The songwriting process is different for every musician. Some go deep into music theory and learn to build chord progressions from scratch. Others focus on sound design and mixing, using samples and MIDI generator plugins instead. Most people fall somewhere in the middle, learning enough theory to satisfy their needs.
Whatever path you take as an artist, you're pretty much guaranteed to hit creative block at some point. Musicians of all skill level suffer from the same problem.
Chord progression generators are one of the best ways to discover new ideas quickly, freeing you up to focus on later stages of the creative process.
Chord Progression Generators
The benefits of using a chord generator may already be obvious. Instead of staring at a blank DAW, you'll have tools on hand to get the project moving.
In this article we’ll provide a list of our favorite plugins, outlining their core functionality and what sets them apart from one another. We'll start with the simplest software and move upward in complexity.
AudioCipher V3 ($29)
AudioCipher is a melody and chord progression generator that lets you turn words into music, as if by magic. Producers use the app to break through creative block in a new and interesting way.
Simply type in a phrase and AudioCipher converts it to MIDI, in the key signature of your choice. Each word you choose will generate a melodic seed according to the scale and rhythm parameters that you set.
Version 3 of AudioCipher comes with a new Chord Generator option. The plugin will build vertically on your melodic seed according to the chord type you select. If you prefer to use a mix of different chords, select the random chord generator option and explore unlimited variations.
AudioCipher’s playback controls let you hear what different words sound like before you commit. Once you find something you like, just drag the MIDI file into your DAW and open the piano roll to start making edits.
No music theory knowledge is required to use AudioCipher, but the interface does provide a scale selection tool to help you stay within a musical key. Modify the default key of C major to any root note and select from nine modes, including chromatic and harmonic minor.
Use any phrase to generate MIDI from a musical cryptogram algorithm
Toggle between Melody generator and Chord generator modes
Nine musical scales: Major, Minor, Harmonic Minor, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Locrian, and Chromatic
Chord Types: Triads, Sus2, Sus4, Sixth, Seventh, 9th, random chord generator
Rhythm output: Whole, half, quarter, eighth, and sixteenth, all triplet subdivisions, randomize rhythm
AudioCipher is among the most affordable chord generator plugins on the market. The interface delivers you all the essential tools for generating chord progressions and melodies without overthinking the creative process.
As long as you’re comfortable editing MIDI in the piano roll, this lightweight VST will give you a fun way to start new projects or build on existing songs.
AudioModern’s ChordJam plugin offers music producers a feature-rich user interface for smart chord generation, along with a baked-in sequencer so you can experiment before you take the MIDI into your piano roll. Set the BPM, note velocity, chord voicings and inversions, and octave output until you find what you like.
ChordJam’s groove generator provides rhythm based on pop music sensibilities. The beautiful and modern aesthetic makes the app enjoyable to use as well. We recommend ChordJam to EDM producers and loop-based artists of all skill levels.
Scaler 2 ($59)
Plugin Boutique’s Scaler 2 offers a powerful set of features for songwriters who aren’t afraid of music theory. Record an initial melody in your daw and Scaler 2 will listen to it, in order to detect the possible key signatures that might work. From here, the app offers drag-and-drop chord blocks to help you construct a chord progression quickly within the DAW.
If concepts like scale degree and roman numeral notation are foreign to you, Scaler could help bridge the gap by introducing you to these music composition frameworks. We consider it one of the best chord progression generators on the market for intermediate and advanced musicians.
Captain Chords ($99)
Mixed in Key offers a full suite of generative music plugins. Captain chords is an advanced music composition tool that comes with a full piano roll and music editor. The app provides chord progression and rhythm presets that you can select from a dropdown menu. Choose your key signature, chord voicings, and inversions to further customize the MIDI it generates. You’ll even be able to listen back through a collection of instruments they offer.
This plugin is on the more expensive side. It’s easy to see why, with all of the features that it offers. The one drawback here is that the app can feel a bit heavy-handed. The app’s piano roll lets you edit ideas before committing to them, but that’s something you could easily do in your DAW as well. But on a positive note, Captain Chords does let you organize your chord progressions into song sections, so you can toggle between them easily.
We recommend this plugin for serious composers and songwriters who are comfortable with music theory. If you prefer to work in an environment that speaks that harmonic language, rather than simpler piano rolls offered by DAWs like FL Studio, give Captain Chords a shot!
We’ve covered Hooktheory on our blog previously. If you want to learn the harmonic science behind pop music, there’s no better place than TheoryPad to do it. With nearly 30,000 songs in their database, this free resource helps songwriters peer behind the curtain and discover the precise chords and melodies of their favorite songs.
With Hookpad, you can write chord progressions and melodies using the same MIDI piano roll featured on the TheoryTab website. Unlike ordinary DAWs or any of the music plugins mentioned above, Hookpad focuses speaks to songwriters in their native language. Draw from hundreds of song examples and follow along with their free courses to teach yourself music theory.
Free Chord Progression Generators
Music producers and composers tend to prefer DAW software when they work with chord generators. These plugins offer a better workflow than browser applications. That being said, we always try to include a couple of free resources for our readers. These two both load directly in your web browser.
AutoChords and ChordChord (Free)
AutoChords and ChordChord are good starting points for the musician who wants a quick way to generate chord progressions in their browser.
Autochords won't generate MIDI files that you can export to your DAW. But if you’re an instrumentalist looking top try out some new chord sequences, it could be a good place to start.
ChordChord offers an iOS app available on the App Store. This makes it convenient to use the app while jamming on an instrument.
Melody Generator Plugins
Once you find a chord generator plugin, it’s not a bad idea to explore melody generators as well. Check out our complete list of the best melody generators in 2023 to explore other options.
The AudioCipher VST includes both melody and chord generation. You can keep the same scale parameters while switching up the rhythm output, in order to create syncopated MIDI tracks that work well together.