The SECRET Formula To Writing Great, Ultra-Modern Chord Progressions

The SECRET Formula To Writing Great, Ultra-Modern Chord Progressions

Tommaso Zillio

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chord progression formula

Do you like math? No? I didn’t think so.

(Then again, I like math a lot, and several of my students are engineers or coders… so maybe you do like math!)

But, whether you like math or not, there can be something immensely satisfying about creating good music by following a ‘formula’ of sorts.

Most of the time, when I tell people that you can make music by using a formula, they look at me like I’m some demonic mad scientist hell-bent on removing all of the emotion and creativity from the sacred act of music creation.

(insert diabolical laughter here…)

But of course, they conveniently forget that everybody is (at least occasionally) making music using formulas, from Mozart to today.

See, here’s the thing – no one is telling you that you must write every single piece of music for the rest of your life with a formula.

This can just be a fun and interesting way to come up with sounds that you may not think of any other way.

And also, nobody says that you have to obey the formula religiously. You can use the formula to write some music… and then pick and choose the best passages.

So, what is this fabled formula that you can use to create new, unique-sounding music?

Well, there’s more than one :-)

But let me share with you a formula that I use often and gives pretty good results:

Of course, all of the above works if you do your voice leading correctly! To learn that, then look no further than my Complete Chord Mastery guitar course, which takes you from the ground up and gives you everything you need to know about chords and harmony on the guitar.

Video Transcription

Hello Internet; so nice to see you! I received a question about a piece I wrote. And, we’re going to discover a great way to write chord progressions for your songs.

“Dear Tommaso, I love the orchestral piece you presented during the augmented madness video. Did you use chromatic mediants apart from augmented chords? Could you spare a second? Explain what you did there? I’ll be grateful forever.”

Well, first of all, let’s go and listen to that orchestral piece just a minute, but listen to it and pay particular attention to the chord progression and if it feels natural or not to you, let’s go.

Okay, so what you’ve just seen is the piece I wrote. And every time there was a red bar on top of the musical bar, it was an augmented chord. And again, people asked me how I wrote this chord progression what it is, if it is chromatic mediant, etc, I’m gonna give you the answer, I’m gonna show you exactly how I wrote that chord progression.

And I’m gonna warn you immediately, that when I explain to you how I did, it’s gonna look very unimpressive. Okay, it’s a very simple technique. And also, when I show it to you the first time, you’re gonna think this is never gonna work. So that’s why I put the piece at the beginning, so you can go back and listen to it and see that it actually works. Okay, I actually used to trick my students sometimes giving this idea to write chord progressions, and then they tell me, it doesn’t work. And then I show them the piece, just because I’m a bastard. Let’s see how I did it.

The first thing I did, I was picking a scale. And I pick this scale of C major, why? Because it’s simple. Why complicate things? Okay, this key of C major will contain the root of all the chords I’m going to use, but it will not contain the whole of the chord, meaning that the root will always be C, D, E, F, G, A, B, there will always be only those notes, but the notes of the rest of the chord could be outside the key, okay, and then I’m giving myself two sequences to follow.

The idea is this, the first sequence I follow is the quality of the chord, I’m always going to play a chord in this order, I’m going to play first a major chord. Okay, and by the way, this is only one possibility, you can do whatever you want. So, I’m going to start with a major chord, an augmented chord, a minor chord, and then another minor chord. So, everything I’m playing there is major, augmented, minor, minor, major, augmented minor, minor, and so on and so forth. Okay?

Why I decided on this, I just picked four chords, okay, seriously, because it’s not harder than that. Second thing, I’m going to start from C. For the next chord, I’m going to move in a specific way, I’m always going to move this way, I’m going to move a third down. Then I’m going to move another third down. Then I’m going to move a fifth down.

Okay, notice that the first sequence has four elements, major, augmented, minor, minor, the second sequence has three elements, third, third, fifth, so they are gonna go in and out of sync all the time. Okay, so I’m gonna start from C, my first chord is going to be a major chord, so I’m gonna write a C major chord, then I’m gonna go down a third in the key of C, I get the A note. And it has to be an augmented chord because it’s the next one in my sequence. So, I’m gonna write A augmented, I’m gonna go down another third, and I’m gonna get an F. And the next chord in my sequence is a minor, so I’m gonna play an F minor. So far, so good. I’m gonna go down a fifth from the note F, I go down a fifth, I find a B, of course, it’s a diminished fifth, but I’m gonna stay in this case. So, F, E, D, C, B, and so I’m gonna write B, and it’s gonna be a minor chord. You notice that those chords are not in the same key of C, A augmented is not, F minor is not, B minor is not, not a problem. As long as the root stays in the key of C, then I connect, I’m gonna keep going.

I’m gonna go down a third from B, I’m gonna get a G, and then I restart this. So, I’m gonna get the G major, down another third, I get an E, and it’s an augmented, so E augmented, and now there’s a fifth, I’m gonna get an A, and that’s going to be an A minor. And down a third, now I’m gonna get an F, and it’s another minor, and so on and so forth. Okay, I can go on as much as I want. The next chord will be down a fifth from here, which is a G, and it’s going to be an augmented. I can stop whenever I want, okay, I just keep going. Okay, this is the chord progression I used in that piece, no more, no less.

Now, of course, I’m gonna play in a moment on the guitar, I’ll show you how you make the sound. But the first objection people have when I show this is that this cannot possibly work, because it’s just a mathematical thing. And you guys are perfectly correct. It’s just a mathematical thing. If the question is, ‘‘how do I know how this sounds?’’, the first time you do it, you don’t know how it sounds, you do this thing a few times. And you start realizing, how you choose this chord or this chord. And this order, and how you choose the interval influence the way the piece sounds.

And you’re going to find very soon, what you like, what you don’t like and how to express different feelings by manipulating this, and this. But once you establish this, and this, you keep going. So again, I have four chord qualities and three intervals, I could have had three chord qualities and four intervals, two of these, five of these, I could put sevenths, seconds, whatever I want, I could put diminished augmented sevens, major seven, whatever I want. In this case it’s just triads. Yes. So far, so good.

Now comes the secret. If I just play this, with the first shape that comes to my mind, it’s gonna sound horrible, because these chords are going to be completely disconnected. Okay, I mean, if I just play C major here, and I’m going to search for an A augmented probably here. This sounds pretty horrible. And then if I go, I’m gonna get an F minor here. And then I’m gonna get a B minor here. And then I’m gonna get a G major and could be, I don’t know, here, it sounds pretty horrible as it is.

So, what you’re gonna do, you’re gonna do a little bit of voice leading, so you’re trying to play those chords so that the notes are as close as possible. If I’m playing C, I can play it here. Okay, let me lower the volume a bit and get a clean sound. I’m gonna play my C here, we’re gonna play the A augmented, I’m gonna try to stay as close as possible with the notes, especially on the top three notes. So, this now feels a little bit more connected. Because the notes are all close by.

And then when it gets to the next chord F minor, I try to stay close by getting this strange shape here. There we go. So gonna have C, then A augmented, then F minor, then B minor, and try to find the closest possible one which is this, then G major the closest possible one, E augmented the closest possible, and A minor the closest possible one, then F minor, the closest possible one, D major, closest possible one, and then G augmented, closest possible one that will be something like this. And so on and so forth.

So, I always try to keep the notes close. Okay, to minimize the movement between the different notes of the chord. Let me give you an example. To give you an example that’s more clear, the first chord is C, and I’m playing a C, a G, a C, and an E. And when I play the A augmented, the bass can move up however I need it to move. But the other note moves very little, the little possible amount. So I have an A, a C sharp, and an E sharp which is like an F. So, the E of the C Major versus the E sharp or F of A augmented the C of the C chord goes to the C sharp of the augmented and the G of the C chord goes to the A of the augmented. So, a very close, very close movement, as opposed to something like this, for instance. Which is very far away, and so less connected, less fluid, less harmonic if you want. Okay, so here’s how I’ve got that chord progression. And again, if it looks like a mathematical trick, it’s because you see only one, I did this several times until I found a chord progression I liked, Simple as that. And then after a little bit of experience, you know how to choose the right qualities and numbers to make the chord progression sound the way you want.

You can use this on your guitar. Now if you don’t like the augmented chords, every time I play on augmented chord here, you cringe and your bowels go up in your throat because it’s like it sounds horrible. Well, I cannot fault you don’t choose the augmented chord in here with only major and minor, okay, naturally, you’re gonna hit some interesting chord progressions, okay.

The person who asked this question asked me if I use chromatic mediants. Occasionally it happens once a chromatic Mediant, two chords that are third apart and not in the same key, it happens every time I have this interval of a third, pretty much I get the chromatic Mediant because C to A, it’s a third, and they’re not in the same key. Okay? Here, A minor to F minor, that’s a chromatic mediant, for instance, okay, B minor and G are actually in the same key, so I mean, some of them are chromatic mediants and some of them are not. It’s not even important as long as you get this and that and you play it. And you try to keep those notes close by so you voice-lead the chord progression, and you don’t stop, okay, and you keep going. The chord progression will make sense. You may like it or not, but it will make sense. This is a hyper-modern way of writing chord progression.

Okay, here’s something that has not been done enough yet. It’s completely new and you can create new things using this. So that’s a trick I’m giving to you guys. Okay, take it and write your own music.

Now if you want to know how to connect all those things, so that you are always voice-leading these chords, always choosing the closest possible inversion and you want to do it in real-time without thinking too much, I’m doing this in my course Complete Chord Mastery. Complete Chord Mastery is not a book. It’s a complete video course that takes you from the basics up. We do everything you need to know about harmony and chords on your guitar. All the theory is done straight on the fretboard. There is no theory for the sake of theory here. Everything is immediately practical. And everything is developed through exercises so you know how to apply this immediately on your guitar. If you have just a minute, click on the link on the top right to check out complete chord mastery.

If you liked this video, smash that like button and don’t forget to subscribe and click on notifications, otherwise YouTube will not let you know when I put up a new video. And if you have any comments, feedback, suggestions, write them down in the comments. I enjoy reading from you and I make videos on your suggestions. This is Tommaso Zillio of, and until next time, enjoy.

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