Having recently completed Grade 8 music theory, I'm looking for some suggestions of books/resources for songwriting theory.

I'm mainly interested in chord progressions and the relationships between chords (tonic, dominant, subdominant etc) and the circumstances and styles in which they are used.

I bought some books by Rocky Rooksby (How to write songs on keyboard), but these merely suggest chord sequences - I'm really looking for the theory behind the suggestions rather than the sequences themselves.

Any suggestions would be great!

2 Answers 2


I'm going to trot out my favourite quote for this forum - 'Theory describes, it does not command'.

Show me a song, I'll find a theoretical justification for its chord sequence. It might be a simple 'use the chords within the scale'. It might need 'secondary dominants' to explain some out-of-scale notes. If that fails, we might have to 'borrow' chords from some related key or mode. Or maybe we'll have to invoke 'planing' which can neatly allow any chord chromatically adjacent to a 'permitted' one.

Whatever. But rest assured, whatever you show me, I'll find some 'theory' to explain it.

Don't work from a set of rules. Work from real music. Find some songs. See what they do. Put those things in your list of possibilities.

  • Yes, I totally agree, I'm just wondering if there are any good books that can point the way - perhaps my question should be broader, more like, 'what are my options beyond G8 theory for studying composition?' Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 15:39
  • 3
    Like I said. Study the printed music of some compositions you admire. Don't worry too much about developing rules, finding reasons why some chord progression was 'allowed'. Just note the ones that sound good and add them to your lexicon.
    – Laurence
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 18:22

"Edly's Music Theory for Practical People" by Ed Roseman is a good resource to have on hand. Chapters 9 and 10 (I, IV, V & The Twelve Bar Blues and iim, iiim, vim, & vi) start with a good discussion about how to build a harmonization (chord progression) around some simple well know melodies and how to build and add color to chords to fit a melody.

  • I have the "revised & expanded third edition" (2009). Chapters may be different in other editions.
    – John
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 2:57

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