When you’re looking for ideas for a new song or instrumental composition, one well-trodden path is to put together a short chord sequence and then look for melodies that work over the top of this to create something original.
In my experience, the critical step in this process is your choice of second chord. Assuming you’re starting with the root chord, your choice for the chord that follows will often have a critical influence on the way the piece pans out.
Here’s an example. The Cmaj7 chord dictates the melody and the feel …
Your Song (Elton John and Bernie Taupin)
It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside
G Cmaj7 D Bm
The most common chords to take up the second position are those that conform to the scale associated with the key you’re working in. If you’re in G major, you have these super-safe choices for the second chord:
F#dim (F#-A-C) – although it’s much more typical to use D7 (D-A-F#-C)
I say super-safe because millions of compositions, from pop to blues to country to folk to rock to classical, have chosen that route and some have been highly successful. On the other hand, many more are just weary repetitions of the same old same old.
There are hundreds of chords that could go in the second position. Many of them just won’t fit but a surprising number will.
Here are some examples of classic pieces of music that are shaped by a more original second chord. I’ve transposed them all to the key of G so they’re easier to compare …
Michelle (John Lennon and Paul McCartney)
Michelle, ma belle, these are words that go together well
G Cm7 F Edim D
That Cm7 underpins what turns out to be an unusual melody and determines where it needs to go next.
I only have eyes for you (Harry Warren and Al Dubin)
My love must be a kind of blind love
G F7 G F7
You are the sunshine of my life (Stevie Wonder)
You are the sunshine of my life
G C6 Bm Fdim
And, let’s be honest, that fourth chord (the F dim) is really nice too!