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Old 08-28-2017, 03:46 AM
OliveCorduroy OliveCorduroy is offline
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Default Chord progression theory

Hello all,

So in keeping with a few other posts that I have made about chord progressions, with one of them being 'what are some common chord progressions', I have a related question.

I have been playing some of the progressions suggested to me and it got me thinking that there has to be some rules(for lack of better word) that determine which chords are better suited to precede others and which ones are better suited to follow another and while others are not allowed(again, for lack of a better word).

Going into this question, I recognize that this is all about music theory and I want to dig into that but I don't even know where to begin. I understand the major scale and how chord progressions are developed from that but other than that I don't know why some work well while others don't.

Any comments would be great.

Thanks,
George
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Old 08-28-2017, 03:48 AM
Silly Moustache Silly Moustache is online now
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I've probably said this before, but learning the "Harmonising the scale" would help you quite a lot.
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Old 08-28-2017, 04:51 AM
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Look up and study "The Circle of Fifths"
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Old 08-28-2017, 04:58 AM
David Rock David Rock is offline
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Default inquiring minds want to know

Good for you trying to 'figure out' chord progressions! Sometimes it is easy, sometimes not so much. I believe my biggest single artistic influence came from Phil Keaggy.

In my mind, although his work always follows a path, he doesn't necessarily follow the 'rules'. It sets up some surprises along the way.

Years ago I started writing my own music (instrumental only) because of my own inquiring mind and I thought it was more fun than learning off of the page. Some of my own compositions don't even suck too bad! Ha!

One I wrote because I wanted to get a better grip on diminshed chords (that was the purpose and it turned out good so it stays in repetiore). Almost every chord is major...even an A (instead of Am) following a G (in the key of G).

Here is one that was built out trying to understand how a flatted 7th fits into major key. What I found out as I was writing it is that the 7Majb is really very close to the 4th (as a 4th13). That makes much more musical 'sense' to me -- but I like the way it sounds in this progression.

[soundcloud]https://soundcloud.com/davidnomadrock/first-light[soundcloud]

I have found music theory and writing to be the challenge I was looking for in music. There is so much fun in working out ideas in your head and somehow capturing that in the mechanics of effort.

I guess this is a lot of words to reiterate that old adage 'if it sounds good to you, it is good'.

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Old 08-28-2017, 06:38 AM
Llewlyn Llewlyn is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OliveCorduroy View Post
Going into this question, I recognize that this is all about music theory and I want to dig into that but I don't even know where to begin. I understand the major scale and how chord progressions are developed from that but other than that I don't know why some work well while others don't.
Fazool and Silly Moustache gave you two good keywords - I'll elaborate a bit on that. Assuming you know the major scale:

--> Harmonize it
--> Play I - II - VI - V using quadads
--> Learn how the other chords substitute these ones (e.g. II substitutes IV)
--> Learn the Circle of Fifth and use to change key, then start again.

Any theory book would contain these stuff, but really, Wikipedia and YouTube will help you just fine.

Ll.
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Old 08-28-2017, 07:53 AM
zhunter zhunter is offline
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There absolutely are guidelines that can help develop chord progressions. I am a strong believer in the power of understanding how music works. My advice is search the web and you can probably find ready made resources for chord progressions, chord theory, harmony theory etc.

Having said that, I like to refer to Otis Redding for counterpoint. Rumor has it Otis only played major chords and that influenced his songwriting. Not sure that is true since it sounds more like mythology, but his songs did run toward major tonality. My favorite example is Dock of the Bay. I am pretty sure the studio cut contains no minor chords though it uses many chord roots that are contained in the parent key scale. He wrote that one with Cropper and certainly Cropper knew a lot about music by the time they were working together on that song. Nonetheless, it bears Otis' trademark major chord construction.

The theory that explains how those chords work together, and there is an explanation, might be take quite a bit of time and the song stretches beyond basic harmony conventions. But there is no doubting the brilliance of the song at all levels. Redding took a theoretical limitation and made it part of his sound.

Still, the more you know, the more you can do.

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Old 08-28-2017, 08:13 AM
stanron stanron is offline
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There is a kind of balance between being predictable and doing the unexpected.

Patterns, by their nature are predictable. Once a pattern is established, what comes next can be obvious. Of course if everything was predictable it would all become boring, so the occasional detour into the unexpected can be refreshing. There are other, more functional reasons to interrupt patterns. More on this later.

The human ear has great capacity for recognising patterns in sound.

The act of hearing a pattern, recognising it, predicting what happens next and having your prediction confirmed is a kind of glue that keeps you stuck to music.

The simplest patterns are rhythmical. There can also be patterns in melody. In music there is a term used called 'sequence'. (not to be confused with a 'chord sequence') A sequence is a short group of notes whose pattern is repeated starting one note higher or lower in the scale. For example notes 1,2,3 and 1 followed bey 2,3,4 and 2, followed by 3,4,5 and 3 would be a sequence. If you can play that you should hear what I mean by predictable patterns.

There can also be patterns in harmony. The simplest pattern in harmony, by which I mean the simplest pattern in chords, would be repeated seconds. So in the key of C playing playing the chord sequence

C Dm Em F G Am G7 C

would be repeating seconds intervals and also convey the idea of predictable patterns. Incidentally, if anyone is wondering, the G7 at the end is a simple substitution for B diminished. B dim has the notes B, D and F. Add a G and you have G7. In the key of C, G7 is probably the second most important, and functionally useful, chord.

Probably the most used repeated interval is fourths. Baroque music is full of them. (The underlying idea of a fugue is whole melodies displaced in time and separated by a fourth), but that is kind of different.

In the key of C repeated fourth intervals between chords would give you

C F G7(for Bdim) Em Am Dm G C

It makes an interesting chord sequence. Start on the relative minor and you have,

Am Dm G C F G7 Em (or E7 if you prefer) and Am

Repeated fourths are at the heart of what conventional theory calls 'secondary dominants', except that minor chords are made major and flat sevenths are added.

Experiment with repeating other intervals.

Slightly more complex is repeating pairs of intervals. The verse in Hotel California starts with a fifth, in Am it would be Am to E7, then it has a third, E7 to G, a fifth to D and a third to F then a fifth to C. After that it changes but the initial pattern is compelling.

The verse in Ralph McTell's Streets of London and Pachelbel's Canon are both based on the same pair of intervals.

Again they start with a fifth, C to G. then a second, G to Am. This pair of intervals are repeated twice more, making another compelling chord sequence.

So experimenting with pairs of different intervals can be rewarding.

You may have noticed that the last two chord sequences lasted for six bars. One of the curious things about chord sequences is that they usually last for four, eight or sixteen bars. One exception is the twelve bar blues, but that can be seen as three four bar bits joined together. Another exception is Paul McCartney's Yesterday. The verse is seven bars long and it's unexpected end puts emphasis on the word 'Yesterday'. Very clever. And it's a good example of how to break rules. And four, eight or sixteen bars for a chord sequence is as good a rule as you are likely to get.

Chord sequences have to end and when they do end it's called a resolution. A common resolution is chord five to chord one. In the key of C that is G or G7 to C. Its like a musical full stop. Notice in a twelve bar blues that it does not end on chord one. It finishes on chord five, except that it doesn't finish, it leads you back to the start of the sequence and off you go again, you can't stop unless you change the sequence. Ending on chord five is like a musical comma. They are both resolutions but one is final and the other is partial. The last two bars of the chord sequences are resolutions. means of bringing the sequences to a tidy finish.

Patterns in music don't only last for four, eight or sixteen bars. Verse chorus verse chorus is a pattern. Movements in symphonies are patterns. Music is patterns in patterns in patterns etc. in sound. Fascinating stuff.

Last edited by stanron; 08-28-2017 at 08:21 AM.
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Old 08-28-2017, 12:08 PM
JonPR JonPR is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OliveCorduroy View Post
Hello all,

So in keeping with a few other posts that I have made about chord progressions, with one of them being 'what are some common chord progressions', I have a related question.

I have been playing some of the progressions suggested to me and it got me thinking that there has to be some rules(for lack of better word) that determine which chords are better suited to precede others and which ones are better suited to follow another and while others are not allowed(again, for lack of a better word).

Going into this question, I recognize that this is all about music theory and I want to dig into that but I don't even know where to begin. I understand the major scale and how chord progressions are developed from that but other than that I don't know why some work well while others don't.

Any comments would be great.

Thanks,
George
There's two basic principles, from which all the others arise:

1. Key (or mode)
2. Voice-leading

Key (or mode) is not just about chords being drawn from the same scale (pitch collection), but sharing a sense of tonal centre. Obviously, if chords all come from the same scale ("diatonic") they will sound related whatever order you put them in. A lot of rock and pop is built on this simple principle.

The question of "cadence" is another matter, and refers to how chords can be made to "progress" from one to another, and "come home" at certain points. I.e., not only are you aware that the chords share a key, and that there is a keynote, but you can hear the movement towards that keynote - you know when it will arrive by how the chords leading up to it are arranged. (This is the "circle progression" I mentioned in that other thread.)
Jazz - at least the jazz standards of the first half of the 20th century - loved this principle of "functional progression", leading the ear this way and that; sometimes surprising you with a swerve - and often going out of key - but always logically, and always coming home in the end, in a fairly predictable way.
Rock, pop and R&B is less bothered about that "forward movement", about harmonic tension and release. It's happier with open-ended grooves and weak cadences (if any). This makes it more "modal" in spirit, like the blues and folk music which largely gave rise to it.
But both genres share that sense of allegiance to an overall key. A home point to start and end on.

Voice-leading is the actual mechanism by which all chord changes work. This is a principle which is best summed up as economy of movement between chords.
Imagine you have a choir - it could be four voices (for Bach chorales or any sequence of 7th chords), or it could be six (one for each guitar string, even though you rarely need all 6).
This choir is a very lazy choir (except for the bassman, but I'll come to him). They really like to keep singing the same note if they can, as the chords change. If they can't do that (if the chords won't let them) then they want to move to a note that is a half-step or whole-step above or below; no further than that, please. And they also slightly prefer descending moves to ascending ones, if that can be arranged (descending is so much more relaxing...).
The bass is a little more energetic. He doesn't mind jumping up and down between chords at least if he's been given the root job. But he's also partial to scalewise moves, especially descending.

Voice-leading is particularly evident in circle progressions using 7th chords, as shown in most jazz tunes. Look at this sequence:
--8---8---7---7---5---5---3---------------------------
--8---7---7---5---5---3---3-------------------------
--9---7---7---5---5---5---4-------------------------
--7---7---5---5---5---4---5----------------------------
------------------------------------------------
------------------------------------------------
Sweetly predictable, right? Mellow and cheesy? Especially the final settling on the G triad (bor-ing). The point is to see how this sound is achieved. Every "voice" (there are 4 here) either stays on the same note or descends by a scale note (half or whole step). Its cheesiness is mainly down to it all being diatonic (G major scale). Nothing to frighten the horses here.

Now try this:
--8---8---8---8---6---6---5---5---4---------------------
--8---8---7---6---6---5---5---4---4-------------------
--9---8---8---6---7---6---6---5---4-------------------
--7---7---7---6---5---5---4---3---2----------------------
------------------------------------------------
------------------------------------------------
More surprises there, right? Chromaticism, key changes (maybe), secondary chords or substitutions. And yet it all works - because the voice-leading mechanisms are all solidly in place. (I could have put an ascending move or two in there, but decided against it.)
I only cheated slightly, by giving each pair of chords a familiar functional relationship. And each chord is a standard 7th type. (I could have thrown a few weird alterations in.)

The point here is you don't have to put whole strings of chords together like this. The voice-leading principle means you can throw an odd chromatic chord into a sequence if (a) it shares a note with the previous chord (and ideally with the one after), and (b) one of more of its other notes is a semitone move.

IOW, voice-leading over-rides diatonicism (shared scale) and functionality (ii-V-I cadences etc).

At least up to a point... It's possible to go too crazy with this idea, and the ear eventually demands (IMO) some kind of return to a tonal relationship between the chords. A roller-coaster is all very well (the voice-leading is what keeps it on the rails), but you (probably) want it to settle down to a nice straight level bit at the end.

BTW, chords don't have to move smoothly like that. Sometimes you want a voice (sometimes a whole chord) to jump more than one note - for dramatic purposes. That's where MELODY comes in. Melody is the elephant in the room here (a pretty one, but still an elephant...). Chords should always follow a melody. The melody is in charge. No good messing around with all those fancy chords if they derail the melody. (Sorry, you're now getting an image of an elephant on a roller-coaster....) Melodies, of course, are free of those voice-leading strictures; the singer of the melody is not one of those lazy choristers. The melody will often jump huge steps (yep a pretty athletic elephant), but sparingly - jumps cause tension, which then needs releasing by smaller moves, usually in the opposite direction (I think that elephant is on a trampoline now...) When one voice jumps (melody or bass), it's usually best for the others not to, but to balance it in some way. But - as always in music theory - the "rules" are not laws; they're just "common practices".
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Last edited by Kerbie; 08-29-2017 at 12:16 PM. Reason: Removed masked profanity
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Old 08-28-2017, 04:50 PM
SunnyDee SunnyDee is offline
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Melody is the elephant in the room here (a pretty one, but still an elephant...). Chords should always follow a melody. The melody is in charge. No good messing around with all those fancy chords if they derail the melody. (Sorry, you're now getting an image of an elephant on a roller-coaster....) Melodies, of course, are free of those voice-leading strictures; the singer of the melody is not one of those lazy choristers. The melody will often jump huge steps (yep a pretty athletic elephant), but sparingly - jumps cause tension, which then needs releasing by smaller moves, usually in the opposite direction (I think that elephant is on a trampoline now...)
Can we write the children's book for this?
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Last edited by Kerbie; 08-29-2017 at 12:17 PM. Reason: Edited quote
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Old 08-28-2017, 06:02 PM
JonPR JonPR is offline
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Can we write the children's book for this?
I think I just did it. Enlarge the print so it fills about 6 thick cardboard pages, add some cartoons... done! (I used to illustrate children's books, I know that stuff...)
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Old 08-29-2017, 12:09 PM
OliveCorduroy OliveCorduroy is offline
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Thank you all for your responses...certainly a lot to digest...I get some of it on a very basic level but some of it is way over my head...definitely has opened up my eyes up as to how intricate music can actually be...I can see that if I am going to understand any of this that I need to build upon my basic understanding of the major scale and go from there...and dig deeper into the circle of fifths...I understand that on a very basic level as well...I can see how it illustrates chords in a key...but anything beyond that is a mystery to me like how it can help me build chord progressions...time to put a little bit more time into this if I am going to get...the same kind of time I put toward practice...but in the meantime, practicing popular chord progressions like I-VI-IV-V, etc. in different keys is still something I can work on...and learn the why a chord progression works as I go....george
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Old 08-29-2017, 12:25 PM
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Don't dig too deep. "Music Theory For Dummies" is pretty accessible and well organized.

If you are going to try composing get the similar book for that.

IMO the hardest part is coming up with nice melodies and second structuring the overall composition. Chords come relatively easy.
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Old 09-02-2017, 08:35 PM
Guitar Slim II Guitar Slim II is offline
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In classical music theory there is a whole complicated flow chart of what chords can or can,t follow each other. The short version is: any chord can follow the I chord, and try to end with a strong V-I cadence. The stuff in between I don,t remember because I never use it. Most classical composers didn't use it either.

In most styles of contemporary music, all you really need to do is create a flow by choosing chords that are related to each other via some kind of definable root relationship. Common relationships are: perfect Fourths and fifths (G to C, C to F), thirds (C to Am, C to Em), even seconds (Am to G). You also usually want to try and create that strong cadence at the end, in the same key.

Then, be creative. Try changing chord qualities (use a major where you might normally use minor, etc.). Experiment with substitutions, modulations, etc. ... and see where it all leads you.

If you,re following "rules" more specific than that, you,re just painting by numbers, IMO. That doesn't mean you're progressions shouldn't have form and structure, and shouldn't make some kind of intuitive sense. But rules can't teach you how to do that. Those choices are part of the creative process.

Last edited by Guitar Slim II; 09-02-2017 at 09:24 PM.
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