Synthwave Chord Progressions: Recreating The Retro Sound

Synthwave is a music genre that draws heavy inspiration from the nostalgic sounds of the 1980s, merging elements of new wave and electronic music. This resurgence of retro aesthetics has led to a growing interest in the fundamentals of synthwave composition, particularly the synthwave chord progressions that define the genre’s sound.

Typically, synthwave chord progressions lean into the use of major, minor, and suspended chords – all of which contribute to the genre’s distinct emotional impact. These chords are often used in conjunction with synthesizers and other electronic instruments, lending a sense of warmth and nostalgia to your tracks. By experimenting with these chord progressions, you can create a foundation that will help you capture the essence of synthwave in your productions.

As you dive into the world of synthwave chord progressions, it’s essential to remember that individual creativity is the cornerstone of music-making. Don’t be afraid to explore different combinations and styles to find what resonates with you. Ultimately, your understanding and mastery of these progressions will enable you to create a rich and engaging listening experience for your audience.

Synthwave Chord Progressions

Origins of Synthwave

Synthwave, a genre rooted in the 1980s, found its inspiration in the nostalgic atmosphere of that era. This microgenre is characterized by a retro-futuristic sound, evoking connections to classic 80s movies and their soundtracks, particularly horror films and sci-fi masterpieces like Blade Runner.

You can appreciate the distinct sound of synthwave as it prominently features analog synthesizers, creating catchy melodies and bringing the spirit of the 1980s back to life. Its association with cyberpunk aesthetics and the admiration for vintage technology also played a significant role in shaping the genre’s identity.

The genre’s visual aesthetics often incorporate neon colors, vintage computer graphics, and futuristic cityscapes reminiscent of the era’s popular science fiction themes. This combination of sound and visuals creates an immersive experience for the listener, transporting you back in time to a nostalgic, yet future-oriented vision of the 80s.

The Synthwave Sound: Instruments and Composition

The signature sound of synthwave is characterized by its reliance on synthesizers and both simple and complex chord progressions. In this section, we will explore the various elements involved in crafting the synthwave sound.

To begin with, the bass is an essential component of synthwave music. You may choose to use a synthesized bass sound or an electric bass to effectively construct the foundation of your track. Basslines in synthwave tend to be driving and rhythmic, establishing the groove and energy of the song.

Another critical aspect is the lead instrument, which is commonly a synth. The choice of synth can greatly influence the overall vibe of your track. Legendary synths such as the Roland Juno-106 and the Yamaha DX7 are often used to create the characteristic sounds of the genre. When composing your lead melodies, consider using smooth, legato lines or short, sharp arpeggios to add variety and interest.

The key to creating a convincing synthwave sound lies in your chord progressions and sense of harmony. Popular synthwave chord progressions often include the use of major and minor seventh chords, providing a sense of depth and nostalgia. Furthermore, employing chromatic movement or modal interchange (borrowing chords from different modes) can add a touch of sophistication to your compositions.

Pad sounds are also often present in synthwave, providing a lush sonic backdrop to your music. They can be created using a variety of synthesis techniques, including subtractive, wavetable, and granular synthesis. Pads can be layered beneath other elements to add warmth, depth, and atmosphere to your tracks.

Successful synthwave also considers orchestration, which is the art of arranging the different elements of your composition for maximum impact. Make sure to balance the use of synths, bass, and guitars with other instruments to create an engaging and dynamic soundscape.

Arpeggios are another common feature in synthwave music, providing rhythmic and melodic interest. You can create arpeggios using various types of synths, including the classic Roland Jupiter-8 and the modern software synthesizers such as Serum.

Finally, don’t forget to experiment with the use of the electric guitar. Although not as prominent in synthwave as synths and bass, guitars can add an extra layer of richness and depth to your music. From gentle, clean tones to overdriven power chords, electric guitars can be integrated seamlessly into your synthwave tracks.

By focusing on these key elements – bass, lead, chord progressions, pad sounds, orchestration, arpeggios, and electric guitars – you can craft an authentic synthwave feel. As you explore and experiment, remember to trust your instincts and let your creativity guide you.

Synthwave Chord Progressions

When constructing your synthwave chord progressions, start by familiarizing yourself with the genre’s most commonly used chords. Synthwave often draws from 80’s New Wave and SynthWave styles, merging vintage influences with modern electronic production techniques.


Atlas – Fm 84

This song plays the chords Am – Em/G

I iii

Dimensions Timecop 1983
D – F#m

I IV iii

The midnight Comeback kid

C – F – Em

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I create an 80s inspired chord progression?

To create an 80s inspired chord progression, focus on the use of major and minor seventh chords. Pay attention to the tone and sounds of the synths you select, aiming for analog-style sounds reminiscent of the 80s. Try incorporating suspended chords or inversions. It’s important to experiment and play with different chord shapes and progressions to achieve that distinctive 80s vibe.

What are popular synthwave scales?

Popular synthwave scales include the major and minor scales, often used for their versatility and familiarity. For a more exotic sound, the Phrygian and Mixolydian modes are commonly used in synthwave tracks as they evoke a unique and atmospheric feel. Additionally, the harmonic minor scale can also be frequently found in darkwave and outrun subgenres.

How do chillwave and darkwave progressions differ?

Chillwave progressions typically feature smoother, slower chord movements that evoke a sense of relaxation and tranquility, with the use of major seventh chords for a dreamy sound. Darkwave progressions, on the other hand, are more focused on minor and diminished chords, creating tension and unease. Darkwave tracks may frequently explore minor chord progressions such as i-VI-III-VII or i-VII-VI-V.

Related: Jazz Chord Progressions

What tools can generate synthwave chords?

Several tools can help you create and generate synthwave chord progressions. MIDI chord plugins like Scaler, Cthulhu, or Captain Chords can be essential for exploring different chord options and progressions. Another useful tool is the website Autochords, which offers preset chord progressions and the ability to customize them according to your preferred style.

Related: Major and Minor Chord Progressions

What keys are most dominant in synthwave tracks?

Synthwave tracks often gravitate towards the keys of C major and A minor, which are easy to work with and commonly found in popular music. However, there is no strict rule when it comes to choosing a key for your synthwave track.

Related: Lo Fi Chord Progressions

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