Spacey music can be found commonly in TV, movies and video games, but there are also plenty of bands out there making music in this style.
It’s not a clear cut genre, but when you hear it you know it.
I’ve pulled 9 spacey chord progressions together from some of the most famous songs that fit this “genre” and a few that are just songs I love.
1. I VII I V
This chord progression is taken from the opening credits of my favorite television show, “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
A lot of music from television and movies are played by full orchestras. In this case the melody of the song is played by trumpets, which I think helps create a feeling of exploration. You also get a healthy dose of the timpani in the background, which adds some punch to the song.
Anyways, this song is a staple in the science fiction genre, and no doubt is associated with outer space.
Chords from the song: B flat major, A flat major, B flat major, F major
2. i5 VI5 iv5 III5 iv5 v5 iv5 i5
When I can I like to grab chord progressions from some of my favorite music to write these articles. This spacey chord progression comes from “Pretelethal” by Coheed and Cambria.
Related List: 9 Incredibly Ominous Chord Progressions
You could reasonably call this song part of a soundtrack. The singer from Coheed and Cambria also created a science fiction comic series called Amory Wars (that takes place in space) and the band’s albums also follow the events in the comic series.
Chords from the song: E5, C5, A5, G5, A5, B5, A5, E5
3. VI v i v i VII
This chord progression is from “Cornfield Chase” by Hans Zimmer and is from the movie Interstellar. Pretty much the entire song is just a bunch of arpeggios of the chords below.
From what I can hear the arpeggios are played primarily by a string section and either an organ or a synthesizer that sounds a lot like an organ. You can feel no rhythm during the song. Technically there is a tempo, but if you try to tap your foot or nod your head to the beat you’re bound to get lost. This is a super common theme in movie scores.
Chords from the song: F major, E minor, A minor, E minor, A minor, G major
4. i IV7 i IV7
This one is from “Breathe (In the Air)” by Pink Floyd. You could argue that Pink Floyd was the originator of what I sometimes hear called Space Rock. A lot of their songs give you the impression of floating weightless through the air (or through space).
This song is achieved with a typical rock band set up. As far as I can hear, the spacey sounds are created primarily with reverb heavy guitars that are doing lots of slides and bends. At one point a keyboard comes in with some more reverb and adds to this sound.
Chords from the song: E minor, A dominant 7, E minor, A dominant 7
5. i iv i v
This spacey chord progression comes from another favorite game of mine, Mass Effect 2. The song is called “The Illusive Man” and in the game the song creates the feeling of intrigue/mystery that we often associate with space. In this song there’s an blurry tempo which comes from the absence of a rhythm section, this seems to be a common theme in a lot of the soundtracks for sci-fi media.
Related List: 11 Ethereal Chord Progressions
Honestly, the Mass Effect trilogy has a gold mine of songs to gain inspiration from, but this one is perhaps the most recognizable.
Chords from the song: D minor, G minor, D minor, A minor
6. i V #V VII
This chord progression comes from “Mars” by Harry Gregson-Williams and it is the feature track from the movie The Martian. When I was playing along with the song I recognized the chord progression as being one of the most well known Spanish chord progressions.
If you play along with this song using the Spanish Gypsy scale, you’ve got yourself a flamenco (or perhaps even a mariachi) song. But of course this song sticks primarily within the C minor scale.
Chords from the song: C minor, G major, G sharp major, A sharp major
7. I iii vi vi/v II7
This spacey chord progression comes from “Space Oddity” by David Bowie. I’ll be honest, listening to this song, I don’t get major space vibes. But regardless, this song has had a cultural impact and it was partially inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey.
A lot of the feel from this song comes from the keyboard that is more like an organ than anything else, but there are a lot of different instruments (and sounds) that make short appearances in this song.
Chords from the song: C major, E minor, A minor, A minor/G bass, D dominant 7
8. I I I I i
This seemingly simple chord progression comes from perhaps the most well-known space song ever written, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
This is from the intro, which is what everyone knows.
Listening to it, I’d have to say that this song seriously influenced the title track from Star Trek: The Next Generation that we looked at earlier. The trumpets creating the sense of wonder, the timpani punching in the background. It’s the same voicing!
Chords from the song: C major, C major, C major, C major, C minor
9. I ii vi IV
This chord progression comes from one of the spaciest songs by one of my favorite bands, Muse. The song is call “Starlight.” This is another very simple chord progression that gets its sound from a rhythmic bass line and a sustained piano part playing individual notes in octaves.
Related List: 11 Dreamy Chord Progressions
There are also some arpeggiated synth parts that show up at various points in this song that add to the vibe.
Writing Spacey Music
Of course, a chord progression isn’t enough to create a certain style of music. Many of these chord progressions make appearance in other styles of music.
So what is it exactly that makes music sound spacey?
Well, I can’t say for sure, but I did write down some common themes that I noticed while listening to music during the research for this article.
Here is what I found:
- Trumpets – The sound of horns was common regardless of whether the music was played by a band or an orchestra.
- Reverb – Reverb seemed to be the most common audio effect added to guitars to create a spacey vibe
- Major chords – Spacey music seems to often evoke emotions of exploration and this was best accomplished with major chords.
- Unclear tempos – In many of the songs I listened to it was difficult to discern a clear tempo. Sometimes because there were no drums and sometimes the tempo was just very slow.
I’m sure you can find many more themes in spacey music, but these were what stuck out to me. Hopefully these chord progressions will give you the inspiration you need to write your next song.