Chord generator plugins are a quick and easy way to come up with new chord progressions. That might not sound like a big deal, but when you're in the middle of a songwriting session, having access to an endless stream of chords can be life changing. You never know what's going to work best for your track until you try it - that's why every music producer needs one!
In this article we'll cover the basics of what chord generators are, how to use them, and which ones we think work the best.
Using a Chord Generator for Inspiration
Learning how to use a chord generator is pretty much guaranteed to improve your music production workflow. The benefits are obvious if you're a complete beginner and don't know any music theory. You can bypass the complicated rules of harmony and let the app do all the heavy lifting.
9 Reasons To Use a Chord Generator as a Music Producer
They help you overcome creative block and generate new ideas fast.
Your chords will be in MIDI format, so you can edit the notes as needed.
They're perfect for cooking up hip hop beats and electronic music.
Most chord generators have a randomize function to get ideas on the fly.
They teach you about different chord structures and how they work.
You can experiment with unusual chords that wouldn't occur to you.
It's easy to create chord progressions in a specific key signature.
They're great for writing music on the road if you don't have your instrument.
Most of them can be loaded directly within a digital audio workstation.
Even advanced composers have something to gain from using software like this. When you're feeling stuck, it's the perfect way to get out of your rut and come up with new chord progressions. These apps introduce novelty to your creative process, so you can break free from the chord patterns that you normally use.
6 Best Chord Generators for Music Producers
There are lots of different chord generator plugins out there, but not all of them are worth your time (or money). In this section we'll share the ones that are most useful to music producers, regardless of your skill level.
Here a list of the plugins we'll be covering:
Chordbot Pro ($4.99)
Scaler 2 ($59)
Captain Plugins ($99)
1. Chordbot Pro ($4.99)
The first chord generator app on our list is called Chordbot Pro. It's an entry level tool that's available for iPhone, iPad and Google Play only.
Pick and choose chords from their library to create custom chord progressions. Then use the playback feature as a backing track.
The main limitation of this app is that it doesn't load inside of a DAW. You might find this app helpful if you're on the road and want something simple to play with. But for serious music producers seeking a workflow tool, ChordBot might not be convenient enough.
2. AudioCipher MIDI Plugin VST ($22)
The next option on the list is AudioCipher, a MIDI Plugin that turns words directly into music notes. This low-cost app is compatible with both MacOS and Windows. Load the plugin right within your DAW or boot up the standalone app, complete with playback controls. We recommend this app for people who want to really get the creative gears turning!
How to Use AudioCipher as a Chord Generator
Type in anything that comes to mind and AudioCipher will spit out a melody in the key signature of your choice. This is a great way to generate chord progressions from a single underlying concept. All you need to do is quantize them by half or whole notes. This option is included with every DAW.
You can use this app to generate melodies and then use your the quantize tool in your DAW to group them into chords. An example of this quick chord progression technique can be seen in the example below. We'll demo the app in Logic Pro X, but AudioCipher also works in FL Studio, Ableton, Reaper, Pro Tools, and more.
This lightning-fast technique combines randomness with your own personal meaning to help inspire new ideas for any genre of music.
A new way of approaching musical creativity
There are lots of creative ways to use AudioCipher if you're trying to generate chord progressions. One of the best ways we've found to get inspired is to draw from things in real life. That's what lyricists do, so why shouldn't we be able to use words to write chords and melodies?
Imagine that you're sitting around, enjoying a slice of pizza at the studio. You're having some trouble coming up with a new idea, so you turn to what's right in front of you.
For percussion, you could drum on the pizza box or squish the cheese. This trend of turning random sounds into music has become popular on social media lately. But sfx are not all that helpful when you're trying to build chords.
That's where AudioCipher comes in. Just type in related words like dough, sauce, cheese, pepperoni, or any of your favorite toppings. Drag the words right into your virtual instrument and then stack the notes vertically.
Once you have your chords in place, you're ready to start cooking up a beat... literally! Here's a visualization of how they can be lined up to generate a full progression:
You can take this concept as far as you want. If there's a certain feeling that you're aiming for, choose words that point to a core idea. Let your intention drive everything else that you do on the track, from the virtual instruments you choose to the tempo and lyrics of the song. It all stems from the initial feeling you were going for.
AudioCipher is the most affordable chord generator on the market. It's also the only MIDI plugin that turns words into music notes. Want to hear an example of how it's done? We used the phrase "home cafe" to generate chords for this lofi hip hop track:
If you could turn any word into music, what would you start with?
3. Cthulhu ($39)
The Cthulhu plugin is another fun way to come up with musical ideas. Select a series of notes and this app will turn them into chords for you. You can control the playback rhythms and pitch register, so that the chords are ready to use before you drag them into a virtual instrument. With a piano visualizer at the bottom, you'll be able to see how each chord is formed.
Notice that monster in the bottom left corner of the app? This little guy will tell you the name of the chord you're playing. A phrase like "E min M6" might not make sense unless you already understand music theory. But advanced musicians who know how to spell chords can use this feature to connect what they're hearing with the corresponding label.
4. Scaler 2 ($59)
For musicians with deeper pockets and a more advanced understanding of music theory, Scaler 2 is an excellent option. This app has a massive library of scales and chords that you can draw from. Pick your key signature and choose from all the potential chord voicings that exist. Once you find a chord you like, drag the MIDI onto a virtual instrument of your choice.
This app could also be a great fit if you don't have much experience with music theory but want to learn through direct experience. The chord generator includes a playback feature, so you can listen to each chord and see how they differ.
Inspired by a particular artist and want to replicate their sound? Scaler 2 includes dropdown menus with a list of genres and artists. Pick different chords and scales based on style descriptors like hopeful, dreamy, bluesy, etc.
Hot Tip: If your goal is to study chord progressions from your favorite musicians, be sure to check out this free service called TheoryTab. Their app lets you search by song title or artist. Then you can see how the melodies fit together with the chords.
5. Instachord ($69)
For producers who want to generate chords with rhythm attached, InstaChord could be a good option. The interface is less appealing than Scaler 2 in our opinion, but it does have strum actions that will give your chord ideas some movement. If you're trying to learn the relationship between chords and the piano keyboard, the app delivers that as well. Considering the price, this isn't your best investment. You're better off paying a bit more and getting Captain Plugins.
6. Captain Plugins Software Suite ($99)
You can continue going upmarket with the Captain Plugins software suite from Mixed In Key. This bundle of music plugins is designed to cover all of your songwriting needs, including chord generation. The Captain Chords plugin lets you audition chord ideas and rhythms directly in their app. This tool is particularly helpful for composers with advanced music theory knowledge.
Captain Chords includes a sound preset selector, so you can listen back to the chords on a collection of virtual instruments before dragging them to your MIDI piano roll. Choose from preset rhythms, with dials that control subtle nuances like space, strum, and swing. If the chord voicings jump around too much, you can invert them until they are in closer range.
Unlike Scaler 2, you can build your entire song inside of Captain Chords. Organize the Verse, Chorus, and other sections of the track in separate tabs. Then when you're ready to start using them, just drag it to your virtual instrument.
The main detractors with Captain Chords are the price and complexity of the tool, which could be a bit much for beginners. Most of the MIDI editing features they provide are already included in your DAW. At the end of the day, it just depends on whether you prefer to work inside of your existing workstation or a secondary tool.
Final Thoughts on Using a Chord Generator
Plugins can help you bypass music theory and come up with new chord progressions. They all have different features, so be sure to do your research before making a purchase. If you're an experienced musician who knows how to spell chords, we recommend looking into the more expensive options like Scaler or Captain Plugins.
But if you're just starting out or want something that's easy to use, one of the cheaper apps like AudioCipher will get the job done. Whichever route you choose, remember that experimentation is key when it comes to finding new sounds! So go ahead and try out some crazy combinations – you might be surprised at what works.
For more ideas on how to generate melodies and chord progressions with AudioCipher, check out this lofi hip hop video series: