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Spice Up Your Pop with Simple Chord Substitution

Pop songs are often built on fairly simple chord progressions. This helps make a song more accessible and easier to remember. But sometimes you might feel that you’re stuck in a rut, repeating I – IV – V over and over. Here are three simple substitutions that, if your melody allows, can make these same chords more interesting without straying out of common pop harmony. Set up some extra tracks on your sequencer and try each out against your melody

Most songs begin on the tonic (I) chord. This example is two bars long but it could just as easily be four or eight bars:

|| I / / / | / / / / ||
|| C / / / | / / / / ||

If your melody doesn’t clash (which in C Major would mean it contains lots of Bs and Es), try starting on the subdominant (IV) and then landing on the I:

|| IV / / / | I / / / ||
|| F / / / | C / / / ||

For more harmonic movement, add a dominant (V) chord. You’re still firmly grounded in familiar rock and roll territory:

|| IV / V / | I / / / ||
|| F / G / | C / / / ||

Now for variety, replace the IV chord with a supertonic (ii) chord. This is a common substitution. A ii chord shares two notes with the IV and adds a D for interest:

|| ii / V / | I / / / ||
|| D min / G / | C / / / ||

(The small Roman numeral ii indicates a minor chord)

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