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#1
Hello everyone!

It's been quite awhile since I've posted here. I've been getting tired of diatonic chord progressions. I really love chord progressions that have a bit of a weird but pretty edge to them. Does anyone have any tips to writing better chord progressions out of diatonic harmony? Here are some examples of some chord progressions that I like.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oLTvCCQp-c

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fu3vfI0vNZA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqJiXLJs_Pg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rO1bZdtto7I

I've studied a bit of jazz harmony so I'm familiar with modal interchange and modulations but whenever I try to incorporate them into a chord progression it just sounds "off".

What should I study if I want to write chord progressions like these?
Last edited by dannydawiz at Sep 2, 2015,
#2
the first thing you should do is just experiment. forcing inspiration, as you would by thinking "i'll put a modulation here, that'll make it interesting" without the experience to back it up will lead to disaster.

first and foremost you should strive to hear a clear idea of what sort of changes you want, how much tension you want to put forth and where, then work backwards from that idea in your head by translating it to the guitar, to paper, to theory, and figuring out "why does this work, and how can i make it better"

writing interesting progressions is a bit more complicated than writing a hook or melody for most people because you're dealing with several notes in conjunction, but that simultaneously makes it a lot easier to throw in more significantly "off-color" bits and still be able to tie everything together

unfortunately there are no shortcuts to writing in your particular preference. when you have a thought in your head, sing it into your phone recorder in the bathroom at work, write it down, plug it into guitarpro, however you can get it where you can document or remember the sounds in your head, then transpose and flesh it out down the line. eventually you'll just naturally get better at that instantaneous level of actualizing sound, and then the battle will just be a matter of being inspired. and believe me, if i had the secret of being inspired and turning it into a cohesive and well-organized thought at will, i wouldn't be wasting my time posting here
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#3
Quote by Hail
the first thing you should do is just experiment. forcing inspiration, as you would by thinking "i'll put a modulation here, that'll make it interesting" without the experience to back it up will lead to disaster.

first and foremost you should strive to hear a clear idea of what sort of changes you want, how much tension you want to put forth and where, then work backwards from that idea in your head by translating it to the guitar, to paper, to theory, and figuring out "why does this work, and how can i make it better"

writing interesting progressions is a bit more complicated than writing a hook or melody for most people because you're dealing with several notes in conjunction, but that simultaneously makes it a lot easier to throw in more significantly "off-color" bits and still be able to tie everything together

unfortunately there are no shortcuts to writing in your particular preference. when you have a thought in your head, sing it into your phone recorder in the bathroom at work, write it down, plug it into guitarpro, however you can get it where you can document or remember the sounds in your head, then transpose and flesh it out down the line. eventually you'll just naturally get better at that instantaneous level of actualizing sound, and then the battle will just be a matter of being inspired. and believe me, if i had the secret of being inspired and turning it into a cohesive and well-organized thought at will, i wouldn't be wasting my time posting here



Thanks for the reply hail! I always try experimenting like you said but after awhile I usually end up in a rut. I've been experimenting with harmony on the piano a lot more lately since it's much easier to work things out on there. It's just hard for me to get an ear for these weird progressions because quite frankly like you said there is just so much more to deal with. It's also WAY easier to get lost on an intellectual level.

Is there anything theoretically that you think may helpl? I usually work better if I can at least understand what it is that I'm doing. Diatonic Harmony is quite simple so there's no problem there. It's just when you start throwing in all of these neapolitan sixths, secondary dominants, and weird major VI chords into the mix that shouldn't be there.
#4
Unique chord progressions are cool, but remember if you suck at composing then the piece will still suck despite having a unique chord progression. There was a song I heard a while back, was pretty awesome and the progression was I - IV - V - ii - V. Scary thing is, they were all triads and sus chords not even a seventh thrown in there. Just some food for thought.
#5
i'd say you should take the time to internalize several chords and voicings. know their purpose - memorize them into your personal data bank. i'm somewhat fortunate in playing bass so there's a limit to how much i can do physically, and only a handful of chords and voicings i can use at any given time, but it still took me quite a while to start getting the hand of where, say, a 7no5 might fit at any given point in the progression to be interesting (but not too interesting)

another thing to keep in mind is that makes these progressions work is tension, and understanding that the tension you achieve doesn't only have to be from the chords. you can have a textural tension, where suddenly the orchestration shifts, or a tension in the way you accent or emphasize notes, as well as the tempo and time signatures. with that in mind, you can theoretically approach it as "okay, i want to use this out there chord, so i'm going to make the normal subsection have a more jarring sense of rhythm, and alleviate it when i hit this chord, so one aspect is resolved whereas another comes into question"

there are a lot of ways to work around problems once they're on paper as long as you know how to resolve and how to make things more tense in a variety of ways. but that only helps once they're on paper, so it's a long and irritating process before then.
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#6
Quote by dannydawiz
Hello everyone!

It's been quite awhile since I've posted here. I've been getting tired of diatonic chord progressions. I really love chord progressions that have a bit of a weird but pretty edge to them. Does anyone have any tips to writing better chord progressions out of diatonic harmony? Here are some examples of some chord progressions that I like.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oLTvCCQp-c

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fu3vfI0vNZA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqJiXLJs_Pg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rO1bZdtto7I

I've studied a bit of jazz harmony so I'm familiar with modal interchange and modulations but whenever I try to incorporate them into a chord progression it just sounds "off".

What should I study if I want to write chord progressions like these?


You like "unique" or non-diatonic chord progressions, but does that mean you like every "unique" or non-diatonic chord progression? Likely not. So- what to study, then? Your favorite composers, of course. Study their pieces to a reasonable degree, and try to see if there are any commonalities that exist in their progressions.
#7
Quote by GoldenGuitar
Unique chord progressions are cool, but remember if you suck at composing then the piece will still suck despite having a unique chord progression. There was a song I heard a while back, was pretty awesome and the progression was I - IV - V - ii - V. Scary thing is, they were all triads and sus chords not even a seventh thrown in there. Just some food for thought.


Of course a unique chord progression is no substitute for a good composition. However, I find that they are part of my taste as a practicing producer. Hearing a unique chord progression literally makes me feel good. I'm tired of listening to IV, V, vi progressions and all the other common ones out there. It's not that they aren't any good, I just want to explore a little bit more. For me personally, having a unique chord progression is only one of many parts of a great composition.

Quote by hail
i'd say you should take the time to internalize several chords and voicings. know their purpose - memorize them into your personal data bank. i'm somewhat fortunate in playing bass so there's a limit to how much i can do physically, and only a handful of chords and voicings i can use at any given time, but it still took me quite a while to start getting the hand of where, say, a 7no5 might fit at any given point in the progression to be interesting (but not too interesting)

another thing to keep in mind is that makes these progressions work is tension, and understanding that the tension you achieve doesn't only have to be from the chords. you can have a textural tension, where suddenly the orchestration shifts, or a tension in the way you accent or emphasize notes, as well as the tempo and time signatures. with that in mind, you can theoretically approach it as "okay, i want to use this out there chord, so i'm going to make the normal subsection have a more jarring sense of rhythm, and alleviate it when i hit this chord, so one aspect is resolved whereas another comes into question"

there are a lot of ways to work around problems once they're on paper as long as you know how to resolve and how to make things more tense in a variety of ways. but that only helps once they're on paper, so it's a long and irritating process before then.


Thanks for taking the time to write all of that down. I'm always a bit confused when it comes to tension. I have somewhat of an intuitive understanding of when a chord feels like it needs to be resolved but as far as actually being able to incorporate this at command I've got a long way to go. I really enjoy harmony that incorporates a lot of notes such as the extensions used in jazz. A dominant 13 chord in the right spot hits me like no other. More so because its the dominants and demands some type of resolution.

I listen to a lot of EDM so I'm familiar with certain structural elements that lead to tension such as the world famous pitch riser & white noise rise with a bass note hanging onto the root. If you think of a piece of music in terms of "energy", there's always going to be sections with more and sections with less. The verse of a track is generally going to have less and the chorus is going to have the most. The energy of a track generally rises ups in an upwards slope from intro to chorus and then drops back down again when there is nowhere left to go. This I think can be considered a form of tension that can be emphasized a lot more with a chord progression that supports it.

Quote by Jake P
You like "unique" or non-diatonic chord progressions, but does that mean you like every "unique" or non-diatonic chord progression? Likely not. So- what to study, then? Your favorite composers, of course. Study their pieces to a reasonable degree, and try to see if there are any commonalities that exist in their progressions.


I'm going to do that today. I just noticed last night actually that a very common thing that zedd does in his progressions is he gets the vi chord and substitutes it for a major VI chord. It just bothers me cause i'm not sure where the substitution comes from. Could it be interpreted as some sort of substitution? He uses it in the addicted for a memory track where the progression looks something like this.

C#Maj>BMaj>F#Min>G#Min>Amaj>Emaj>F#Min>G#Min>AMaj (Repeat)

The first two chords makes it seem as if its in F# Major. I almost interpret it as a V>IV but then when it goes to the F#minor chord it screws everything up. Looking at the entire progression, the majority of the chords come from E Major but it's hardly feels as if its the tonic aside from one cadence. (Amaj>Emaj)
Last edited by dannydawiz at Sep 3, 2015,
#8
Quote by dannydawiz
Of course a unique chord progression is no substitute for a good composition. However, I find that they are part of my taste as a practicing producer. Hearing a unique chord progression literally makes me feel good. I'm tired of listening to IV, V, vi progressions and all the other common ones out there. It's not that they aren't any good, I just want to explore a little bit more. For me personally, having a unique chord progression is only one of many parts of a great composition.


Name a song with an unique chord progression, and tell us the chords. That's step one here: what chords strung together do you define as unique? If you don't know the chords, learn them. Now you can play an unique chord progression, congrats. Learn a bunch more and you'll start developing an ear for them eventually.

If you want to study theory on the subject, you'll need to know what you know. Can you spot a "generic" chord progression by ear? Do you know how to write one? Do you know how to write a melody for one? That's where you need to start. You probably should know how to be able to write "generic" music in order to write "unique" music (using those terms loosely as they're very silly). Building a house without a foundation is going to lead to a lot of frustration.

Also, Hail is spot on here. Don't go into writing thinking that "now I'll come up with a really unique idea!", since that'll probably backfire. My own best musical ideas have spawned from sitting down and noodling a bit with the guitar, occasionally stumbling into some cool sounds. Theory helps you to develop those cool ideas further. But playing the instrument should always come before theory.
Quote by Jet Penguin
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*note that by fan i mean that guy who wants his friends to know he knows this totally obscure hip band that only he knows about with 236 views on youtube. lookin' at Kev here
#9
Quote by Kevätuhri
Name a song with an unique chord progression, and tell us the chords. That's step one here: what chords strung together do you define as unique? If you don't know the chords, learn them. Now you can play an unique chord progression, congrats. Learn a bunch more and you'll start developing an ear for them eventually.

If you want to study theory on the subject, you'll need to know what you know. Can you spot a "generic" chord progression by ear? Do you know how to write one? Do you know how to write a melody for one? That's where you need to start. You probably should know how to be able to write "generic" music in order to write "unique" music (using those terms loosely as they're very silly). Building a house without a foundation is going to lead to a lot of frustration.

Also, Hail is spot on here. Don't go into writing thinking that "now I'll come up with a really unique idea!", since that'll probably backfire. My own best musical ideas have spawned from sitting down and noodling a bit with the guitar, occasionally stumbling into some cool sounds. Theory helps you to develop those cool ideas further. But playing the instrument should always come before theory.


Thank you so much for the reply. I just did what you said and analyzed the zedd track in a previous post. xD I can play the progression but I'm not really sure how to analyze it. I'm going to do this with the rest of the songs I posted. I can definitely spot a generic chord progression by ear and play it back right on the spot. If someone gives me a melody I can usually write a chord progression underneath that supports the melody as well. I've written quite a few songs with diatonic chord progressions with the occasional altered chord. But like you say, foundation is very important. That foundation for me is in diatonic seventh harmony with some exceptions such as the borrowed chords from harmonic minor. (V Maj & viio) and the occasional modulation pivot chord.
#10
It's in C#. Every chord bar the C#maj is borrowed from the parallel minor.

Look up "Picardy third" - this is the effect that the piece has. Every time it goes back to the C# chord it feels like the third has been raised to make it a major chord instead of the expected minor.
#11
I think just experience and exposure, and inspiration. Just go learning songs, and learning concepts, and just write. If you find one thing that is cool use it, and make something with it. Then you will internalize more and more changes, more and more ways for one chord to lead into another. I don't think there is any kind of secret information that will help you to do that.

There are concepts like chord borrowing, and secondary dominants, key changes, and stuff like that, but these are just concepts. It's your application of them that matters. I think that going by what you feel and what is always the way to go. By learning and playing lots of different chord progressions, you will likely affect your taste that way. Even just listening to them.

Just go step by step learning one thing, and experimenting with one thing and then another.

I actually don't generally think of playing non diatonic stuff, but it inevitably happens. Also often not though.

like this track is not very diatonic. I think there is no section that is.

https://soundcloud.com/terence-dechef/miles-in-your-shoes-original

This one I think is though.

https://soundcloud.com/terence-dechef/if-you-need-me-1

I didn't really take a theoretical approach on either of them, but I remember for the first one I was going through a Joe Pass video at the time. I didn't use any theory concept to write it through. It was just what I wanted. What I kind of like about it, is how it is an uncommon progression, but yet still very accessible in a pop kind of way. It's not "odd" I find, but it is uncommon.

I've written a few songs when I was going through some stuff learning things, and one thing caught my attention, one passage, and I twisted it around a bit and turned it into something else that's completely different.

At the end of the day, it's really all you. It's not something written in a textbook, and it's not some algorithm or theory or concept that can be used to create progressions. It's you, and you are you right now, plus all of your experiences. A lot of things can go into a song, sometimes a mistake, an accident, a random experiment, some thing you heard, or just ideas you have that came from who knows where.
#13
Quote by cactus-dude
What is the chord progression for the Nujabes song? Sounds awesome!


Dmin>Cmaj>Fmaj>Dmaj/F#>Gmin>A7>Bbmaj> Db/Cb>Ebmaj Loop

That's what I heard anyways. :O

I'll get back to everyone elses replies soon sorry for taking so long! I'll get to them first thing in the morning!
Last edited by dannydawiz at Sep 4, 2015,
#14
^ Change Am to A7 and Bdim to Db/Cb. Otherwise that's correct.
Quote by AlanHB
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#15
There's no such thing as a "unique" chord progression. There are common ones and less common ones.
Whenever you hear an uncommon one for the first time, of course it sounds "unique" - you haven't heard it before!
But the more songs you listen to, the more you realise there is no way you can string chords together that hasn't been done. (There will be ways that sound wrong or stupid, but you won't hear those because - er - they sound wrong or stupid. So people don't write them.)
Sounding good is what matters, and you just want something less ordinary that (I guess) still sounds logical in some way. Random tends not to sound too good - unless by accident you hit some logical connection.

I'm thinking of George Harrison's "Only a Northern Song" a deliberately sarcastic, flippant composition where he sings "it doesn't really matter what chords I play" and launches into an apparently random series of chords. But of course they aren't random because they sound good. And they sound good because they're following a proper musical logic, even if it's an unusual one.
IOW, you can't escape rules, and it's dumb to try. Avoiding cliches is not breaking rules. If you follow your ear, you're just finding other rules, because that's what your ear wants to hear.

In general, the rules that govern how and why chord sequences sound good are as follows (you can use any or all, or mix them up):

1. Shared scale (diatonic sequence). Obviously if all chords come from the same scale (key or mode) then they will sound good together, in almost any order. They will also sound "vanilla".
2. Shared keynote. This is "mode mixture" (or "pitch axis" if you follow Satriani). You can use chords from any scale with the same keynote. (Not just different chord types with the same root.)
3. Shared tones and voice-leading. Sharing one note gives two neighbouring chords a logical enough link. Good voice-leading (especially by half-steps up or down) can also make apparently unrelated chords work well together.
4. Chords of the same type. Any chord can go to any other of the same type. (Eg one dom7 to another dom7, or one min7 to another.)

That's about it. There are of course many fancy theoretical concepts involved but - IMO - they can all be reduced to those 4 points. (You'll lose a lot of the subtlety of those concepts, of course, but in rock music that's neither here nor there.)

In addition, you can build chords in any way you like - which opens up all kinds of other (almost infinite) possibilities.
Our standard chord forms are "tertian" (built in stacked 3rds), but quartal (stacked 4ths) are a good alternative for different sounds. Some semi-quartal chords are already part of common rock language: sus4s, sus2s, 6ths. If you like those kind of sounds, it's worth digging deeper into quartal harmony.
But you will find that upsetting the apple cart of the kind of "functional" moves you're used to hearing in standard key-based songs (can be a good thing, of course, but it also pulls the rug out from under your feet - sorry for mixed metaphor! ). Quartal chords are ambiguous; they tend to have more than one identity. So it can be hard to know what exactly you're changing from and to!
But the above 4 rules can still guide your choices. Not only in which chords to pick, but in which extensions or suspensions to add to specific chords.

Obviously your ear is the supreme judge over all this.
If something sounds wrong when you think it ought to sound right - it's wrong.
If something sounds right when you think it ought to sound wrong - it's right.
This applies even to "vanilla" chord changes. You might be resisting the obvious sometimes, simply because it is obvious. But sometimes (just occasionally!) the obvious is the only thing that sounds right. (Cliches are cliches for a reason, dammit....)
Last edited by jongtr at Sep 4, 2015,
#16
Quote by MaggaraMarine
^ Change Am to A7 and Bdim to Db/Cb. Otherwise that's correct.
Yes, and I also think the Dmaj7/F# is F#m7 - there appears to be no D in it, even though it would make more sense (traditionally!) in context.

I get this, in detail:
|Dm - C7 - |Fmaj7 - F#m7 - |
|G7sus4 - A7 - |Bb69 - Db/Cb Eb7|

For the OP: you can interpret pretty much all of that in key of D minor, although there's some borrowing and substitution going on.
The Fmaj7 sounds to me like a temporary key centre, because of the way Dm-C7 leads into it.
The F#m7 is obviously odd, but it follows three of those four "rules" I laid out in my previous post: (1) it comes from a parallel mode (D major); (2) it shares notes with the previous chord (A and E); (3) the other notes are approached via half-step (F-F#, C-C#).

G7sus4 is diatonic to D minor again (seeing as there is no 3rd). And there's also chromatic voice-leading from the F#m7.

A7 is the conventional V chord in D minor.

Bb69 is diatonic to D minor.

Db/Cb (Db7 or C#7 if you prefer) is definitely a strange choice. But (a) the bass note is a half-step up from Bb; (b) the F is a shared tone; (c) other moves are chromatic half-steps (voice-leading).

Eb7 is the tritone sub of A7, to lead back to Dm in classic jazz style.

The last two chords are also tied to the Dm via the diatonic melodic line F-G-A.

In short, in the main, you have a standard set of chords from the key of D minor: Dm, C7, Fmaj7, G7sus4 (more common as Gm7 of course), A7, Bb.
Eb7 is a common jazz sub.
That leaves the two "rogue" chords, F#m7 and Db7. And they can be "explained", as I say (if explanation matters to you ), through mode mixture and voice-leading.
Last edited by jongtr at Sep 4, 2015,
#17
^ I don't hear a F#m7 there. It's a D(7)/F#, definitely not a Dmaj7. It's a secondary dominant for the Gm chord.

I hear A and F#, and I think I also hear a D in it. I definitely don't hear a C#. Not sure about E. Without C# I couldn't hear it functioning as a F#m7.

But even if there was an E, I would see it as Dadd9/F# rather than F#m7.


I listened to it in half tempo, and there's definitely a D in that chord. It's in a middle voice that goes like E-D. I can't hear a C# there, but I don't hear a C natural there either. But the chord does have a pretty clear secondary dominant sound to me.


I hear it in F major. The beginning almost sounds like a ii-V-I. Without the bass, that would be what I hear. But the bass plays D instead of G.


Actually now that I think about it, your explanation also makes sense. Dmaj7 would also make sense, especially if you analyzed the whole progression in D minor. But I don't hear a 7th in that chord.
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 4, 2015,
#19
Quote by MaggaraMarine
^ I don't hear a F#m7 there. It's a D(7)/F#, definitely not a Dmaj7. It's a secondary dominant for the Gm chord.

I hear A and F#, and I think I also hear a D in it. I definitely don't hear a C#. Not sure about E. Without C# I couldn't hear it functioning as a F#m7.

But even if there was an E, I would see it as Dadd9/F# rather than F#m7.


I listened to it in half tempo, and there's definitely a D in that chord. It's in a middle voice that goes like E-D. I can't hear a C# there, but I don't hear a C natural there either. But the chord does have a pretty clear secondary dominant sound to me.
On second listen, I agree!
It was a somewhat rushed listen, supported by Transcribe, which showed a strong C# and E, and no D (which prejudiced my judgement ).
But the C# is probably a harmonic of the low F# and - on closer listen - I also hear that inner E-D line (and the D does appear in Transcribe's spectrum when isolating beat 4 of that bar).
Quote by MaggaraMarine

I hear it in F major. The beginning almost sounds like a ii-V-I. Without the bass, that would be what I hear. But the bass plays D instead of G.
Again, I think you're right. The A-D melody and the D bass (not to mention the Dm originally posted, and the presence of the A7 and Eb7) was persuading me Dm was right - but there is a G in that chord, and apparently a Bb. So Gm9/D, ii of F.

However, I'd still say the A7 and Eb7 in the second part point to D minor - except that now we have no Dm appearing anywhere!

So I'd agree that F major is most "tonic" sounding chord in the sequence, with some deceptive uses of A7 (going to Bb) and Eb7 (going to Gm9/D).
#20
^ Yeah... I thought I also heard a Bb in the first chord. So maybe Gm9/D is what it should be called, I don't know. But it sounded like a ii-V-I to me.
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
#22
Quote by Declan87
It's in C#. Every chord bar the C#maj is borrowed from the parallel minor.

Look up "Picardy third" - this is the effect that the piece has. Every time it goes back to the C# chord it feels like the third has been raised to make it a major chord instead of the expected minor.


The key is in C# Major or C# Minor? Wouldn't it be considered the parallel major since the majority of the chords come from C# minor but instead it's being substituted for major?
You pretty much hit it spot on though. I remember researching the picardy third an EXTREMELY long time ago. I seemed to have forgotten about it. Thank's for bringing it back to my attention. Now I finally know how to describe what it is that im hearing in words.

Quote by fingrpikingood
I think just experience and exposure, and inspiration. Just go learning songs, and learning concepts, and just write. If you find one thing that is cool use it, and make something with it. Then you will internalize more and more changes, more and more ways for one chord to lead into another. I don't think there is any kind of secret information that will help you to do that.

There are concepts like chord borrowing, and secondary dominants, key changes, and stuff like that, but these are just concepts. It's your application of them that matters. I think that going by what you feel and what is always the way to go. By learning and playing lots of different chord progressions, you will likely affect your taste that way. Even just listening to them.

Just go step by step learning one thing, and experimenting with one thing and then another.

I actually don't generally think of playing non diatonic stuff, but it inevitably happens. Also often not though.

like this track is not very diatonic. I think there is no section that is.

https://soundcloud.com/terence-dechef/miles-in-your-shoes-original

This one I think is though.

https://soundcloud.com/terence-dechef/if-you-need-me-1

I didn't really take a theoretical approach on either of them, but I remember for the first one I was going through a Joe Pass video at the time. I didn't use any theory concept to write it through. It was just what I wanted. What I kind of like about it, is how it is an uncommon progression, but yet still very accessible in a pop kind of way. It's not "odd" I find, but it is uncommon.

I've written a few songs when I was going through some stuff learning things, and one thing caught my attention, one passage, and I twisted it around a bit and turned it into something else that's completely different.

At the end of the day, it's really all you. It's not something written in a textbook, and it's not some algorithm or theory or concept that can be used to create progressions. It's you, and you are you right now, plus all of your experiences. A lot of things can go into a song, sometimes a mistake, an accident, a random experiment, some thing you heard, or just ideas you have that came from who knows where.


As the old saying goes if it sounds good it sounds good. I like your mindset of not thinking about things and relying upon yourself instead of trying to search for formulas. I remember there being one quote out there on this forum from a user I can't remember the name of. It went something like "learn your scales and then forgot that shit and just play." Eventually at the end of the day that's what I hope to accomplish.

Quote by jongtr
There's no such thing as a "unique" chord progression. There are common ones and less common ones.
Whenever you hear an uncommon one for the first time, of course it sounds "unique" - you haven't heard it before!
But the more songs you listen to, the more you realise there is no way you can string chords together that hasn't been done. (There will be ways that sound wrong or stupid, but you won't hear those because - er - they sound wrong or stupid. So people don't write them.)
Sounding good is what matters, and you just want something less ordinary that (I guess) still sounds logical in some way. Random tends not to sound too good - unless by accident you hit some logical connection.

I'm thinking of George Harrison's "Only a Northern Song" a deliberately sarcastic, flippant composition where he sings "it doesn't really matter what chords I play" and launches into an apparently random series of chords. But of course they aren't random because they sound good. And they sound good because they're following a proper musical logic, even if it's an unusual one.
IOW, you can't escape rules, and it's dumb to try. Avoiding cliches is not breaking rules. If you follow your ear, you're just finding other rules, because that's what your ear wants to hear.

In general, the rules that govern how and why chord sequences sound good are as follows (you can use any or all, or mix them up):

1. Shared scale (diatonic sequence). Obviously if all chords come from the same scale (key or mode) then they will sound good together, in almost any order. They will also sound "vanilla".
2. Shared keynote. This is "mode mixture" (or "pitch axis" if you follow Satriani). You can use chords from any scale with the same keynote. (Not just different chord types with the same root.)
3. Shared tones and voice-leading. Sharing one note gives two neighbouring chords a logical enough link. Good voice-leading (especially by half-steps up or down) can also make apparently unrelated chords work well together.
4. Chords of the same type. Any chord can go to any other of the same type. (Eg one dom7 to another dom7, or one min7 to another.)

That's about it. There are of course many fancy theoretical concepts involved but - IMO - they can all be reduced to those 4 points. (You'll lose a lot of the subtlety of those concepts, of course, but in rock music that's neither here nor there.)

In addition, you can build chords in any way you like - which opens up all kinds of other (almost infinite) possibilities.
Our standard chord forms are "tertian" (built in stacked 3rds), but quartal (stacked 4ths) are a good alternative for different sounds. Some semi-quartal chords are already part of common rock language: sus4s, sus2s, 6ths. If you like those kind of sounds, it's worth digging deeper into quartal harmony.
But you will find that upsetting the apple cart of the kind of "functional" moves you're used to hearing in standard key-based songs (can be a good thing, of course, but it also pulls the rug out from under your feet - sorry for mixed metaphor! ). Quartal chords are ambiguous; they tend to have more than one identity. So it can be hard to know what exactly you're changing from and to!
But the above 4 rules can still guide your choices. Not only in which chords to pick, but in which extensions or suspensions to add to specific chords.

Obviously your ear is the supreme judge over all this.
If something sounds wrong when you think it ought to sound right - it's wrong.
If something sounds right when you think it ought to sound wrong - it's right.
This applies even to "vanilla" chord changes. You might be resisting the obvious sometimes, simply because it is obvious. But sometimes (just occasionally!) the obvious is the only thing that sounds right. (Cliches are cliches for a reason, dammit....)


I found the george harrison song to be quite entertaining. I also like the system that you gave regarding the 4 different rules.

In regards to rule #2, lets say we had a song that was in A minor. Could I also borrow from A Dorian, & A Phyrgian?

Diatonically the chords in A minor look like this.

Am Bdim Cmaj Dmin Emin Fmaj Gmaj

" You can use chords from any scale with the same keynote."

A Dorian starts on an A minor
A Phyrgian starts on an A minor
A Harmonic Minor Starts on A Minor
A Melodic Minor Starts on A minor

So I can borrow from any of these keys?

A Lydian starts on A Major
A Mixolydian starts on A major

So I can't borrow from any of these keys?
Last edited by dannydawiz at Sep 4, 2015,
#23
Quote by dannydawiz
The key is in C# Major or C# Minor? Wouldn't it be considered the parallel major since the majority of the chords come from C# minor but instead it's being substituted for major?
You pretty much hit it spot on though. I remember researching the picardy third an EXTREMELY long time ago. I seemed to have forgotten about it. Thank's for bringing it back to my attention. Now I finally know how to describe what it is that im hearing in words.
I think this is an unusual case, because - as you say - there is no C#m chord, it's always major.
But I think I agree with Declan87 - the C# minor vibe is so strong in the rest of it (including the vocal melody of course) that the C# major chord sounds like a surprise when it turns up (again).
If the key was really C# major, then we'd feel that more - that the other chords sounded like borrowings "darkening" the natural (major) key. In this case, the effect is more that the C# major brightens the minor key - just like a Picardy 3rd does.

A good tune for comparison is Crazy:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bd2B6SjMh_w
It's clearly in C minor, but a C major appears at 0:54. It doesn't last, the next chord is back in C minor. It's like they were thinking, hey let's resolve that G chord to C major, just this once! Neat trick, because it's a subtle hook element in the song, IMO, it catches the ear as something unexpected.

And you could go back to the Beatles (Michelle, Fool on the Hill, And I Love Her) for similarly unusual parallel minor-major flips.
Quote by dannydawiz
I remember there being one quote out there on this forum from a user I can't remember the name of. It went something like "learn your scales and then forgot that shit and just play."
I first saw that attributed to Charlie Parker, but it's a common enough sentiment.
The idea - of course - is that you've internalised all the information so it's subconscious, you can't go wrong. You don't literally forget it, it just operates beneath the conscious level. You "speak" music directly, like a second language, without having to think about how to put it together.
#24
Quote by jongtr
I think this is an unusual case, because - as you say - there is no C#m chord, it's always major.
But I think I agree with Declan87 - the C# minor vibe is so strong in the rest of it (including the vocal melody of course) that the C# major chord sounds like a surprise when it turns up (again).
If the key was really C# major, then we'd feel that more - that the other chords sounded like borrowings "darkening" the natural (major) key. In this case, the effect is more that the C# major brightens the minor key - just like a Picardy 3rd does.

A good tune for comparison is Crazy:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bd2B6SjMh_w
It's clearly in C minor, but a C major appears at 0:54. It doesn't last, the next chord is back in C minor. It's like they were thinking, hey let's resolve that G chord to C major, just this once! Neat trick, because it's a subtle hook element in the song, IMO, it catches the ear as something unexpected.

And you could go back to the Beatles (Michelle, Fool on the Hill, And I Love Her) for similarly unusual parallel minor-major flips.
I first saw that attributed to Charlie Parker, but it's a common enough sentiment.
The idea - of course - is that you've internalised all the information so it's subconscious, you can't go wrong. You don't literally forget it, it just operates beneath the conscious level. You "speak" music directly, like a second language, without having to think about how to put it together.


I'm actually familiar with that song. I don't think I'm at the point where I've internalized everything to the point where I wouldn't need to think about it. Certain chord progressions yes but not all.

My question though was regarding a parallel major/minor.

If the majority of a chord progression is in the key of C#minor but then it substitutes the C#minor for a C#major wouldn't this be considered borrowing from the parallel major?

Decian had described it in "addicted to a memory" as borrowing from the parallel minor so I'm a bit confused. If a song were to borrow from its parallel minor then that would imply that it was already in major and the chord progression in addicted to memory implies to much of a C#minor feel as we've agreed on.

Unless... He was trying to say the song started in C#Major due to the tonic and then the entire chord progression modulated to C#minor. I could see how it might be interprreted as that as well but you guys are the experts here.

Even though the track uses mostly chords that are in C#Minor i never really feel as if it was the tonic of the song.
Last edited by dannydawiz at Sep 4, 2015,
#25
Quote by dannydawiz
I'm actually familiar with that song. I don't think I'm at the point where I've internalized everything to the point where I wouldn't need to think about it. Certain chord progressions yes but not all.

My question though was regarding a parallel major/minor.
Yes, so was my answer.
Quote by dannydawiz

If the majority of a chord progression is in the key of C#minor but then it substitutes the C#minor for a C#major wouldn't this be considered borrowing from the parallel major?
Well, as I said, it depends how the whole thing sounds.

To my ears (and I accept this is all subjective),, as I said - "If the key was really C# major, then we'd feel that more - that the other chords sounded like borrowings "darkening" the natural (major) key. In this case, the effect is more that the C# major brightens the minor key - just like a Picardy 3rd does."

In most cases where a major tonic is used with other chords from the parallel minor, I agree with you, I'd call the key "major", because that tends to be the way it sounds. A strong major tonic, with borrowed chords darkening the vibe.

In this case, the whole vibe (to me) seems to be minor to begin with, and the C#major sounds like the out-of-place chord.

But maybe it's best just to say the whole thing is "in C#" (the obvious keynote IMO), and leave it at that. It's neither major nor minor; or it's one and then the other depending on which part you're listening to. We're just juggling labels!
It highlights how artificial that "major-minor" distinction can sometimes be. Parallel major and minor are really two ends of a spectrum, and most music (at least in rock!) exists somewhere in between. Composers couldn't care less whereabouts in the spectrum they are, it's all there to play with. The modes are there to be mixed.

Sorry if this isn't answering your question!
Last edited by jongtr at Sep 4, 2015,
#26
Quote by jongtr
Yes, so was my answer.
Well, as I said, it depends how the whole thing sounds.

To my ears (and I accept this is all subjective),, as I said - "If the key was really C# major, then we'd feel that more - that the other chords sounded like borrowings "darkening" the natural (major) key. In this case, the effect is more that the C# major brightens the minor key - just like a Picardy 3rd does."

In most cases where a major tonic is used with other chords from the parallel minor, I agree with you, I'd call the key "major", because that tends to be the way it sounds. A strong major tonic, with borrowed chords darkening the vibe.

In this case, the whole vibe (to me) seems to be minor to begin with, and the C#major sounds like the out-of-place chord.

But maybe it's best just to say the whole thing is "in C#" (the obvious keynote IMO), and leave it at that. It's neither major nor minor; or it's one and then the other depending on which part you're listening to. We're just juggling labels!
It highlights how artificial that "major-minor" distinction can sometimes be. Parallel major and minor are really two ends of a spectrum, and most music (at least in rock!) exists somewhere in between. Composers couldn't care less whereabouts in the spectrum they are, it's all there to play with. The modes are there to be mixed.

Sorry if this isn't answering your question!


It's fine. I appreciate the time that you take to reply in the first place. I've already learned quite a few things from you. I understand that once you get this far into music theory things start to become more subjective and there's more room to debate about things. I can't blame you for that.

If anything It would be nice to here what other people think about the track to. Zedd needs to stop making so many weird chord progressions. He's driving us music theorists crazy.
#27
Quote by jongtr


1. Shared scale (diatonic sequence). Obviously if all chords come from the same scale (key or mode) then they will sound good together, in almost any order. They will also sound "vanilla".
2. Shared keynote. This is "mode mixture" (or "pitch axis" if you follow Satriani). You can use chords from any scale with the same keynote. (Not just different chord types with the same root.)
3. Shared tones and voice-leading. Sharing one note gives two neighbouring chords a logical enough link. Good voice-leading (especially by half-steps up or down) can also make apparently unrelated chords work well together.
4. Chords of the same type. Any chord can go to any other of the same type. (Eg one dom7 to another dom7, or one min7 to another.)



I can't help but feel that there is either more to it than that, or these steps could be interpreted to justify any permutation on guitar whatsoever.
#28
Quote by jongtr

But maybe it's best just to say the whole thing is "in C#" (the obvious keynote IMO), and leave it at that. It's neither major nor minor; or it's one and then the other depending on which part you're listening to. We're just juggling labels!
It highlights how artificial that "major-minor" distinction can sometimes be. Parallel major and minor are really two ends of a spectrum, and most music (at least in rock!) exists somewhere in between. Composers couldn't care less whereabouts in the spectrum they are, it's all there to play with. The modes are there to be mixed.

This is my feeling on the matter - sometimes there's no point in trying to decide whether it's "slightly more" major or minor. I'd rather just say C#.
#29
Quote by dannydawiz
In regards to rule #2, lets say we had a song that was in A minor. Could I also borrow from A Dorian, & A Phyrgian?

Diatonically the chords in A minor look like this.

Am Bdim Cmaj Dmin Emin Fmaj Gmaj

" You can use chords from any scale with the same keynote."

A Dorian starts on an A minor
A Phyrgian starts on an A minor
A Harmonic Minor Starts on A Minor
A Melodic Minor Starts on A minor

So I can borrow from any of these keys?

A Lydian starts on A Major
A Mixolydian starts on A major

So I can't borrow from any of these keys?

It's quite common to use a major 6th in minor, same with minor 2nd. It will have kind of a "dorian sound" or "phrygian sound" to it. But yeah, it's possible, and that's how modes are usually used in songs today. The songs themselves aren't really modal, but they have sections that use a modal scale. One pretty common chord progression with a "dorian sound" would be Am-C-G-D. Very common in rock and pop music.

But yeah, major IV chord and bII chord are pretty common in minor keys.

"House of the Rising Sun" by Animals uses a chord progression that kind of mixes dorian in it. The chords are i-III-IV-VI-i-III-V. So it uses minor and major 6th and 7th. Actually, I wouldn't really even call this mixing dorian and minor. It's just basic minor stuff. Major 6th and major 7th are very common "accidentals" in minor key. Same thing happens in "Stairway to Heaven". It has that chromatic descending line that goes like A-G#-G-F#-F, and it's in Am.

The bII chord is a bit less common, but it is still used. One of its most common uses is as a substitution for subdominant chords in minor. It's called the "Neapolitan sixth chord" (when played in the first inversion), and it's used a lot in classical music.

"For the Love of God" by Steve Vai uses the bII chord a lot and that gives it a more phrygian sound.

Using melodic and harmonic minor is not considered to be chord borrowing. If your song is in A minor, you are staying diatonic to the key, even if you are using all the three different minor scales. Harmonic, melodic and natural minor aren't different keys. They are all in the same key. In a minor key it's very common to use minor 6th, major 6th, minor 7th and major 7th, all in the same song. And that's not chord or note borrowing. That's just typical minor stuff.


Then the major key... Rock music uses the b7 all the time, and you could say that's borrowed from mixolydian. Or you could just say it's borrowed from the parallel minor. One of the most common rock chord progressions is bVII-IV-I, used in pretty much every AC/DC song.

The major II chord (not functioning as a secondary dominant) is also quite common. You could say it's borrowed from lydian, though in many cases it doesn't really sound like lydian at all (so I don't know if I would describe it as borrowing from lydian). For example listen to "Forget You" by Cee Lo Green. The chords throughout pretty much the whole song are I-II-IV-I, all major.

Some songs do use a lydian vamp, though. For example "Headed for a Heartbreak" by Winger. The verse uses a two chord lydian vamp I-II, and that does have a lydian sound to it.

And it's common to use the minor third and sixth in a major key song.


But yeah, you can use any chords you want. These were just examples.


Oh, I noticed you said you couldn't borrow from lydian/mixolydian to minor... Well, you can, though I would just call that mixing major and minor, not any modal stuff. You can do anything you want. But if you change the tonic chord to major, it usually also changes the key of the song to major. So it would just be considered modulating to the parallel key. The more accidentals you add, the further away it will sound from the original key.

But yeah, if you add the major third to a minor key, that would be considered borrowing from major. If you add both the major 3rd and the major 6th to a minor key, it would still be considered borrowing from major. Adding an augmented 4th is not borrowing from lydian. The augmented 4th is usually from a secondary dominant, or then it's the blue note (when we are talking about minor key stuff). It has nothing to do with lydian.

So in that sense, no, you can't really borrow from mixolydian or lydian to a minor key, because that stuff already has a different and better explanation. There's no need to mix modes and keys, especially when the end result doesn't sound like modes. And it's the same the other way around - if you borrow just one note from minor, it's considered borrowing from minor, not from dorian or phrygian.


But yeah, there are no rules, there are just "guidelines" or "common practices". Nobody's telling you what you can or can't do. Forget about all of that. You can do anything you want. If it sounds good, it is good. And doing something "unique" is not breaking any rules. And most likely it's not even unique. Most likely somebody has played the same chord progression before.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

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Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Sep 4, 2015,
#30
Wow, a very interesting thread. It got me thinking of simpler pop compositions that nevertheless have uncommon chord structures. Without going to into theory, which has been pretty well articulated here, arrangements and tempos also come into play.

Take, for instance, Your Real Good Thing, which was an R&B hit in the sixties for Lou Rawls. The song moves from e major to e minor in a few steps, but what makes it work to my ear is that Isaac Hayes and David Porter set up a series of two- and three-chord vamps, going from E to B+ and E to C#min for a bit, then F#7 to C#min for a few measures then to E minor to A7 for a few measures, then back to E major. It could have been a little abrupt (obviously from a musical theory perspective, these changes aren't huge leaps), but the great effect of the song is to move you from one musical state to another, leave you there for a bit and then pick you up and drop you in a third one. So really, I think it was about the timing on that record, which creates a bluesy dream-like state that allows for modulations without much fanfare.

Also, consider I Am The Walrus, which just cycles through major chords and Dom7s using the c-major scale roots, for the most part. But by churning through it, with occasional disruptions and reversals for effect, you get this feeling of slowly somersaulting down Alice's rabbit hole, especially at the end. It feels like each chord is its own flip and moves you to a new location in space. Obviously the chords are related by the scale in the roots, but Lennon doesn't really attempt to relate them harmonically because he liked that falling feeling.
Last edited by Barboy07079 at Sep 4, 2015,
#31
Nujabes:
Bbmaj9/D | C | Fmaj7 | F#m7b5 D7/F# | G7sus4 | A7 | Bb | Db7/Cb Eb7 |

Zedd:
C# | C#m/B Emaj7/B | F#m7 | F#m7 G#m7 | Amaj7 | C#m7/E | F#m | G#m A |

Agreed with Picardy 3rds, no reason for C# major to be there otherwise, everything else is diatonic to C#m.

I'll listen to the rest a bit at a time. Work Sunday until Friday.

THANK GOD FOR VPNS AND COMPUTER RESTARTS!
Last edited by NeoMvsEu at Sep 5, 2015,
#32
Quote by Barboy07079
Also, consider I Am The Walrus, which just cycles through major chords and Dom7s using the c-major scale roots, for the most part. But by churning through it, with occasional disruptions and reversals for effect, you get this feeling of slowly somersaulting down Alice's rabbit hole, especially at the end. It feels like each chord is its own flip and moves you to a new location in space. Obviously the chords are related by the scale in the roots, but Lennon doesn't really attempt to relate them harmonically because he liked that falling feeling.
Lennon was very good at that intuitive selection of appropriate changes. There's some clever contrary movement in Walrus, where one line descends while another ascends (while the melody holds its line).
His masterpiece for me was Strawberry Fields, where the chord and metre changes express the disoriented and confused nostalgia of the lyrics. (George Martin's brilliant arrangement picked up on that and ran with it, although I believe Lennon thought he'd overdone it somewhat.)
#33
Quote by fingrpikingood
I can't help but feel that there is either more to it than that, or these steps could be interpreted to justify any permutation on guitar whatsoever.
They can! .
Except it's not about "justification". The sounds are their own justification. If it sounds good, it is good, right?
There can certainly be more to it if you want there to be more to it. There are coherent systems of organising some of those elements in particular ways. There are idioms within certain genres which focus more on some of them than others.
IOW, I'm talking about fairly low level nuts and bolts - the mechanisms of how chord sequences actually work, the various links that are possible. There can be all kinds of intellectual superstructures and artistic choices imposed on that.
As an analogy, I liken those four "mechanisms" to the engine of a car. Pretty much all engines work the same, but they can go in all kinds of vehicle. That's the "more to it", IMO.
Last edited by jongtr at Sep 5, 2015,
#34
Quote by jongtr
They can! .
Except it's not about "justification". The sounds are their own justification. If it sounds good, it is good, right?
There can certainly be more to it if you want there to be more to it. There are coherent systems of organising some of those elements in particular ways. There are idioms within certain genres which focus more on some of them than others.
IOW, I'm talking about fairly low level nuts and bolts - the mechanisms of how chord sequences actually work, the various links that are possible. There can be all kinds of intellectual superstructures and artistic choices imposed on that.
As an analogy, I liken those four "mechanisms" to the engine of a car. Pretty much all engines work the same, but they can go in all kinds of vehicle. That's the "more to it", IMO.


I'm not sure I understand. If literally any permutation of chords can be reduced to those 4 things, then what's the difference between making those 4 bullet points and saying "Use any of the chords in the universe as long as it sounds good."

I'm actually starting to suspect that I could literally make any chord progression anyone could randomly come up with, that I could actually physically play easily enough, sound "good". What I mean by that, is sound as though it "works" or is intentional. As though it is kind of peculiar, and a bit odd, but in an exotic way, rather than a sounding "bad" way.

But I think the trick about music isn't necessarily that. It's not that to me, anyway. I can see how some people can find that appealing, but to me, it is not to find things that "work" or to create something exotic and original that works, but it is to make something that sounds great, no matter how simple or complicated that it is. Something that is in a way exciting or that isn't bland or generic. And I don't think that necessarily comes from the progression, personally. But a progression obviously is part of it also. All pieces to a whole.

Making something exotic and different seems really easy to me. Just choose random chords and make them fit. But I won't usually find that sounds great, but not off, or "bad", either. Just not something I'm into. Not something that moves me.
#35
Quote by fingrpikingood
I'm not sure I understand. If literally any permutation of chords can be reduced to those 4 things, then what's the difference between making those 4 bullet points and saying "Use any of the chords in the universe as long as it sounds good."
Well, "sounding good" is the issue. It's my contention that the reason a chord change sounds good is it will be following at least one of those 4 rules.
That doesn't mean "literally any permutation", although the possibilities are pretty huge.
Quote by fingrpikingood

I'm actually starting to suspect that I could literally make any chord progression anyone could randomly come up with, that I could actually physically play easily enough, sound "good". What I mean by that, is sound as though it "works" or is intentional. As though it is kind of peculiar, and a bit odd, but in an exotic way, rather than a sounding "bad" way.
You may be right. It would be a good experiment to somehow generate a random chord sequence and see if it it could be made to work. I suspect adjustments would need to be made to most of them.
There is of course at least one other factor that helps tie chords together: melody. But that can easily fall under the "voice-leading" rule, and/or the "shared scale" rule.
Quote by fingrpikingood

But I think the trick about music isn't necessarily that. It's not that to me, anyway. I can see how some people can find that appealing, but to me, it is not to find things that "work" or to create something exotic and original that works, but it is to make something that sounds great, no matter how simple or complicated that it is.
Sure. The thinking behind my 4 rules is just from observation of what seems to work, what does work in various songs, including chord choices that seem odd to begin with (odd if you follow certain book theories).
(BTW the last one came from a William Russo book jazz arranging book. Not something I would have thought of otherwise, although it clearly works.)
Quote by fingrpikingood

Something that is in a way exciting or that isn't bland or generic. And I don't think that necessarily comes from the progression, personally. But a progression obviously is part of it also. All pieces to a whole.
Well yes. The chord progression is only one element of a composition. And probably the one with the least appeal to any non-musician listener. Ordinary music consumers are far more moved by melody, rhythm, lyrics and orchestration. (They will of course perceive chord sequences, and maybe even by moved by them, unawares, but it's still a lesser effect than the rest.)
We musos get way too excited by harmony!
#36
Quote by jongtr
Well, "sounding good" is the issue. It's my contention that the reason a chord change sounds good is it will be following at least one of those 4 rules.
That doesn't mean "literally any permutation", although the possibilities are pretty huge.


Right, but if every permutation IS included, then the information is not really useful, because it doesn't differentiate between what is nice sounding or poor sounding, and includes all possibilities, which means basically that it is saying "stick any chords together and choose the nice sounding ones." Which I don't think is what you're saying.

I think the intention is to say that all good sounding combinations, have these things in common.

My original statement meant to say that either there is ambiguity, which would allow for any possible permutation one could come up with to be grouped into one of those, OR, there are other possibilities to which these don't apply that sound great.

But there is a little bit of ambiguity also in the basic premise because sure, you could fit any diatonic chords in any order, and it won't sound terrible, but it also won't necessarily sound great. Some of that is how you play it, but also sounding "not bad" and sounding great, which is what you want, I find, is not the same thing.

You may be right. It would be a good experiment to somehow generate a random chord sequence and see if it it could be made to work. I suspect adjustments would need to be made to most of them.
I have noodled around a little, and I find it tough to find a combination that I can't make "work", but I think I might be subliminally choosing selectively also. However, we don't really even need to do that, but just find chords that follow that sound good but don't follow any of those 4 rules. Especially given the possibility that those 4 rules already appear to cover nearly any permutation.

It's like, the major scale is useful, because it is only 7 notes out of the 12, so it is a thing. But the chromatic scale, which is all the notes, has a name, and sure passing notes and chromaticism are used, but the chromatic scale, on its own, with no other theory, isn't really useful information, because it's just all the notes. It's a similar thing.

A set of rules that you could follow for writing progressions which can cover every progression possible, is not really a set of rules. One could invent any set of rules that would include every possible permutation, and they'd be equivalent, even "pick any set of chords at random." Right?

So, for it to be a sort of thing, imo, it needs to exclude a number of possibilities, and those possibilities that are exclude need to all sound differently from the included ones. I don't want to say they need to sound "badly" but in another category. Like, passing notes can be used, but they sound differently than those notes in the key, clearly.

I would like to try the challenge of making anything work. I think how and when you play stuff makes a big difference.


There is of course at least one other factor that helps tie chords together: melody. But that can easily fall under the "voice-leading" rule, and/or the "shared scale" rule.
Sure. The thinking behind my 4 rules is just from observation of what seems to work, what does work in various songs, including chord choices that seem odd to begin with (odd if you follow certain book theories).
(BTW the last one came from a William Russo book jazz arranging book. Not something I would have thought of otherwise, although it clearly works.)
Well yes. The chord progression is only one element of a composition. And probably the one with the least appeal to any non-musician listener. Ordinary music consumers are far more moved by melody, rhythm, lyrics and orchestration. (They will of course perceive chord sequences, and maybe even by moved by them, unawares, but it's still a lesser effect than the rest.)
We musos get way too excited by harmony!



I'm not sure which progression you are referring to that came from that book.

I actually have a very non musician approach to how I like music. The melody is definitely the strongest part. I don't care too much for the harmony, but a cool harmony is a cool harmony, although a cool harmony with a bad melody, or poorly executed rhythmically, I don't find interesting. But how complex, or unorthodox a harmony is, doesn't really light my fire.

I actually don't like it when progressions come in and out of the key too much and go in weird directions. I like it unexpected at nice sounding, but I don't really like odd. Stuff like your modal pivot anchor thingy or whatever it is called, is not something I like really. It could be cool sometimes, used sparingly, but that's the sort of theory that if a piece was written along that train of though I would get annoyed, as though I was trying to watch tv, and a cool thing came on and every time I get sort of interested, someone changes the channel on me.

I don't really like jazz fusion, or miles davis, or anything like that. I find it's too all over the place.

Some of your rules, for my taste, would yield stuff that "works" but that I don't like, if you know what I mean. And for me, that almost might as well be something that doesn't work. And I think it might be possible, that I could take any progression, and make it fit that "work" criteria by how I play it. If the timing is up to me. As long also that it is easy enough for me to play on guitar. If the chords are incredibly fat chords, it would be more difficult, but also if it is too hard to play, I can't wield the timing well enough either. It sounds ridiculous, even to me, so there is a very good possibility that I couldn't succeed, but I am starting to think it might be possible.
Last edited by fingrpikingood at Sep 5, 2015,
#37
Quote by fingrpikingood
Right, but if every permutation IS included, then the information is not really useful, because it doesn't differentiate between what is nice sounding or poor sounding, and includes all possibilities, which means basically that it is saying "stick any chords together and choose the nice sounding ones." Which I don't think is what you're saying.
Not quite, no. I;m saying that IF a chord change sounds good, it's almost certainly following one of those 4 rules. and maybe more than one.
Quote by fingrpikingood

I think the intention is to say that all good sounding combinations, have these things in common.
Precisely . One or more of those things.

BTW, I'm only talking about relationships between pairs of neighbouring chords - not whole progressions.
IOW, a progression will (I'm contending) work if each transition from one chord to the next follows one or more of those 4 rules. Of course, if the same rule(s) apply across 3 or 4 chords as a group, then the sequence should sound even more coherent. But I don't believe that's essential.
Chord-to-chord links are enough for the chain to hold, as it were.
Quote by fingrpikingood

My original statement meant to say that either there is ambiguity, which would allow for any possible permutation one could come up with to be grouped into one of those, OR, there are other possibilities to which these don't apply that sound great.
Well, that's an interesting assertion, and would be a way to test (and maybe disprove) my hypothesis! Maybe there's a 5th way a chord change could work!

What kind of ambiguity are you referring to?
Quote by fingrpikingood

But there is a little bit of ambiguity also in the basic premise because sure, you could fit any diatonic chords in any order, and it won't sound terrible, but it also won't necessarily sound great.
Sure. The rules don't have to give you "great" sounding sequences, because that's largely a matter of taste.
You might even think that a change that obeys any of those rules sounds crap - because it's not the sound you want at that point of your composition.
Quote by fingrpikingood

Some of that is how you play it, but also sounding "not bad" and sounding great, which is what you want, I find, is not the same thing.
Of course. If it was possible to establish rules that always gave "great" sounding songs, then it would have been done ages ago, and everyone would be using them.
Quote by fingrpikingood

I have noodled around a little, and I find it tough to find a combination that I can't make "work", but I think I might be subliminally choosing selectively also. However, we don't really even need to do that, but just find chords that follow that sound good but don't follow any of those 4 rules.
I would genuinely like to hear such a sequence! Happy for my hypothesis to be disproved (or at least modified if possible).
Quote by fingrpikingood

Especially given the possibility that those 4 rules already appear to cover nearly any permutation.
I don't think they do, but if they do, then by definition there is no other possible chord change! Let alone any that could sound good....
Quote by fingrpikingood

It's like, the major scale is useful, because it is only 7 notes out of the 12, so it is a thing. But the chromatic scale, which is all the notes, has a name, and sure passing notes and chromaticism are used, but the chromatic scale, on its own, with no other theory, isn't really useful information, because it's just all the notes. It's a similar thing.
Not really. I agree the chromatic scale is not a "thing", that it is just everything. But my rules are not supposed to cover every possibility in a similar way - or there would genuinely be no point.
Quote by fingrpikingood

A set of rules that you could follow for writing progressions which can cover every progression possible, is not really a set of rules. One could invent any set of rules that would include every possible permutation, and they'd be equivalent, even "pick any set of chords at random." Right?

So, for it to be a sort of thing, imo, it needs to exclude a number of possibilities, and those possibilities that are exclude need to all sound differently from the included ones. I don't want to say they need to sound "badly" but in another category. Like, passing notes can be used, but they sound differently than those notes in the key, clearly.

I would like to try the challenge of making anything work. I think how and when you play stuff makes a big difference.
All good comments. Food for thought. But I would like to see some examples that test the rules, if you can think of some.
Quote by fingrpikingood

I'm not sure which progression you are referring to that came from that book.
#4.
Last edited by jongtr at Sep 6, 2015,
#38
Quote by jongtr
Not quite, no. I;m saying that IF a chord change sounds good, it's almost certainly following one of those 4 rules. and maybe more than one.
Precisely . One or more of those things.
Right. So if those 4 rules include almost every chord progression possible, then it is not saying much. Also, if it is possible to find a number of good sounding progressions that don't follow that, it is not saying much.

What I'm saying, is that I believe that it either encompasses nearly every permutation possible, or, there will be a number of cases where a progression sounds good and doesn't follow those.

One example would be a secondary dominant functioning going into a minor chord, and the chord before the dominant was not the same sort. Off the top of my head, I believe that wouldn't fit into those, of course, if you fit a melody over your progression, you could call it voice leading, but you could always say that, and it is not surprising that people will prefer the melodies p[layed over better progressions than less good ones.

The voice leading stipulation can be interpreted in such a way that every permutation is possible, as long as it sounds good, which means it essentialy gets reduced to "play whatever chords, and if they are good, then success."

BTW, I'm only talking about relationships between pairs of neighbouring chords - not whole progressions.
IOW, a progression will (I'm contending) work if each transition from one chord to the next follows one or more of those 4 rules. Of course, if the same rule(s) apply across 3 or 4 chords as a group, then the sequence should sound even more coherent. But I don't believe that's essential.
Chord-to-chord links are enough for the chain to hold, as it were.
Well, that's an interesting assertion, and would be a way to test (and maybe disprove) my hypothesis! Maybe there's a 5th way a chord change could work!
Ya, I had interpreted it that way. For me, chord to chord movement isn't enough. One chord can sound good against another, but if we are switching key center too quickly, I won't like that. It would be to me, like if someone showed me something on tv that interested me, and then switched the channel immediately. Or like if one character speaks, the replyy would be someone in another show. It doesn't stay to keep me interested. Completely changing the scenery is nice, but I need to have time to get to know it a little, otherwise I won't like that. That's my personal preference. There are certainly well known musicians that don't follow that, and lots of people that enjoy their music.


What kind of ambiguity are you referring to?
Voice leading. That could encompass almost anything. it's kind of chicken and the egg also. Is the voice leading making the progression work? Or is the progression making the voice leading work?

It is normal that a good progression will sound good with a melody. This single point could be used to justify just about anything.

If a progression didn't work, or wasn't so good, the voice leading wouldn't be so great either. Idk, that entry on its own, is kind of "play anything and if it sounds good, it's good.


Sure. The rules don't have to give you "great" sounding sequences, because that's largely a matter of taste.
It is. I think I could make almost any progression you could devise enter the realm of "matter of taste" though.


You might even think that a change that obeys only one of those rules sounds crap - because it's not the sound you want at that point of your composition.
Pf course. If it was possible to establish rules that always gave "great" sounding songs, then it would have been done ages ago, and everyone would be using them.

Agreed.

I would genuinely like to hear such a sequence! Happy for my hypothesis to be disproved (or at least modified if possible).
That is refreshing to hear, and to me, a noble sign of wisdom.

They are your rules, and the voice leading one is ambiguous to me. If you can find a progression that doesn't fit those rules. I could see if I could make it work. Or anyone else, but like I said, I believe there is a bit of ambiguity there.

I don't think they do, but if they do, then by definition there is no other possible chord change! Let alone any that could sound good....
Not really. I agree the chromatic scale is not a "thing", that it is just everything. But my rules are not supposed to cover every possibility in a similar way - or there would genuinely be no point.
All good comments. Food for thought. But I would like to see some examples that test the rules, if you can think of some.
I messed around on the guitar and I think I found some. I had trouble finding any random thing I could come up with, not work. But I think I'm naturally subconsciously biased.


I'm not sure which progression you are referring to that came from that book.
Lol. That was exactly my question.
#39
Quote by fingrpikingood
Right. So if those 4 rules include almost every chord progression possible
Well, I'm not sure they do. It's just a set of conclusions I've come to by studying songs. Naturally, progressions used in songs "work", or they wouldn't be used. I'm not really interested in ones that don't work, or that I haven't found being used (or haven't found to work myself).
I'm reasonably sure, I've not seen any chord change (ever) that doesn't fall into at least one of those categories. But I could be wrong.... And I've not see every song in the world of course....
Quote by fingrpikingood
Also, if it is possible to find a number of good sounding progressions that don't follow that, it is not saying much.
Absolutely! That's the test, IMO. Find me some such sequences!
Quote by fingrpikingood

What I'm saying, is that I believe that it either encompasses nearly every permutation possible, or, there will be a number of cases where a progression sounds good and doesn't follow those.
OK, that's your belief. You need to find evidence for it. My rules incorporate all the evidence I've been able to find (at least, that I remember). But as I say, my investigations are hardly scientific in their rigour!
I'm presenting what I've found, IOW. If you have good reason to doubt it (you have evidence to the contrary) I would love to see it. I mean I'm genuinely curious for more.
Quote by fingrpikingood

One example would be a secondary dominant functioning going into a minor chord, and the chord before the dominant was not the same sort.
A normal secondary dominant - going to a diatonic chord - will have a rule #3 relationship with whatever the previous chord is, I think (shared tones, chromatic voice-leading, or both).
With a modulation, you might have a point. Eg, a random dominant marking a key change. (Maybe I'll experiement to see if I can find such a change which doesn't fit any of those 4 conditions.)
Quote by fingrpikingood

The voice leading stipulation can be interpreted in such a way that every permutation is possible, as long as it sounds good, which means it essentialy gets reduced to "play whatever chords, and if they are good, then success."
Voice-leading is what has increasingly struck me as a constant factor, even in the most (otherwise) surprising or unusual changes.
In fact I'd probably say rule #3 is the golden one.
Of course the over-riding rule is "if it sounds good it is good." I'm only pointing out the factors that seem (in my experience) to make a chord change "sound good".
IOW, we begin from what "sounds good"; and then look at what factors such changes seem to contain.

Of course, "sounds good" is subjective to a large degree, but generally we're talking about "within our musical culture" and "given our collective musical backgrounds". So what "sounds familiar" (common) will automatically sound good in some way, even if it's the kind of "good" any one of us might want to avoid at certain times, so as to not be predictable. Even so, there's still a limit to how far we go beyond the norm before it just sounds "wrong" to just about everyone (including ourselves). I accept it's quite possible that, in those outer reaches, you might find changes that break all those four conditions.

But your point is still a fair one: that if ANY possible chord change (even one we could all agree was crap) exhibits one of those four conditions, then maybe they don't mean very much (or anything) at all.
Quote by fingrpikingood
Voice leading. That could encompass almost anything. it's kind of chicken and the egg also. Is the voice leading making the progression work? Or is the progression making the voice leading work?
The former, obvously. I.e., voice-leading is the mechanism by which progressions work. (That's my contention anyway.)
It's a little like asking is the engine making the car go, or is the car making the engine go?
Quote by fingrpikingood

If a progression didn't work, or wasn't so good, the voice leading wouldn't be so great either. Idk, that entry on its own, is kind of "play anything and if it sounds good, it's good.
Again, that's to put it the other way round.
IF it sounds good, THEN you can be sure there is voice-leading involved.
IF the voice-leading is good, THEN it will sound good.

Naturally - as always with music theory - there are exceptions. Sometimes what we (individually) think sounds "good" will be something totally surprising and off the wall.
I.e., voice-leading is what produces smooth and logical sounding progressions. We don't always want "smooth and logical sounding". Just occasionally we want disruptive, startling, illogical. In those cases, we will think that "good voice-leading" sounds "bad", because it's not what we're after.
I'm really only offering these conditions as a guide for songwriters who want some safe ground rules to start from - and to know what to avoid when seeking something truly surprising. (But still, two or three of those conditions - all except the first, in fact - allow for changes which may be surprising enough for most tastes.)
Quote by fingrpikingood

They are your rules, and the voice leading one is ambiguous to me. If you can find a progression that doesn't fit those rules. I could see if I could make it work.
To be frank, I'm not really interested in that kind of search - mainly because I think I could also make it work, maybe by voicing the chords so that they follow condition #3 at least.

Maybe I could hypothesise that literally ANY change can be made to work - IF you make whatever alterations are necessary to fit one of those conditions. If that is not possible, I'd contend that the change won't sound logical.
Its a different matter whether you want to equate "logical" with "good", of course.

Of course, if you want to have a go....
Quote by fingrpikingood

I messed around on the guitar and I think I found some. I had trouble finding any random thing I could come up with, not work. But I think I'm naturally subconsciously biased.
Probably. But just take a look at your changes and see how many of those conditions they fulfil (chord to chord, not necessarily overall).
Quote by fingrpikingood

Lol. That was exactly my question.
Sorry I think you missed my edit. Condition #4 came from that book, the one about any chord moving to any other of the same type. Here's the reference:
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=SvI3yhzMp0EC&pg=PA244&lpg=PA244&dq=russo+a+chord+may+move+to+another+chord+of+the+same+type&source=bl&ots=mZxmsuxn9U&sig=jCFUBSm_mfZJ20yL7TdOBp3O7mk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCcQ6AEwAWoVChMIn7KruunixwIVhy3bCh0rCQcr#v=onepage&q=russo%20a%20chord%20may%20move%20to%20another%20chord%20of%20the%20same%20type&f=false
(I guess it's worth bearing in mind his warning in the last sentence... )
#40
Quote by jongtr

Absolutely! That's the test, IMO. Find me some such sequences!
Find me any progression that doesn't meet the 4 criteria, and I will see if I can make it work. Otherwise, no matter what I come up with, I believe, you will be able to find a way to make it comply with one of those 4 things.

So, it is easier if you find a progression that doesn't, a string of chords that doesn't, or that most of it does except for one, whatever you want, it can be random, and I will see if I can make it sound good without changing the order.


A normal secondary dominant - going to a diatonic chord - will have a rule #3 relationship with whatever the previous chord is, I think (shared tones, chromatic voice-leading, or both).
This is what I'm talking about. Find me a progression, first of all, that doesn't meet your 4 criteria. I think that will be tough enough. I can't do it. I don't understand exactly your criteria. It appears to me as though any progression what so ever could be explained with those.

I won't be able to reliably find a progression that doesn't meet one of those 4 things. But perhaps you can, since you understand more clearly exactly what you mean.

To me, a Imaj7 - iiim7 - VI7 - iim7 would fit the criteria,... of not fitting the criteria, except maybe the ambiguous voice leading one. The VI7 is not diatonic, it is not a minor chord like the chords either side of it, it's not a pitch axis change, It has one shared not in it, I think only one, to the next chord. Is that enough? does that count? Idk, I feel that either this progression would be an exception, or, finding an exception, whether it sounds good or bad would be basically impossible.

I mean that's a tame example, and easy to make work but if that's not one of them, I can't be trusted to find one.


Of course, "sounds good" is subjective to a large degree, but generally we're talking about "within our musical culture" and "given our collective musical backgrounds". So what "sounds familiar" (common) will automatically sound good in some way, even if it's the kind of "good" any one of us might want to avoid at certain times, so as to not be predictable. Even so, there's still a limit to how far we go beyond the norm before it just sounds "wrong" to just about everyone (including ourselves). I accept it's quite possible that, in those outer reaches, you might find changes that break all those four conditions.


I'm not sure if this disagrees with you, but I find that many common things sound amazingly great, and so do many other uncommon things, and those things that sound odd, but held together, I think may be able to be achieved with literally any progression.

It's a thing of taste as well, but I think there is a difference between sounding off and cringey, and sound odd, and not "great". I think it might be possible for any progression to not be cringey.

It would potentially be a very easy test. If you can build a progression that doesn't mean those 4 criteria, and is not too difficult to play, and I am capable of making it sound decent, then we will know. If I cannot, then we didn't learn much.

I can't do it myself, because I may subconsciously not select chords at random, and I may unknowingly violate your criteria.

But your point is still a fair one: that if ANY possible chord change (even one we could all agree was crap) exhibits one of those four conditions, then maybe they don't mean very much (or anything) at all.
The former, obvously. I.e., voice-leading is the mechanism by which progressions work. (That's my contention anyway.)
It's a little like asking is the engine making the car go, or is the car making the engine go?
Again, that's to put it the other way round.
IF it sounds good, THEN you can be sure there is voice-leading involved.
IF the voice-leading is good, THEN it will sound good.


A set of chords are just like a melody, in that they will follow each other in some way, and either be a nice trip, or just bland and generic, or weird and cringey. Many factors go into that. So, to me "voice leading" as a reason why a progression works, is kind of a cop out, the same way "voice leading" would be the same sort of explanation for a melody being good as "it sounds good, therefore it is good."

If you make a great melody, the chords you build around that will sound great, as long as they don't change the sort of roles of the melody, since music is relative sounds. So, if you remain faithful to the melody then the progression will be good. Like-wise, if you build a good progression, then any melody you create that is faithful to that will also be decent. It won't be bad. But the aim, again, imo, is not to make music that isn't bad, but to make music that is good.



Naturally - as always with music theory - there are exceptions. Sometimes what we (individually) think sounds "good" will be something totally surprising and off the wall.
I.e., voice-leading is what produces smooth and logical sounding progressions. We don't always want "smooth and logical sounding". Just occasionally we want disruptive, startling, illogical. In those cases, we will think that "good voice-leading" sounds "bad", because it's not what we're after.


That may be the case for some people, but I never have a logical approach to whether I like music or not that way. I just like it or not based of the feel. Unexpected is always cool, but only if it is also good. Like a joke needs to be unexpected, but that's not what's good about a joke. Saying unexpected things is not funny.


I'm really only offering these conditions as a guide for songwriters who want some safe ground rules to start from - and to know what to avoid when seeking something truly surprising. (But still, two or three of those conditions - all except the first, in fact - allow for changes which may be surprising enough for most tastes.)
To be frank, I'm not really interested in that kind of search - mainly because I think I could also make it work, maybe by voicing the chords so that they follow condition #3 at least.


I understood that. I was just making the observation that it seems to me this guide either includes anything anyone could ever come up with, or it is missing some important things. It all depends on how you interpret the voice leading step.


Maybe I could hypothesise that literally ANY change can be made to work - IF you make whatever alterations are necessary to fit one of those conditions. If that is not possible, I'd contend that the change won't sound logical.
Its a different matter whether you want to equate "logical" with "good", of course.


I would not make such alterations. I think that with only rhythm one can make any progression sound good. I might be wrong, but you can try me. Any random progression that doesn't fit your criteria, and is not too difficult to play could settle this. Or, it might not. Idk, that's why it is an experiment.

Of course, if you want to have a go....
Probably. But just take a look at your changes and see how many of those conditions they fulfil (chord to chord, not necessarily overall).
Sorry I think you missed my edit. Condition #4 came from that book, the one about any chord moving to any other of the same type. Here's the reference:
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=SvI3yhzMp0EC&pg=PA244&lpg=PA244&dq=russo+a+chord+may+move+to+another+chord+of+the+same+type&source=bl&ots=mZxmsuxn9U&sig=jCFUBSm_mfZJ20yL7TdOBp3O7mk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCcQ6AEwAWoVChMIn7KruunixwIVhy3bCh0rCQcr#v=onepage&q=russo%20a%20chord%20may%20move%20to%20another%20chord%20of%20the%20same%20type&f=false
(I guess it's worth bearing in mind his warning in the last sentence... )


That was actually your most interesting condition for me. I'd never thought of that before, and it appears to workout that way quite well. It also covers a large number of possible permutations on its own.

That's why I find it hard to imagine a progression that doesn't and I have a hunch that any of those could "work" also. They might be odd, but I think could sound deliberate, and although would not necessarily be my style of music, could be someone else's style.

It could be an interesting experiment.
Last edited by fingrpikingood at Sep 6, 2015,
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