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Chord progressions

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Davidoc, May 25, 2002.

  1. Can anyone refer me to help on chord progression theory and how to make good sounding chord progressions?

    Libster gives you examples, but doesn't tell you how they made them.

    Can anyone point out some online resources?
  2. chord progressions are bassically notes. so make up a song on the piano with a buncha minors and majors etc and then you got your self a genuine chordprogression
  3. You have much to learn, young Jedi. ;)

    This is an involved and long topic, but I will try to give a brief overview.

    Typically, a chord progression will remain in a key, unless of course there is a key change (which is it's own topic :D). So, it helps to be certain that you fully understand keys and the chords in them. At first, I'll stick to major keys (remember, key is interchangable with scale) for now, minor keys work in similar ways. Here's what is going on in a major key, as far as the chords in order within that key:

    I Major
    ii minor
    iii minor
    IV Major
    V Major
    vi minor
    vii diminished

    So if we apply this information to a key, say C major, we get this as the arrangement of major & minor chords in a key:

    C major (C)
    D minor (Dm)
    E minor (Em)
    F major (F)
    G major (G)
    A minor (Am)
    B diminished (B dim)

    Typically the "goal" of any chord progression is to get "home", or to tonic (I). In the case of a progression in the key of C, that would be C, see? ;) This is known as a resolution, music is made of tensions and their resolutions, certain chords will create a tension that is resolved by moving to another chord.

    There are typically two primary types of root motion in chord progressions; step-wise, in which motion is from one root to the next, either above or below (Dm to Em or G to F, for example); or motion in ascending/descending 5ths, which is the more strong type of motion (refer to my thread on the Circle of 5ths for more information about this). Of the ascending/descending 5th motion, descending is much stronger than ascending (which can also be thought of as ascending 4th motion). For the key of C, here are the arrangement of ascending 5th root motions:

    C - F - B - E - A - D - G - C

    So, let's take this information and look a a simple chord progression, the 12-bar blues:

    |G|F|C|G|(repeat from beginning)

    Notice that from measures 4 to 5, you move from C to F, which is an ascending 5th motion; in measures 6 to 7, from C back to F which is a descending 5th motion; in measures 8 to 9 from C to G which is again a descending 5th; then we get the lone example of step-wise motion from G to F in measures 9 & 10; F to C from 10 to 11 is ascending 5th; C to G in 11 to 12 is descending 5th; and finally from measures 12 back to 1 (this is a constant repetition progression) is a descending 5th.

    Now, I'll break down a slightly more involved progression from a tune my band just started writing. It's a shorter progression, but it's a four chord progression and in a minor key!

    |Am|F|B dim|E|(repeat)

    So, what's going on here? Well, A minor and C major are essentially the same notes and chords. A minor is known as the relative minor to C major for this reason. Ok, we have a progression in the key of A minor here, and we are using the same chords we did in C major, just naming them differently:

    1: Am
    2: B dim
    3: C
    4: Dm
    5: Em
    6: F
    7: G

    So, when we look back at our little 4 chord progression, we have Am-F-B dim-Em, which translates out as 1-6-2-5-(1). We have one odd jump, which is the 1 to 6, after that, it's all....DESCENDING 5TH's!!!! :D This is actually a very common progression, particularly back in the 50's pop tunes ("Sea Of Love" for example), with the exception that back then it was usually a major key progression, not a minor key one. You may notice that the E in the progression is a major chord, while in the "key" it is a minor chord. This is done to create more tension in the move from the 5 to 1 chords in minor keys extensively.

    Obviously, there are more chord progression types to deal with than just blues, but you will find that root motion that doesn't fall into these two types are more the exception than the norm. For example, root motion in 3rds (C to Em to G for example) create no tension, and therefore don't lead to strong resolution. They are useful at times, of course, and do happen, just not as often as step-wise or 5th motion.
  4. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    (Jazzbo eagerly raises hand!!!)

    Mr. Gard! Mr. Gard! Could you please explain to the class why the dominant chord resolves so nicely to the tonic chord? I think I understand what you're saying here about tensions and resolutions, but also, I'm wondering, if I just write songs with ascending and descending 4ths and 5ths, I'll start to look for more soon. What are some other ways I can create tension in my songs?

    Jazzbo puts hand back down with smug look on his face, but pen in hand, ready to take notes. :)
  5. Ok, that is a lot of information, I have a question though. Maybe it is in no way related, any maybe it is answered very plainly in the post above and I'm just stupid...but anyhow, my band has a "song" with a chord progression that is basically C to B to F#. Now based on my one semester of music theory in college, I would say that the key of this piece would be E minor. So if myself or our lead guitarist were to solo over this chord progression would we just use the notes in E minor? Or would we use maybe C minor scale (or harmonic minor, melodic, whatever), then B minor, then F# minor?
  6. ;)

    There's always a wise-guy...

    First, the reason the dominant (which is another name for the chord built on the 5th degree of a key) resolves so well to tonic is that two of the notes in the dominant move stepwise to notes in the tonic chord, one remains static:

    G to C
    G - G
    B - C
    D - E

    (The C major chord is inverted, or has a note other than the root as it's lowest tone in this case. The arrangement of notes has not effect on what the sound of the chord actually is.)

    This effect is heightened if you extend the chord to it's next level, the 7th chord:

    G7 to Cmaj7
    G - G
    B - C (Could also remain "static" to be the 7th of C)
    D - E
    F - E

    The D & F of G7 moving the the E of Cmaj7 is a VERY strong resolution. The B to F interval (edited to correct dumb@$$ mistake! :p) is a very dissonant interval within the G7 chord (it's a tritone, or augmented 4th/diminished 5th), and it resolves quite nicely to the 3rd of the tonic (C in this case) chord.

    Next, it is not a "law" that it's best to use 4th and 5th motion in chord progressions, it's just a general guideline for smooth sounding resolutions. There are numerous examples of other good sounding progressions.

    There are many good ways to create tension/resolution effects in composition. Extensions of chords, "borrowed" chords (using a chord from another key), "V7 of" tricks (using a "borrowed" dominant chord to move to certain chords within a key that are NOT the tonic, for example using D7 to go to G7 in the key of C). These are just a few ideas to play with, there are many out there that have been used, and who's to say that any one of us here won't come up with some new way to do the same thing? Experiment, try things, goof off, play around...maybe you'll end up with something named after you in a theory text book one day! Picardy thirds, Neapolitan sixth chords, Jazzbo...??? :D
  7. Without all the information, it's impossible for me to make a suggestion. You've only given us the roots of the chords, not the quality of them (major or minor, any extensions like 7ths or add 9s?).

    E natural minor would seem to make sense based upon the roots of the chords, but it's also quite likely to be some "altered" scale such as a harmonic minor, or maybe even a synthetic mode. It depends on the actual chords themselves, not just the roots. It's also quite possible that the key is changing with the chords!

    Remember that "theory" isn't a law, just basically observations of things that tend to work in western music. Despite Clan Tabevil's existance, there are no "theory police" that will arrest you for breaking theory laws! The only hard-and-fast rule is this: If it sounds good...IT IS! :D
  8. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    And I'm happy to be him! :D

    D to F is a tritone?!?!

  9. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Fieldy thinks he sounds good.

  10. And you do it so well...:p

    DOH!!!!! (_8^(!) A true Homer moment, hm? :eek: :D
  11. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    Good sounding progressions are usually progressions that are "strong", and there are some basic rules as to what chord progressions are strong and which are weak. Generally movement up a 2nd, 4th and 6th from the previous chord is considered strong. Movement down a 3rd, 5th, or seventh is also considered strong. Additionally any chord that moves away from the tonic chord is going to be "strong" as well. These are just general guidelines, however if you analyze the chord structure of tunes that you like, you are more than likely to find that these "rules" do hold.
  12. Well, the guitar part is just power chords so probably E natural minor would be right but that is a little confusing since E is not one of the chords in the song. Since E minor has the same notes as G major (I'm pretty sure) then would it make sense to use the mode of G major (can't remember the names now) that begins with the same note as the root of the chord being played at that same time?

    ...Did any of what I just said make sense?
  13. Thanks a lot Gard! Wow, that was a lot, and you explained it clearly. Very practical too. That's the first real thing I've learned about actually constructing chords.
  14. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

  15. metallicarules -

    Bruce's post is pretty much on the money. He did miss one thing though.

    If you're playing "power chords" (which are just roots, 5th's and octaves), you are leaving out the defining chord tone. Without a 3rd, a chord can't be major or minor, therefore isn't actually a chord, it's a dyad.

    Here's why G major won't really work too well over your "chord progression" (which is really just a riff...not exactly the same thing). The dyad for each chord contains these notes:

    F#: F#, C#
    B: B, F#
    C: C, G

    The scale for G major (and it's modes) is:

    G A B C D E F#

    The G scale won't be very pretty sounding over the F# chord, as the C and C# will clash a good deal. Otherwise, the scale will kind of be useful.

    I would actually consider a non-diatonic solution to this situation: the F# Blues scale:

    F# A B C C# E

    That may or may not be the answer to your situation, but it's worth exploring for ideas. The only way for me to be sure would be to actually hear the riff/progression and see how it fits together.
  16. OK first off I want to say I am finding this thread very informative. I was wondering how do Modes fit into this? I am confused that metallica rules song would be in E minor when C isnt in that scale. If it is in the key of E minor would that be when modes come into play. That you would want to play out of one of the modes that contain the same notes as E minor? I have been confused about theory alot and this thread helped me alot so I figured to try to ask here to learn more.
  17. Actually, the key of E minor (relative minor of G major) DOES have a C natural in it! As for how the modes fit in, well...man, that's a whole 'nuther thread! :D (Don't have the time for it tonite, sorry...)
  18. jared j. ranly

    jared j. ranly

    May 24, 2002
    i have a question. i was listening to "you ain't seen nothin' yet" by bto last night and i was trying to figure out what key the song was in. the verses sound like they are in Dmaj and the intro to and the refrain sound like they are in Amaj. is it common for a song to switch keys?? and how can you tell.
    jared j. ranly
  19. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Most "real" songs do change key - typically the chorus or a middle eight will be in a different key. A lot of simpler rock/pop songs can be ambiguous about what key they are in or just be a sequence of unrelated chords or riffs.

    Something like a "standard" song - from a broadway show, for example, or one that is used as the basis of Jazz improvisation will almost certainly change key.

    The easiest way to tell is to hear it - hear the different sound. If you have chord symbols or can determine these, then you should be able to work out the key - easiest way is that each key only has one V7 chord, but there are other signals - you really need to know the type of chord and its function in the harmony.
  20. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    Yes, I remember argueing with someone once that when you play most blues/rock based songs, each chord in the progression is treated as though it has a flatted 7th. (though you might not always be playing a b7, it's treated as if it's there) He said that it couldn't be because each 7th wouldn't be resolved, but I played blues long enough to know about the flatted 7th in each chord.

    My question is though, why is that? How can each chord have a mixolydian tonal center, and then sound good? (It's one of those "I know how to play it, but don't understand how it works" questions here :D )

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