#1
I guess the term would be "chord resolution", but I'm also trying to figure out the other parts besides the resolution.

I'm mainly just looking for how most people go about learning how to write good progressions. Every site/book/video I've seen just lists off a bunch off commonly used progressions which is no help to me because it doesn't teach me WHY they work. I want to know why that one chorus just sounds so good. (Breaking Benjamin's song "Breath" pretty much inspired this post. I wish I could ask their guitarist how he learned chord progressions.)

This is mostly with regards to rock/metal. How would say, a rock guitarist go about learning how chord progressions really work?

(Disclaimer: I am not a beginner)
Last edited by Hardlycore at Dec 17, 2015,
#3
I find that writing out the notes and seeing what's actually going on from chord to chord helps out quite a bit in understanding the relation between individual notes.

Get a list of common or popular chord progressions and then write them out in whatever key you like (C or Am works well since there aren't any sharps or flats to worry about).

For example, in jazz there's a popular progression called the ii V I progression.

C Major: C, D, E, F, G, A, B so the ii is Dm7, the V is G7 (G dominant 7) and the I is obviously CM7

In jazz (and really just about any kind of music) they add extensions so chords aren't so plain and it can also help strengthen the connection between chords so that's why I'm using 7th chords

ii V I
D G C
F B E
A D G
C F B

From here, I'm not going to use any music theory (you can but I like understanding the spacing between notes first before I apply theory since it helps me understand the music theory better once I understand the spacing between notes)

So from Dm7 to G7, we see that they share two notes: D & F, but besides that A & C are moving down to G & B, each moving down one note in the scale of C major (A down to G and C down to B)

From G7 to CM7 G & B are shared and again we see that the other notes are moving down one note within the scale (D down to C and F down to E)

If we were to start the progression over again we would note that from CM7 to Dm7 each note goes up one within the scale (C to D, E to F, G to A, and B to C)

Altogether we see that one of the reasons this progression sounds good and is so popular is because some notes are shared from chord to chord and then have a specific movement for the other notes. In this case the different notes are each moving down one step in the scale.

I used this specific progression because it's really easy to see how each chord is related to the one that came before it but not every progression may be this blatantly obvious and there are definitely more complicated ones out there but it's a good start to understanding progressions.

There's plenty of theory to go along with this but like I said earlier, it's sometimes easier to understand how certain things work when you can envision the movement of your fingers and see whats going on from note to note in a chord progression and then understand the underlying theory that makes it work.
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Last edited by LightxGrenade at Dec 18, 2015,
#4
Learn about chord functions in tonal music. You'll be able to find this in any theory textbook.
#5
Quote by Hardlycore
I guess the term would be "chord resolution", but I'm also trying to figure out the other parts besides the resolution.

I'm mainly just looking for how most people go about learning how to write good progressions. Every site/book/video I've seen just lists off a bunch off commonly used progressions which is no help to me because it doesn't teach me WHY they work. I want to know why that one chorus just sounds so good. (Breaking Benjamin's song "Breath" pretty much inspired this post. I wish I could ask their guitarist how he learned chord progressions.)

This is mostly with regards to rock/metal. How would say, a rock guitarist go about learning how chord progressions really work?

(Disclaimer: I am not a beginner)

The real answer to "why" something "works" - annoyingly enough - is "because it sounds good". Music theory has no explanation for that - really it doesn't. (I know, because it was the main question I had when I started studying music theory - about 30-40 years ago? I never found out.)

The way pop and rock composers learn how to write "good" progressions is simply by copying the songs they like. They hear changes that "sound good" (in their opinion), find out what they are, and steal them.
Of course, the more adventurous/creative ones will experiment too, throwing various random chords together, or distorting them or adding notes - just to listen to what happens. If it "sounds good" - keep it. If not, forget it.
I'll bet none of them ever did any music theory research to find out "why" stuff worked. They knew that already - they heard it in all those songs they liked and played.
(The Beatles is the classic example. They were "original" and prolific because of all the 100s of songs they'd copied and played in the 5 years before they made it. They never read a word of theory in their lives. OK, Paul and George had a few guitar lessons. Paul had one piano lesson, and maybe a trumpet lesson or two. John learned banjo from his mother. Theory of chord progressions? Get outa here! And yet their work is still studied and admired today, and probably will be for decades. They knew what "worked", because they'd heard it all and copied it.)

Of course music theory will tell you lots of other stuff! It can tell you "how" it works, by talking about concepts such as tonality, keys, function or voice-leading.
But it's a little like looking at a map and expecting it to tell you why a particular piece of scenery looks beautiful. Or a street map of a city and expect it to tell you which places are cool and vibrant. That's not the business of a map.
Likewise it's not the business of music theory to tell you what "works" and what doesn't, because that's an aesthetic judgement on your part, abut what's "right/wrong", "good/bad".
You could write a song with a perfectly correct chord progression - right out of the best theory book - and think it sounds terribly dull, or cheesy.
It would certainly "work", in the sense you could make a robot walk by getting it put one foot in front of the other without falling over - and you might congratulate yourself in the same way. But if the idea was to choreograph some great dance moves....

YOU know what "works". It's there in those songs you admire. Find out the chords, play them yourself. If they don't sound the same, then maybe there's something else going on that you missed? Maybe it's not just the chords?
Hear it, copy it, mix it up with stuff you've heard somewhere else. That's what all great songwriters do.
#6
Quote by Hardlycore
(Breaking Benjamin's song "Breath" pretty much inspired this post. I wish I could ask their guitarist how he learned chord progressions.)
No need. It's all there in the song. (I mean, everything you could want to know about that song is contained in it.)

I've just taken a listen. The basic chords are all pretty simple, but there are a few interesting ways they use them which might be what makes it stand out for you. (Books on theory won't tell you this, but songwriting books might. But then you can find it out as I did by - er - listening to the track )

Trick #1. It starts with an A chord (Ab actually, but I guess they're tuned down). The 2nd chord is E/G#. That's a distinctive sound. Following A with E is as common as anything; a descending bass line is hardly unusual either, but it is a good songwriter's trick. The E chord sounds more interesting and mysterious, and you also get that nice half-step descent in the bass, making the bass melodic (in the simplest crudest way possible, but it still works).
An F#m chord follows (the bass having gone down one more scale step), and that's the main chord of the verse too. Nothing unremarkable there.

But (trick #2), the chord change is to D, but the vocal (on "over yet") accentuates C# - the major 7th of the chord. This is a "sweet note".
To harmonise the C#, they could easily have continued with the F#m chord, or used an A chord - both have C# in them. So what made them choose D?
Who cares! If you like that effect, and want to use it, you know what to do: sing the major 7th of a chord - or harmonise a melody note so it's the maj7. (I mean the note a half-step below the upper root of the chord - you don't need to know it's called a "major 7th")
Obviously that won't always be applicable - it won't always sound good on any chord - but a little experiment will reveal when and where it is.
The point is that hearing something like this - and finding out what it is - reveals what's possible. I.e. if you have an F#m or A chord, and you're singing a C# over that chord (B string fret 2) - you can keep singing the same note over a D chord, and it won't sound wrong! It will sound "sweet"! (If it wasn't for the heavy distortion on this track, you'd get the full "nostalgic" effect of the maj7. As it is, that combines with the full-on intensity to add an element of reflection or sadness to the passion.)
A little common sense thinking will suggest the same thing would work going from C to F. The E note on the F chord (half-step below the root) is the maj7 there. Same effect.

See what I'm saying? Music theory will tell you all about 7ths (maj7s, dom7s, min7s, etc), and it will tell you where you might normally find them within a key, and maybe what kind of progressions you'll find them in - but it won't tell you how they sound, or what effect they have, or why you might want a 7th sometimes and not others. Only songs - and your own experimentation - will tell you that!

I'm not saying don't study theory! I'm just saying don't expect it to give you the answers you're looking for. It will take you down all kinds of interesting paths - just not that one. You want that path? Follow the songs. Take them to pieces to find out what makes them tick.

Of course it's not all down to the chords! That's the other way in which music theory can distract you, seduce you away from what matters. It tends to be almost exclusively about harmony: chords, keys, chord progressions etc.
If you were to just strum the chords to "Breath" on an acoustic, or play them on a piano, you'd certainly get the effects I mentioned above (the descending bass, the maj7). But obviously you'd lose a big part of the original recording. It's loud and powerful (distortion and other effects)! It's got a particular drum pattern. It's sung a certain way. There's little tricks in the arrangement or production to accentuate the drama (eg the bass cut on beat 4 in the chorus - pretty much a cliche now, but still effective). Music theory will barely touch on any of that. (It can encompass those things, but it will struggle to explain what guitar distortion is all about and why it's so important.)
Last edited by jongtr at Dec 18, 2015,
#7
^ + 1000

Music theory describes what's happening in a song. It doesn't tell what is good or bad - that's all up to you. Why does something work? Well, does it really work? At least it doesn't sound "wrong" (though sometimes sounding "wrong" is the purpose). But usually things that are commonly used in other songs don't sound wrong. If something follows the common practices, it will pretty much always work (though doing everything by the book may sound pretty generic).

If you think a chord progression works, just figure out the chords. Listen to how going from one chord to the other sounds like. And as jongtr said, it's not always chords that makes something sound good. It could be how the melody works with the chords (for example having the maj7 in the melody - that may sound cool, but again, that's about how you feel). But it could be something else. There is more to music than just chords and melody. Those + lyrics are what make the song the song but you can definitely make the same song sound pretty different by changing the arrangement.


But yeah, as GoldenGuitar said, learn about chord functions. Then analyze your favorite songs. You may notice that a lot of them use similar chord changes.


I listened to the song and the chords are very basic. Everything is diatonic to the key. Diatonic chord progressions pretty much always work. They are hard to make sound really strange. Well, you could make a chord progression that lacks a sense of movement and it would sound a bit strange.

But yeah, if you listen to pretty much any pop song in a minor key, you will figure out that the chords used in that song are pretty much the most common chords. It's a four chord song (the chords used in the song are Fm, Ab, Db, Eb - or transposed a half step up - F#m, A, D, E). Put those four chords in any order and it will work.


But yeah, you will figure out which chords work together well by just listening to and playing a lot of music and figuring out the chords.
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#8
The simple answer, op, is that certain intervals are thought of as "wanting to go somewhere." This is partly due to physics, partly due to the human brain, and partly due to how our ears have been trained over time. The most simple resolution, which is found within thousands of progressions, is the triton closing to a major third or opening to an inverted major third.

A chord progression is interesting or not depending on how it fulfils or surprises those expectations. The study of many progressions and their affects on music would be an exercise in theory
#9
There's been a lot of good information thrown around here to be sure. I don't want to retread that. A couple of quick recommendations though.

- Learn basic chord theory
- Apply it to every song you learn
- Use your ears, all the time. They will respond!

I wrote an article addressing this that may be helpful. Check it out...
https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/lessons/guitar_techniques/figuring_out_songs_by_ear_-_a_lost_art.html

Good luck!
Dave
#10
A little late replying, but I promise I've been digesting the amazing advice thoroughly. I was expecting a lot of theoretical advice, but I'm glad I got the complete opposite! Thanks a ton for all the help guys its absolutely pointing me in the right direction.
#11
The Ramones.
Heavy metal rules, all that punk shit sucks. It doesn’t belong in this world; it belongs on fuckin’ Mars, man! What the hell is punk shit?
#12
Actually, I'd go the opposite way. Music is first and foremost an aural activity, so I'd first go and listen, transcribe chord charts and the like, and then analyze chord functions. It's all good to understand functions, but unless you can hear them for what they are, it's a bit meaningless.
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Quote by Jet Penguin
lots of flirting with the other key without confirming. JUST LIKE THEIR LOVE IN THE MOVIE OH DAMN.
Quote by Hail
you're acting like you have perfect pitch or something