3 Easy Ways to Write Complementary Sections

by Dennis Winge


It’s very, very easy to write chord progressions that make for good songs or backings for improvisation, and I describe this in my articles “How to Create a Groove Using Harmonized Scales” and “Make Up Cool Chord Progressions Easily.”

Now, we are going to see how easy it is to add another section that compliments the first one very well.  Having at least two sections is necessary for most songs, and even for progressions whose only purpose is to facilitate improvisation, a second section adds variety, color and flavor.  Three of the easiest ways to do this are as follows.


I. Relative Minor


We are going to use a progression in A major whose first 8-bar section is :

| D | E | A | D | A | D | E | E |

This can be analyzed as | IV | V | I | IV | I | IV | V | V |

Even though it doesn’t start off with the tonic chord of A, the progression still centers around it.  For the second section we will center it around the relative minor of A which is F#m.  We come up with:

||: F#m | Bm | C#7 | % :||

This can be analyzed as | I | IV | V7 | V7 | according to F#m or | VI | II | III7 | III7 | according to A. That was easy.


II. Different Direction of Tension & Release


In section 1 we didn’t get to the I chord until the IV and V were heard, and we only had two bars of the I chord in the whole 8-bars, and neither of them held a strong position in the section.  In this case, the A chord was found at bars 3 and 5, which isn’t as strong as, for example the 1st, 7th or 8th bars (more on that in another article.)

With that in mind, we’ll simply start the 2nd section with a nice long point of resolution, as in ||: A | % | E | D :||.  Without using any new chords whatsoever, we made a nice contrast to section 1 simply by changing the direction from that of section 1.  The first section was tension to resolution to tension.  This new section is resolution to tension, then, because it gets repeated, resolution to tension.  Simple and effective.


III.  Different Harmonic Rhythm


Harmonic rhythm is just a fancy way of saying the rhythm of the chords.  When two chords share a bar they typically get two beats each, as a opposed to a chord that occupies the whole bar and gets 4 beat.  Our new 2nd section constructed with this in mind is:

| D A | E A | E | E |

| D A | E A | E | A |


Again, using the exact same chords as section 1, we have something that makes a nice contrast simply because we had been used to hearing a chord every bar, and now we go to two beats per chord in bars 1, 2, 5 and 6, and we have a chord that lasts for both bars 3 and 4 as well.  Same chords; new rhythm.  Instant new section.


IV. Summary


To review everything we’ve learned, let’s do one more example in key of E.  We’ll randomly choose | V | IV | III | II |  and repeat it for section 1:

||: B | A | G#m | F#m :||


In section 2, we’ll highlight each of the 3 strategies in turn:


Relative minor:  ||: C#m | A | B | C#m B :||


Different direction:  ||: E | B | E | E :||


Different harmonic rhythm:  ||: E B | A | C#m B | E :||


Or, suppose we combine all 3 strategies into one section:


|| C#m | % | A B | A E |

| C#m | % | A | B ||


If you decide you want a third section, you may have to study a bit more on what makes a good ‘bridge,’ but in the meantime, the above will get you writing and playing over all kinds of two-section progressions.  Have fun!


About the author: Dennis Winge is the creator of “For Music Geeks Only” and runs a Guitar Lessons Ithaca.