If you read the previous chord theory post and now clicked this one you may be thinking, ‘Great now we learn the next step!’.
Understanding everything about chord theory would require a rather large textbook. There are also a mountain of other blogs that go into great detail of all music theory. Google away.
However my hope is that this blog will get some of you started on your theoretically assisted musical journeys.
My version of a ‘next step’ for this particular topic delves into what I think is useful for song writers, beat makers etc.
Building chord progressions
Much of what musicians are taught about constructing a chord progression is centred around harmonic tension and release. The ear likes to be pulled back and forward between states of rest and movement. The terminology we’ll often use is ‘resolve’, e.g. ‘the G7 resolves to the C Maj7’.
The most common resolutions are V – I ( 5 – 1 ) and IV – I ( 4 – 1 ).
G – C (V – I)
F – C (IV – I)
Why are these chord resolutions so common?
1. The movement of the root note is the strongest sounding: The resolution of the 5th to the tonic.
2. The movement of the 3rd and 5th between the two chords are close intervals.
To ‘resolve’ from one chord to another doesn’t necessarily imply the end of the progression repeating to the start. There definitely aren’t any rules on where chords can go, only which combinations work better, just as there is nothing stating you must start a progression with the tonic chord.
Try these common chord progressions:
vi – IV – I
I – V – vi – IV
ii – V – I
Now try this:
I – IV – iii – ii
If you like the sound of that then good, you’re an easy pleaser. However, notice that due to the lack of V – I or IV – I cadences, there isn’t that sense of harmonic grounding as with the other examples.
Granted if you only use chords within one key then no matter the chord combination the ear will be feeling pretty happy about life harmonically. The point is some combinations are stronger than others and knowing the ones that are is pretty useful.
Cadences help with direction and structure, but what else can we put in a progression?
One way of easily attaining more interesting colours from your chords and also create movement throughout the progression, is to move different bass notes under the same triad. E.g.
C/E – C triad with a E in the bass
C/A – C triad with a A in the bass
So in a progression you could use:
C Major – C Major/B – A minor – F Major – F Major/G
With this method we are actually implying a set of more complicated chords, with further notes outside of the 3 note triad. For now you can think of them as triads with a moving bass. This is a very popular pop-ballad technique, which depending on the note combination can create a ‘suspended’ type of chord sound. Suspended is a term for chords that don’t have the important 3rd (which implies whether the chord is major or minor) and typically has a 4th instead.
Chances are if you’re already writing music, then this will be old news. Though I think your take away could be more of an awareness of the intervalic relationship between the chords you are writing. Perhaps at least you’ll understand why that one chord just isn’t working..
Until next time.