Tech Tips: Rethinking Chord Progressions

Use your laptop to get out of chordal ruts.
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Although there are many ways to trigger a song idea, sometimes a chord progression does the trick. But it’s not always easy to get out of “chord ruts,” as your hands often like to go where they’ve been before.

However, there are ways to play around with chord progressions using your computer, and one option involves Celemony’s Melodyne. Although this program is best known for vocal pitch correction, it has many other talents. We described how to use it to convert a guitar part to MIDI in the January 2014 issue, and now we’ll cover how to transpose chords to create chord progressions. This technique even works in Melodyne’s Essential version (bundled with PreSonus Studio One Pro and Cakewalk Sonar X3, but also available separately for $99), although, of course, it works with more advanced Melodyne versions, as well, like Melodyne Editor.

To get started, play a rhythm guitar part into your host software. You can even just play the same chord over and over and over again. In fact, you probably should, because that simplifies the transposition process. For best results, leave spaces (it doesn’t matter how short) between chords, although you needn’t be too careful about this. Also note this isn’t like MIDI guitar— you don’t have to worry about playing ultra cleanly.

Next, open up the part in the Melodyne editor, and choose Percussive for the algorithm. This creates a string of “blobs” along a timeline, each one corresponding to a chord you played. Because the mode is percussive, if you played different chords, you won’t see a pitch change. This algorithm is interested mostly in when events start and stop.

You can now click on a blob and drag it up or down to transpose it. The scale along the left doesn’t show notes or key, but it does show semitones so you can figure out the degree of transposition. (Note that you may need to enable “input echo” on your host recording software to hear the blob’s pitch change as you move it.) And there’s a bonus, because you can also move a blob right or left to adjust its timing. This means you can throw in a string of various chord types (major, minor, etc.) and drag them into position, or cut and paste, to replace existing chords. This provides major flexibility when experimenting with chord progressions.

Perhaps most surprising of all, the pitch shift’s audio quality is so good with reasonable amounts of transposition that you may not need to re-record a “real” part. I realize this all sounds like science fiction, but try it. It really does work!.

Craig Anderton has played on or produced more than 20 major label releases, mastered hundreds of tracks, and written dozens of books. Check out some of his latest music at