How to Make Chord Progressions Sounds Interesting and Modern

Professional song writers and hit makers don't chance on their chord progressions by luck. There are certain formula's and techniques that when applied can completely change the sound of a chord progression without changing the actual progression.

One will sound like it's been written by a beginner, and another will use the same chords but with a bit of simple music magic thrown in.

I've put together a free piano tutorial that will teach you how to make your chord progressions sound more modern and interesting. It doesn't take long either and is perfect for beginners on the piano.

Check it out:

If you'd prefer to read, i'll explain below.

Use Chord Inversions

First of all we're going to take a look at how to use piano chord inversions to straight away make your chord progressions sound more interesting. They will give you more options, make the transitions between chords easier to play, and also make your chords sounds more like what you hear on the radio.

What is a chord inversion?

A chord inversion is when you play the normal chord triad, which is known as "root position", but play the notes in a different order.

There are only three different inversions of a chord. Root position, first inversion and second inversion, and in music we use roman numerals to name the inversions I (first) and II (second).

I'll explain using the C Major chord as an example. The chord symbol being just C.

C Major Chord in Root Position

To find the C Major 1st inversion, all you need to do is take the bottom of chord (key furthest to the left) and move it up a full octave (the C moves up 8 whiyte keys to the right), leaving the other two key (E and G) where they are. The chord symbol for this is CI.

C Major second inversion


To find the 2nd inversion you just repeat the process again. So move the bottom of the chord up (which is now an E) up a full octave to the right to the E above. The chord symbol here is CII.

C Major second inversion on piano


If you repeat the process one more time and move the G up an octave you just end up with a C Major triad in root position, but an octave higher than where you initially started.

C Major Chord on Piano

You can find the inversions for any chord you want by going through that same process. Find the root postion, move the bottom (far left) of the chord up to the right by one full octave to find the 1st inversion, and the same again to find the 2nd inversion.

Quick tip: It's important to remember to keep the other two keys the same when moving the bottom note up an octave. I would advise keeping them pressed down at first, maybe even identifying the octave with your other hand before releasing and shifting your hand up to the new inversion. Just so you can keep track of the keys.

Using chord inversions can really help change the sound of your chord progression, and also make it easier to move between chords. Jump to 1:07 in the video tutorial to see me talking about inversions.

Learn Piano Chords

Suspended Chords

Next I'll show you how to find Sus chords (suspended chords) and how to use them in your chord progressions. Songwriters and professional pianists use these all the time, because they make your chords sound interesting, different and create a lovely tension in the harmony that brings the chord sound away from the standard "boring" sounding piano chord triad. If you start using these in your chord progressions it will give them that modern sound and move them away from that beginner piano sounding vibe.

What is a Sus chord?

A sus chord is when you suspend or hold another note into the chord, often replacing the 3rd interval (middle key of the triad chord in root position). They create a nice tension in the sound of the chord, and are often resolved (return to the normal chord) to create a pleasant sounding release.The most commonly used suspended chords are Sus2 and Sus4.

I'll use C Major as an example again.

To find the C Suspended 2nd chord, find the C Major root position and replace the 3rd interval with a 2nd. This is why it's called a C Sus "2", because you are replacing the normal 3rd with the 2nd degree of the scale. The easiest way to find this is chord is to play the root position and move the middle key down by one full step (x2 semitones). 

C Suspended 2nd Chord on Piano

 To find a suspended 4th chord, you replace the 3rd interval again, but this time with..... yes you've guessed it, the 4th note of the scale (of whichever chord your trying to find). The easiest way to find a suspended 4th chord is to first find the chord in root position and move the middle key up to the right by a half-step (1 semitone).

I'll use a Dsus for an an example here so you can see what I mean:

Dsus4 Chord on Piano

You can then take it to another level and invert these suspended chords which creates a really nice and modern sound. For example, and Csus2 2nd inversion:

Csus2 Inverted 2nd Chord on Piano

To watch to this part in my video lesson jump to: 3:07

Quick tip: Adding octaves into the left hand can really add some depth and strength into the sound of your playing.

C Suspended 2nd chord on the piano


Integrating Melodies

In the last section of this piano tutorial I'll show you how can use suspended chords to create simple melodies that can fit with your chord progressions. It's just a quick tip, but it works because the suspended intervals are related to the chords, and so it's an easy way to create simple melodies that sound nice.

This is pretty difficult to explain using pictures and words, so if you're interested in this you can watch it in the piano tutorial starting at 7:44.

Hopefully these song writing tips will help you to make your chord progressions sound more interesting. Please let me know in the comments on Youtube if they helped. 😃

In the video I mention a great educational learning aid - The Ultimate Piano Poster. If you are interested, this is what it looks like:

The Ultimate Piano Poster

You can order your copy here:

Thanks for taking the time to read this article.

Keep practising!

Arthur Bird

Founder - Birds Piano Academy


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