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Music Theory 101 For EDM Producers (Part 3 - Chords)

On any forum, group, sub-reddit and chat related to the creation of electronic music there are typically several remarks from producers who either get stuck while working on a track, are asking for advice on what should come next, or those just struggling with where to even begin.

So,we are going to cover a few basic progressions, by genre, that will help kick start your creativity and give you a good starting point.

The strategy of note placement and chord progressions play a big role in determining the message, meaning, and overall impact of a song. Considering that most electronic music is instrumental there is more of an emphasis and importance on chord progressions to ensure every piece fits. To create a universal language through music without the use of vocals/words telling the story.

To demonstrate each example audio samples will be provided. The first sound will be just a piano playing the chords. The second example will demonstrate the chords and the notes within the chords being played through other instrumentation to give a more accurate example of how they work and sound together.

Basic EDM Chord Progression

We are going to begin with a basic chord progression found in a lot of electronic dance music. This consists of 3 chords to keep it simple.

Am. Consisting of the notes A, C, and E.

F. Consisting of the notes F, A, and C.

G. Consisting of the notes G,B, and D.

Here are how these 3 chords sound.

Here are the same 3 chords being played with a bass, lead, and arpeggio.

Below you will see a detailed look at exactly what each instrument is playing within these chords.


The first example is the bass line, the second is the lead, and lastly the arpeggio. These sounds are utilizing the notes, some at different octaves, within the 3 chords. Creating music is not all about theory. Use your ears to determine if the combination that you choose fits together. Don’t be afraid to hold down one note and play another on top of it until you find that perfect fit, you can repeat this method to build into memory how certain notes sound together and how they impact your emotions, attitude and direction of your song.

Chill Chord Progression

To create a relaxing, calming, laid back and chill style chord progression we will be using 3 chords.

Em7. Consisting of the notes E, G, B, and D.

Cmaj7. Consisting of the notes C, E, G, and B.

Am7. Consisting of the notes A, C, E, and G.

Here are how these 3 chords sound.

And here are the chords with a bass line, lead, pad, and arpeggio.

Psytrance Chord Progression

While an actual PsyTrance Progression would take entirely too long for the change to happen, I made it short and sweet and used 2 chords. A lot of PsyTrance utilizes The Phyrygian Mode.

Scales and Chords based off of this mode tend to sound exotic and the minors help create a darker feel. I used the following chords.

Cm. Consisting of the notes C, Eb, and G.

Fm. Consisting of the notes F G#, and C.

Here are how these 2 chords.

Here are the same 2 chords with a bassline, pad, lead, and arpeggio.

Below you will be able to take a look at what all is happening. First is the bassline, then the lead, followed by an arpeggio, and then some added ambience.

Chords 2

Trap Chords

Trap uses a lot of minor chords to give it that dark, horroresque sound. I have used 2 chords and modified one of them so that it is still in the same key with a subtle change. Here are the notes in the chords used.

Am. Consisting of the notes A, C, and E.

A simple modification is next consisting of the notes A, D, and F.

Gm. Consisting of the notes G, A#, and D.

Here are how these chords sound.

Here is how the chords sound when utilizing multiple instruments such as an 808, piano, and orchestral strings.

Now that you have some examples, lets continue with a few more genres. Only this time, it is up to you to generate the sound and the placement.

Future Bass Chords

Future Bass uses primarily Minor 7th and 8th. Here are 4 chords and the notes that make up each chord.

Cm7. Consisting of the notes C, Eb, G and Bb.

Cm9. Consisting of the notes C, Eb, G, Bb, and D.

C7 ( C Dominant 7th ). Consisting of the notes C, E, G, and Bb.

C9 ( C Dominant 9th ). Consisting of the notes C, E, G, Bb, and D.

Synthwave Chords

Synthwave music relies heavily on suspended and minor 7th chords. And who can forget the use of a lot of arpeggios. Here are 4 chord examples and the notes within each chord.

Dsus2. (the second note in the chord is replaced with a major second) Consisting of the notes D, E, and A.

Dm. Consisting of the notes D, F, and A.

Dm7. Consisting of the notes D, F, A, and C.

Dm9. Consisting of the notes D, F, A, C, and E.

Chords For Mood

Chords are known to instill certain emotions. Below you will find chords used for specific emotions, atmospheres and moods.

Sad Chords

Consisting of mostly minor chords.

Fm, Bbm, Cm, Fm, and Gm.

Energizing Chords

Alternating between major and minor chords.

C, Em, F, and Am.

Reflective Chords

A, D, A and E. Also try E, A, E, B.

In Closing

Keep in mind guys, this isn’t even a start into the world of chords and chord progressions. If you ever think that you are stuck, have no viable options, or have tried everything, there really is a lot more out there. Hopefully this series of articles about music theory has sparked a curiosity to go out there and discover more. The more you know, the more versatile and unique your tracks will be.

We do offer video tutorials that expand on the topic. We also offer 3 plugins that will help you as well. All the links are posted below.


For Music Theory and Chords Click HERE

For Music Theory from the Top Click HERE

For Music Theory for Beatmakers Click HERE


For Instachord, A MIDI Processing Plugin that helps you play chords and chord progressions faster and easier. Click HERE

For Instascale, a fun to use and innovative way to expand your knowledge of musical scales, Click HERE

For MIDIQ, an amazing chord generator plugin that comes with multiple chord combinations and customization, Click HERE

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