Songs that only have one chord progression?

18 posts / 0 new
Last post

So. Backstory...

During COVID lockdown, I finally succumbed to the temptation of modular synthesizers. So far it's been a good thing since it's jumpstarted my muse and all the tracks I've posted here this year have been attempts at "live looping" videos using these synths, along with drum machines and playing guitar over top of them.

Anyway, the trouble with songwriting for live-looping and sequenced synths is that you can't really "change it up" mid-song (unless you pre-program the changes, which sorta defeats the purpose of the exercise for me a little bit). When searching YouTube for good examples of live performance with modular synths, it's overwhelmingly techno jams and ambient noise. Nothing wrong with that, but not really what I'm trying to do...

THEN! I saw the Sylvan Esso Tiny (Home) Desk Concert [], where they use a modular synth setup for 2/3 pop songs, and I noticed that these songs had only a single chord progression; they keep it interesting by bringing instrument voices in and out, along with varying the vocal melody.

So all that is a long-winded way of asking:
* What are some other good examples of single chord progression tunes?
* What are some ideas for songwriting strategies to keeping these songs "alive" without being too repetitive?

I'd like to expand my thinking around this....

You might be aware of this meme, however its valid and I see it being useful in many settings!
It's a from a ted talk about this very thing, but what can be done in 20 hours of practicing something. It's mostly for learning purposes
however there might be things more to your taste and suited to you, check out some medley's on youtube, sure they follow this sorta format a lot there, and you pretty much just do the whole song with one progression and if possible you could find a way to get around the chord changes if they do change somehwat?!
Anyway check it out and see what you think
Hope this is some help! Smile

Haha — not exactly what I was thinking, @nerdjealous, but a valid thought!

I was looking for examples of songs that use the same chord progression throughout, not a chord progression used in many different songs. Smile

When you ask about "single chord progression tunes" do you mean single chord tunes? Or do you mean tunes that use the same progression (like I, IV and V) throughout the song?

If you seek examples of songs using the same progression throughout there should be a ton of simple folk songs and old country tunes like that.

Regardless, one idea might be to use chord inversions to change the sound. For guitar I often play one part open and then play the same chords (different forms) using a capo. That lets me pan two guitars apart to widen/thicken the sound.

Several song formats with literally thousands of examples, I'm just listing a few that immediately spring to mind

Pure ballads (only verses often I - IV - V, common in folk songs)
Bob Dylan - Rainy Day Women #12 and #35, Highway 61 Revisited, Positively 4th Street
Woody Guthrie - This Land Is Your Land

Two chord vamps (I - IV)
Velvet Underground - Heroin

Twelve bar blues songs (I - IV - I - IV - VI - IV - I)
The Beatles - Love Me Do, For You Blue

Anthem chord progression (I - V - VI - IV)
U2 - One
Journey - Don't Stop Believing

Some interesting thoughts on funk vamps and harmonic interest:

the following songs might have verse and chorus that are different, but the structure is verse/chorus, verse/chorus, so that one long loop will cover the structure of the song

pumped up kicks
nothing compares 2 u
closer (kings of leon)
spinning away (eno/cale)
too close (alex clare)
mercy now
heaven (talking heads)
like a hurricane
little wing
wagon wheel
crazy for you
into the mystic
fade into you
and it stoned me
alison (elvis c)
eye of fatima (camper van beethoven)
i will be there (van morrison)
swan swan h
walk on the wild side
dodged a bullet

and there's lots that mainly have one section, but pause on a chord or middle 8 for a short time, which could be accomplished by pausing the looper, that then go back to the same pattern:

no new tale to tell
f*ck you (gnarls barkley)
raspberry beret
manic depression
master blaster
out on the tiles
one (U2)
chasing cars (chorus adds lines each time)

i used to practice looping some of these, myself.

I think @dzd is the master of single tone progs, -- since uses an old shovel as Didley Bo, (one string and a slide); yet sounds like a full orchestra.

You can't get more single toned than that; well, unless you just thump G, and then you got "smoke on the water", hahhh, thumb thumb thumb thumb... but anyway...

As far as keeping it interesting, methods... well, he uses a childs megaphone, and asks other amazingly fantastic musicians to jam over it, (so easy to do)... or even as I suggested and allowed by @Tim Fatchen to drop an entirely unrelated track into it Smile hahhh! (Can't beat a one tone prog for diversity of guitar and keyboard god showmanship Smile Fool )

With megaphone:

With help from the land of Oz... the Wizard of Oz and the magic of just "hearing things together":

All the same track.

Well +- fiddling.

Tim's Keys I did at lunch time and think needed some spots from the backing track chunked out... to be entirely sonorous, ous, us... "sound better"

Hahhh, none other may agree, -- but tickles the buttons off of me, (Brave of Tim! Aye!... who else... whatta guy trusting me!?!)

Weird aye?! Or is it Oi!

~ Happy 2021! All!

Oh, and on those tracks, - I am working from a single "mixed" stereo wav file to then mix into (not multitrak native tracks)... so, hahhh... it's not like I have "control" to nuance it; which, for me deomostratest the diversity further. I could broadly used EQ and dB and mono track the stereo and then dup manipulate that with all that unconstrolled pan/cross fading. I tell jah, it's amazing, ino, ino..., and off to work igo...
-- thank God for that broken shovel (made of solid lost miners gold I am told), found on the open flatlands of Oklahoma, infused with some Native American mojo, barbed wire, blood, sweat and split-snake juice.

-- And now we have 5090 songs from that American wealth! O M G... I think I need more coffee...

A few ideas I've explored in my own looping: loops of different lengths so that phrases don't always line up perfectly. This inherently creates variation - even though the source material is still being repeated.

Dynamics can do a lot, as well. Having a volume pedal or equivalent control the output of the loops can add variation as you play with different dynamics.

Changing instrument tones as you build the loops adds variety.

The Mobius VST looper (that I use) allows for a lot a looping options (many of which I've yet to explore in my own music & methodology). Not only does it record loops in separate tracks (up to 8 tracks), but each track can record up to six individual loops that you can switch between. Having a MIDI foot controller or control surface helps control Mobius & allows for a lot of on-the-fly creativity during performance. Plus it has a scripting language that allows you to customize commands & routines to make Mobius work in the best way for your own performance style.

Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies. Seriously. They make you re-think how you approach a song or even help you problem solve during mixing or post-production. And hell, they're great just for inspiration.

As for one chord progressions: CCR comes to mind. Seems a lot of their tunes are based around one chord strummed over & over again…

Hope this helps a little Biggrin

See You In The Shadows…

Anything by Tangerine Dream? Wink

@burrsettles, you've identified why I feel that there's something missing in many of the live streams that I watch that feature a single player using a wall of synths. It's because they almost all stick to a single chord, sequence or tonal centre. I love what they do - and the folks in the "Lockdown Livestreamers" YouTube Channel are friends of mine - but I frequently listen to half-hour performances that have no chord progression at all; the "swapping out instruments" approach is about the only way they have of mixing things up. It starts with a sequence, and carries on until it gets to the end, when it stops.

For me, the solution is to use Ableton to control everything (my new NI audio interface even passes through CV signals, but I haven't investigated that yet). In "Session" view you can program new loops and sequences on the fly, mix them in and out, and control all sorts of interesting parameters. In Max for Live you can even get funky with the patterns you're using for sequences. I wrote a couple of songs (*44981 and *45474) this summer where the bass sequence I was using as the foundation of the song was randomly generated by a M4L plugin called Doctor Chaos, and I let it do its thing untouched other than using automation to change the root note of the sequence in a I-IV-V progression. The results were splendidly weird and I'll use the method again.

IA's picture

Wheels by Foo Fighters!

I'm not sure if these are good examples but I had some pieces based on one chord. One of them I composed during this 50/90: Left hand is playing only F C F C throughout the whole piece. My earlier piece I composed back in 2011 can't remember whether during FAWM or 50/90. It was to a posted challenge of creating a composition based on one chord:

dzd's picture

Just seconding a lot of @Candle 's comments an expression pedal can go a long ways to making that same repeated progression have a lot of different dynamics, and controlled on the fly, no pre-programming involved. or just two loops, I use pedals but have two of them .... so foot controls to start/stop/layer or subtract on either one it's much easier(after some practice) than making one long one with the desired changeup in the desired position, and nobody really wants to watch someone for 5 minutes build a loop that's only interesting for a minute or two Biggrin at least I don't ........... and with a slight enough change(still on or off beat as the case may be) dont usually have to ever even drop the first one out, as far as loop pedal control this youngster Aussie is pretty great at it

When I play acoustic sets the two songs I have this problem with are Pure Morning by Placebo and Wristband by Paul Simon which are both just Eb all the way through.

With Pure Morning I'll essentially just add a little turnaround at the end of sections every now and again when I feel I'm getting bored of the chord I'm on but I think I play it different every time. See this video -

Edit: Oh, one chord progression. I misread, I thought it was just one chord lol. If I remember correctly, out of the 80 something songs I've written over the last two years there are two that use the same one chord progression all the way through.

I just did a cover for Rocktober, last one (unless i do do another one...:) ) then the one prior... anyways... Smile

As I sat there soloing and noodling and have learned from @dzd by just working around him, his stuff, fire feeding fire there I think, yeehaw... I saw the Trem Bar on my little JazzMaster... I've kinda ignored life long... and? And, then, I started to tap it like a drum, hello scheit! ... was like, what a gimmick... did some deep deep dive bombs and pull ups... and realised I could just simply pick One-Chord and do an entire "vamp" (one-chord) and build a big-un on that! (The drumb beat-on-it, is what did it for me in that one, toward end of track, "What I am".)

It's very sutttllele actually. I thought, huh, no ones even gonna know what this is. And, not all Trems, gats are alike... I get lucky. (But kinda don't like the duncan paf's on it..., but nowidew!) Smile So, it's not always the guitars fault for bad songs, but the player not picking the correct tool for the job! Oi!! Fool Smile

Anyway, as analog as I am and like to be because I like being different, and "progressive" Wink -- I just get so excited when find yet anther mono-tone instrument, Smile like a "guitar" and analog knotta plug'n.

There's allot to be said for "Folk" instruments, Dulcimers (tuned to key), Diddly Bo's as the Master of 'it Cody will show you, tamborines, NAF's -- only play the pentatonic and only in that key Wink indeed! and shakers and triangles and Cajons and et alia... and put THOSE through a "Filter"... actually allot of the greatness of a few of the analog folks here.

Happy Fall to all and 2021!