#1
FIRST POST! Alright, so I understand intervals, keys, and chord construction but I don't really understand chord progressions. I kind of do but I don't know how to create them. Well, at least ones that sound good. The stuff I come up with just sounds like chords played in a key. There's no real pull to the tonic. Is there anyone who could possibly shed some light on something I might have not learned or understood properly? Thanks!
#2
Research Cadences. That is a good place to start as they are basically "how to finish a chord progression" and will show how to create that pull.

Researching Chord families will also give you some information on how different chords pull to each other. Sub-dominant > dominant > tonic is the basic idea.
#3
Well, there's no one "right" chord progression, obviously, and you can create many that are not usual but sound good (and that includes chromatic harmony that involves chords not naturally found in the key). But generally, a "classic" chord that leads strongly into the tonic is the V or the VII, which in a major or harmonic key have a leading tone, which is the seventh degree of the scale one semitone below the tonic (as in B from C major). A 7th chord is an extended chord with the seventh degree of the root of the chord also added (a third above the fifth), and is basically the chord itself and the chord two notes above it stacked together, as they are closely related already with two notes shared between them naturally. A dominant (V) 7th chord is the strongest pre-tonic, as it contains both the 5th and 7th chords of the scale.

You can use any interval if it's dictated by the melody it accompanies, though a classical example involves many alterations of fifths or fourths (which are the inversion of each other). A really "baroque sounding" progression would be a complete cycle of fifths, where you go from the tonic down in fifths/up in fourths until you finish with a V7th-to-I.

Hope it gives you some ideas.
Last edited by TLGuitar at Sep 9, 2014,
#4
Not a detailed/technical explanation, but here's a way to create effective chord progressions:

I read a book called 'How Music Really Works' (I believe the entire book is available free online, or at least I've seen large pieces posted around).

There's a section on chord progressions, and they include a chart called 'the harmonic scale'. It looks a lot like the circle of fifths but actually works in creating good chord progressions (a little known fact is that, although many musicians and even theory teachers believe the circle of fifths can be used to derive chord progressions, it's actually used to show related keys which is more useful in modulation...).

I created this little guy in photoshop and have it taped to my wall so I can see it when I'm writing.

That's the harmonic scale Basically, you have every key. Notice the arrows pointing clockwise. These are important.

How to move through the Harmonic scale:

1.) Pick a key. You should generally start on the I (for a major key) and the VIm (for a minor key)

2.) Start moving. Your main moves are:

- Moving 1 space clockwise is a "Fifths down". Progressions that move in a Fifths down are generally very strong. (i.e. I-IV or III7-VIm)

- Skipping a chord and moving in a clockwise direction is a "Seconds down". These are also strong progressions (i.e. III7-IIm or IIm-I). Moving a "Seconds up" always as awkward as a fifths up, but shouldn't really be repeated in most cases and works best when going from the IV-V or from II-III (creating a cadence).

- Skipping two chords and moving in a counter-clockwise direction is a "Thirds up". These progressions are generally weaker, but are very smooth. (i.e. I-VIm or III7-I)

- Move directly across. This one isn't listed in the book. The trick here is to move directly across. It always works and you'll often see it in progressions. You'll notice there's no chord across from the VII. It doesn't work. (i.e. III7-V7 or IV-IIm)

3.) Mix it up. Your first two chords can be a fifths down and then the next two can be a seconds down. whatever. Following those rules, though, it's a lot harder to make a bad progression.

Now, there's things to remember:

1.) Any of the chords can be substituted for different chords. i.e. the III7 might work better as a IIIm or a III7b5. It's up to you.

2.) Not every move that doesn't follow the rules I stated is a 'wrong move', although wrong moves should be avoided. These aren't hard and fast, but they help.

(Look at the song 'Hey Joe'. It's a Fifths UP progression, although it works. The way it works though, is that all your chords are the same type (all major triads) which creates unity. That's a trick to throw in the tool box )

3.) All songs start by creating a tonal center. This is usually done in the intro. The move V7-I is a perfect cadence (and the III7 and VIm, although not perfect, has the same effect) and will always and immediately establish a tonal center, which will allow you to add chromatic chords (intervals not in the circle, like a bIII) or use not-so-common scales much easier. Another method is to repeat the I chord frequently (often starting on the I).

4.) Choosing chord types that contain similar notes can help with 'awkward' moves. i.e. The move I-III7 can be awkward. Changing the III7 to a IIIm7 or IIIm7b5 can alleviate the awkwardness a little bit.

5.) You don't ALWAYS have to start on the I or VIm. You can certainly start on the V (lots of those 80s tunes did. That D-C-G chord progression makes me want to shoot myself) or something like the IIm. It's up to you. Just remember that you need to establish a tonal center. Melody can play a big role in that (using the 1 4 or 5 of the major scale, and often, can establish the tonal center rather well).
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Modulation can make a chord progression pop. Lots of songs do it. Look up how. The most common way is the 'gear shift'. Don't do that. It's over-used. It's when they sing the last chorus in a different key

The better approach, IMO is to either use a variant of the VII, like say, VIIm7 to modulate to a nearby key OR to use a turn chord (I think that's the term?), like using a I7 to modulate to a related key.

By related key I mean one of the neighbors on your circle of fifths. You can modulate further, but the easiest modulations are to a neighboring key.

Also, by using the relative minor (or major), you can create a lot of interest. This is also modulation, and is probably the smoothest since ALL of the notes are going to be the same.

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+1 to looking up cadences. It's important, and knowing how they work can help out quite a bit

Anyway, I highly recommend reading the book I mentioned. It really opened my eyes to a lot of things in music. The first two chapters suck (they're a brief history of music from an evolutionary perspective... shoot me now), but after that, they have a lot of good stuff on how it all works and you'll begin to hear what's going on in a LOT of popular/timeless tunes.

EDIT: Figured I'd also mention that using chromatic chords should be kept to a minimum (1 or 2 chords per progression) and that it's important for them to be brief. If a chromatic chord goes on for too long, it can muddle the tonal center (which sometimes you want, for instance, it can be used to modulate), which can really confuse your listener.
Last edited by mjones1992 at Sep 9, 2014,
#5
Remember that your chord progression won't sound "magical" on its own. It will just sound like a bunch of chords. A chord progression doesn't make a song. You need rhythm. You need melody. If you're writing for a band, write for the whole band because single parts won't sound good alone.

Just use your ears. If you want to create a good sounding progression, just listen. What chords do you hear in your head?

^ What I don't like about your post is that you refer to minor key's tonic chord as the vi chord. And the V7-i in minor as III7-vi. Tonic is always the I or i chord (lowercase for minor). Even if the song had a III7-vi somewhere, it should be V7/vi-vi. Just pointing out.

Also, why is the third chord of major a dominant 7th chord? If we are in a major key, the chord built on the third scale degree is most of the time minor. E minor is not rare in C major, nor is E7 but they have whole different functions. E7 is the V7/vi and Em is the iii chord.

And there's no such thing as A# major, D# major or G# major (or there technically is but they have so many sharps that they aren't used - instead of them it would be more reasonable to call them Bb, Eb and Ab major.)

Also, the problem I'm having with that picture is that it doesn't separate major and minor keys. Also, E7 doesn't really belong to C major. G# is the leading tone of A minor. But in C major using G# all the time just doesn't make any sense, unless you are using the E7 as a secondary dominant. As I said, in C major E minor is more common than E7.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Sep 9, 2014,
#6
Like Maggara said, don't just make chord progressions, make melodies. It's good to always consider the underlying harmonic progression, but the melody (or even multiple melodies simultaneously!) is what makes the song stand out.

Harmonizing melody > Melodizing harmony

Harmony can give you melodic ideas, though.
Last edited by Elintasokas at Sep 9, 2014,
#7
Quote by MaggaraMarine
Remember that your chord progression won't sound "magical" on its own. It will just sound like a bunch of chords. A chord progression doesn't make a song. You need rhythm. You need melody. If you're writing for a band, write for the whole band because single parts won't sound good alone.

Just use your ears. If you want to create a good sounding progression, just listen. What chords do you hear in your head?

^ What I don't like about your post is that you refer to minor key's tonic chord as the vi chord. And the V7-i in minor as III7-vi. Tonic is always the I or i chord (lowercase for minor). Even if the song had a III7-vi somewhere, it should be V7/vi-vi. Just pointing out.

Also, why is the third chord of major a dominant 7th chord? If we are in a major key, the chord built on the third scale degree is most of the time minor. E minor is not rare in C major, nor is E7 but they have whole different functions. E7 is the V7/vi and Em is the iii chord.

And there's no such thing as A# major, D# major or G# major (or there technically is but they have so many sharps that they aren't used - instead of them it would be more reasonable to call them Bb, Eb and Ab major.)

Also, the problem I'm having with that picture is that it doesn't separate major and minor keys. Also, E7 doesn't really belong to C major. G# is the leading tone of A minor. But in C major using G# all the time just doesn't make any sense, unless you are using the E7 as a secondary dominant. As I said, in C major E minor is more common than E7.



Very true. I made the chart for my own purposes as the other ones online are harder to read. I prefer to think of it in terms of sharps (in reference to the A#, D#, and G#). It's a personal thing more than anything.

As far as the III7, I'm looking at the relationships between the notes that make up the chord. The idea is to make the IIIm strong enough to lead back into the VIm. The best way to do that is to change it to a III7. I personally think it works best, especially if the song is in a minor key.

I did mention that any of the chords can be changed to a different variant though

You're right though. Most songs will call for a IIIm.

And sorry. I don't have formal musical training/education. My education just comes from reading books and perusing the internet and making music. I wasn't aware that you generally look at a song in a minor key differently in respect to the roman numerals. I always looked at it from a key signature's stand point. TIL.
Last edited by mjones1992 at Sep 9, 2014,
#8
^ Yeah, but tonic is always tonic. If the tonic is minor, then that chord should be called the i chord. Tonic is always the I or i chord. Tonic is the "most important" chord of the key.

And in a minor key I would say V7 is more common than v (minor) chord. But in a major key iii (minor) is more common than III7.

And you are right about the "III7" thing - it does lead back to the vi chord and that's why it's used in minor key songs. It's the dominant chord in minor.

Why the tonic should be called the I or i is because that's your home. It is easy to refer to the home as your "first" chord. That way you will also know whether you are in minor or major. Minor and major sound way different and that's why they are different. Chords get different functions in minor and major.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Sep 10, 2014,
#9
Quote by D4NP3P
FIRST POST! Alright, so I understand intervals, keys, and chord construction but I don't really understand chord progressions. I kind of do but I don't know how to create them. Well, at least ones that sound good. The stuff I come up with just sounds like chords played in a key. There's no real pull to the tonic. Is there anyone who could possibly shed some light on something I might have not learned or understood properly? Thanks!


Sounds like you're on the right track. Time to study cadences and voice leading!

Best,

Sean