and the relative minor/major of those keys; e.g. C's related keys would be F major, D minor, G major and E minor) will usually also work. – John Platter Oct 22 '16 at 5:43
  • (And yes, be thinking both harmonic and melodic minor where I mentioned above.) Finally, another reason to know the falling fifths progressions in and out is because you can basically use them ad nauseam to get to any harmonic destination you would like and it will always sound great. Try experimenting with making the chords in falling fifths progressions minor or a dominant 7 type chord to imply either a ii - V or a vi - ii - V feeling to any desired I. Also consider that #9/b9 and b13 extensions on the dominant 7 imply a V - i whereas plain 9 and 13 extensions imply a V - I (#11 is just fun) – John Platter Oct 22 '16 at 5:58

play the inversions

change up the chord a little bit:

for I, play Iadd6

for V, play V7

C major 6th chord and A minor 7th chord: same notes but different quality, why?


in regular pop music for example, I know I can play the I, the IV and the V (In that same order).

That makes me think of Love is Strange (1956), or something else from the very early days of rock/pop emerging from blues forms.

Some of the things you say in the question suggest that you have the idea that music should be 'in a key' to the extent that it only uses notes and chords from a certain key. Some music is like that, but a lot isn't.

John Platter has mentioned the idea of borrowing from other keys. A particular case I'll mention is that of using chords from parallel keys together in a song, such as using chords from C major and C minor.

Some of the choices that will give you are similar to the chords you will come up with by rooting chords on the notes of the blues scale. Here is an example. (often open fifth chords are used when doing this, rather than major or minor chords).

Another example of a way to make a chord progression is to take a single chord shape - a minor chord in this case - and simply move it around in a parallel motion. Again, we're not sticking to the notes of a key there.

In general, it is a great idea to learn a lot of different styles of music - blues, jazz, older R'n'B-style pop, funk and soul... and learn the very different types of harmony that appear in each one. Pop music is very broad and there isn't one set of rules that will give good results for all. This article briefly mentions some ways in which different kinds of harmony have come and gone in the pop charts...

...and as that article also alludes to, you can write songs without thinking in terms of block chords. A lot of modern pop is based around a bassline, rather than a chord progression as such.

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    Yeah, I was reading about modal interchange the other day, I think it's the same concept as what you are saying. Basically I can choose chords from parallel keys. I liked this idea. However it randomly works. sometimes some chord changes sound like a Trainwreck, and/or the scale that go over them is rather different than the previous scale. I'll try your parallel motion movement idea and the bassline idea and links you passed. You've been very helpful! – Nelo Oct 21 '16 at 16:22

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