#1
Im just starting to make sense of music theory but I still can't figure out the chord progression I have. Can somebody please let me know what key this is in and whether I'm right to think that its a V-VI-VII-I-II progression (for the second part)? I am not even sure of the scale for this one. I have not even been able to find out the names of most of the chords so helping me make sense of this would be a big help!
Attachments:
chord progression.png
#2
Are all of the voicings tabbed correctly? Some of them sound pretty dissonant.

But if I play the voicings as they are tabbed, to me it sounds like A is the tonic.

Do you have a recording or something? How you play the chords is pretty important, and we don't hear that just by seeing the voicings.

How did you come up with these chords? Did you just noodle around and played random shapes? If that's the case, that may be the reason why it's hard to make sense of the chords - there may not be any "sense" behind the progression. Actually, I notice one pattern - you are moving some basic major chord shapes around the fretboard and leaving some strings open.

Your "bridge" part is a basic Am7-G-D progression - i-VII-IV in A minor. It's a very common progression in pop and rock music. One song that comes to mind is "Wicked Game" by Chris Isaak, though it's in B minor.

The 3rd part is also pretty basic. A-C-D-Bb with A and E pedal points. That would be I-bIII-IV-bII in the key of A.

But to me the 1st and 2nd parts don't sound that great. The second and third chord in the 1st part just sound weird and out of place. The 2nd part sounds fine, but there's one strange sounding chord that's the third one.


But it would be good to hear a recording to get an idea of what it "should" sound like.

It's a bit hard to make sense of anything if you are just posting random chord voicings without any kind of musical context.


If you are just starting with theory, start with something more simple. For example how to figure out the key. Listen. Is there a note/chord that sounds like "home"? That's your tonic and that's your key.


Edit: You wanted chord names. Well... As I said, it's mostly major chord shapes moved around the fretboard + open strings. The first chord is an Fmaj7#11. Or simply F major if the open strings are more of a pedal point. I would analyze the second and third chords as the same chord. It's basically a C#7#9b5. The chords in the bridge are Am7, G and D with an "added 11", but it's an open string so I think it could be treated as a non-chord tone. The next part is Fmaj7#11, G6, Ab something (it sounds horribly dissonant with both a minor and major third and an added b9) - again, the open strings could be seen as non-chord tones/pedal points. Then Bb and C. And as I said, the last part is A, C, D, Bb with A and E pedal points.
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Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Apr 23, 2016,
#3
These chords are somewhere between non-diatonic and non-sense. No single key or scale contains all of the notes, and I'm frankly having trouble determining just what the sound is supposed to be.

If we analyze these exactly as written:

1st part: Fmaj7#11 - Db#9#11 - Db7#9#11

Bridge: Am7 - G - D add 11

2nd part: Fmaj7#11 - G6 - Ab+#9 - Bb - C

3rd part: A - C/A - D/A - Bb/A

Parts one and two are kinda nonsense to me. I have no idea what you're going for there. Are you in an alternate tuning? Did you mean to indicate a capo for part of this?

Part one in particular sounds a bit unpleasant. You're basically going completely chromatic, so the dissonances don't really move you in a particular direction. Ideally when you put a dissonant note in the harmony, the idea is for it to pull the chord towards resolution (which you do much more pleasantly in the third part with Bb/A).
Last edited by cdgraves at Apr 23, 2016,
#4
Hi guys, thank you very much to both MaggaraMarine and cdgraves for your detailed responses. Just to say I can usually identify the key quite easily but I've really struggled with this one. Its a tune I came up with about 4 years ago but has been stuck in my head ever since. I have asked many guitar teachers, looked up many guides etc to help me understand why it sounds so good to me but I cant find any answers. Over the top of this I usually have my friend play violin with the notes G A D. I appreciate that it might be dissonant, but I would at least like to know why its dissonant, ie am I flattening a certain note? I tried to get it to match a certain scale as well and it doesn't fit with anything really. I have uploaded a file here for you to have a listen to how its supposed to sound without any effects and without part 3 as that has already been explained: http://vocaroo.com/i/s1sY8GaPCjKF Thanks again guys.
#6
Having listened to the track, I think some of your chords seem to contain superfluous notes, which are what is making theoretical analysis stupidly complicated.

E.g., the first two chords sound like they are supposed to be plain F and Db major chords, and the open strings (not actually that clear in the F chord) are just muddying the picture. So the question is: are those open strings really fundamental to the sound you're after? Have you tried plain F and Db chords, and found they didn't quite hit the spot?

Likewise the bridge sounds (superficially) like a plain C-G-D (IV-I-V in G), with the A bass on the C and the open G string on the D feeling superfluous. It's as if you happened to leave those strings open, and didn't really care.

There's clearly more deliberate dissonances in the other parts - where you choose specific fretted notes, rather than leaving (apparently) random strings open. In one sense, the individual chords themselves are simpler, but at least one of them sounds surprising in context. But - again - your choices clearly begin from just "planing" one chord shape up and down the neck (or maybe across the neck), while leaving one or two strings open.
The question is still: how critical are those open strings to the song?

It's important to state that none of this is "wrong". If you like the sound of the open strings, keep them! (Just maybe make them more obvious, so we know they're intentional. And perhaps making them more obvious when you play them will help you decide if you really want them.)
The problem is only one of theoretical explanation. The point here is that it's those open string choices that make the whole thing hard to discuss theoretically. Not impossible - just hard, and maybe pointless in the end.
I.e., if you want something more "normal", more easily within the tradition of key-based music: lose those open strings, and stick to plain triads, at least to begin with. (add other notes only when the triads are not quite hitting the spot). OTOH, if you really like those open string dissonances, keep them: but don't expect a straightforward theoretical analysis (or indeed any theoretical analysis)!

There are NO rules which say you have to stick to one scale in a song, or draw your chords from the same key. (eg it's quite normal to have F and Db in the same song.) But there IS a rule that says it has to sound exactly the way you want it! So be really sure about those shapes. Trust your ear, but make sure you're paying attention.
Last edited by jongtr at Apr 24, 2016,
#7
Actually, in the recording it sounds much nicer. This is exactly why you shouldn't just post random chord voicings and ask what's the theory behind it. We need a context.

To me the first part sounds like it's in F major. It's basically a I-bVI7(#11) progression. When I played the chords, the high open E string was what made it sound bad and nonsensical/random. But in the recording I don't even hear that dissonance. But yeah, the chords have common tones and there's some chromatic movement. I hear the "7th" (B) of the bVI chord resolving up to C in the F major chord. Also, the root (Db) of the bVI chord resolves down to the fifth (C) of the F major chord. Ignore the high open E string.

These are the things that caught my ear:



(I know the top voice doesn't actually go like that. The F major chord has an #11. But when I listened to the recording, I heard it that way.)

If you want to write a melody over it, I would take advantage of the C-Db-B-C movement. Actually, that would work as the melody on its own.

The bridge is in Am (though there is a D major chord that has an F# instead of an F, but it's a common accidental and gives it kind of a "dorian vibe"). The transition/modulation works because Fmaj7 and Am7 are almost the same chords. The only note that makes them different is that Fmaj7 has an F and Am7 has a G.


The second part starts with the same chord as the first part but the rest of the chords are different. Again, when I played the chords, the open strings made the third chord sound horrible, but in the recording I don't really even hear the open strings. The chords are F-G-Ab-Bb-C. I would say it's in C. The chord progression is based on an ascending C minor scale starting from F (to me it just sounds like C is the tonic) and playing a major chord on every scale degree. If you want Roman numerals, it would be IV-V-bVI-bVII-I in C. Again, ignore the open strings.


I actually really like the 1st part. The 2nd part is a bit more random to my ears, but you could definitely write a song based on just the 1st part and the bridge. As I said, take advantage of the Db-B-C melodic movement if you want to write a melody over the 1st part.

When writing melodies, I don't think you should be looking at scales. Especially in this case when it's so chromatic. There is no one scale that fits all of the chords. I would rather suggest looking at voice leading and coming up with melodies that way. Or just sing something over the chords. When you sing, you are not dependent on scales, chord tones, muscle memory or anything. When you sing, you can think purely in melody.
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
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Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Apr 24, 2016,
#8
Hi Jongtr thanks so much for the response! Just to confirm that the chords are deliberately chosen. I particularly like the first and the second chord and have built the whole song around those two chords. I struggled for years trying to find the perfect chords to place around them and have come up with a number of parts but would like to understand some of the intervals to be able to replicate it. I appreciate some people here may think its sounds jarring or unpleasant, but I play psychedelic music so we may just have different tastes.

In terms of the voicings I should admit that I usually just play the 3rd chord of the second part with the fingers I'm pressing down not all of the open strings. I will attach an image to show a slightly more accurate voicing with the changes in bold. Is there at least some theory on dissonance or chromatics I can read about to help because I want to understand why I like these intervals, whether they're from a different scale, and if possible I way I can formulate it so that I can say "okay I need to flatten the 4th" or something like that?
Attachments:
voicing.png
#9
MaggaraMarine thank you so much for your help! That was exactly what I was looking for! Just to be clear part 2 is used in the middle of the song to try and build some tension but eventually changes to part 3 and other sections. I'm also glad you pinned it down to the key of C in part two because I thought it would be in F for some reason. Also thank you very much for the voice suggestion, I have a violin and an extra guitar playing harmonics but I was thinking of getting a female vocalist to stop it from sounding so weird. Anyway, thanks again, I cant stress enough how long Ive been trying to make sense of this progression!
#10
^ It just sounded like the key of C to me. It could also be in F. But to me the C in the end sounded more like the home chord. It could of course also be seen as the dominant for the F.

But yeah... Whether it's in F or C doesn't really matter that much. The point is, it's an ascending scale with a major chord played on every scale degree. Maybe what supports my C major suggestion is the open strings - there's a B played over the F major chord. Maj7#11 chord is built on the fourth scale degree of the major scale. Well, of course you could use it as a tonic too...

As you may see from the replies, jongtr said that the bridge progression was in G, whereas I definitely hear it in Am. I think one could pretty easily argue that the 2nd part is in F. When we are talking about such non-diatonic music, sometimes it's pretty hard to tell which (if any) of the chords sounds like the tonic.

Is there at least some theory on dissonance or chromatics I can read about to help because I want to understand why I like these intervals, whether they're from a different scale, and if possible I way I can formulate it so that I can say "okay I need to flatten the 4th" or something like that?

It all comes down to voice leading.
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
#11
Quote by kharbaan
MaggaraMarine thank you so much for your help! That was exactly what I was looking for! Just to be clear part 2 is used in the middle of the song to try and build some tension but eventually changes to part 3 and other sections. I'm also glad you pinned it down to the key of C in part two because I thought it would be in F for some reason.
The first part definitely sounds to me like F is tonic. The second part could still be in C (or A minor, if the A bass is more prominent). Songs often change key in different sections!

Of course, part 1 is not what one would normally think of as "key of F major". It's the B natural which goes against that, more than the Db chord.

If you want a fancy term to cover what's happening in part 1, you can call it "mode mixture", which describes the (quite common) practice of mixing chords derived from different scales with the same root note.
So, in the common rock scenario of a Db chord in key of F major, you'd say the Db was "borrowed from the parallel minor" (F minor).
In your case, with your prominent B natural in the mix, you're combining F lydian with F lydian augmented (a mode of D melodic minor, which fits your C#/Db chord, making it a non-functioning altered dominant - there you go, more theory jargon to enjoy! )

One tune that your part 1 reminds me of (now I think about it) is Joe Satriani's "Flying in a Blue Dream". He starts off in C lydian mode, and the first chord change is to Ab (same move as your F to Db). The difference is the Ab chord is also lydian (Ab lydian).

BTW, I echo what MaggaraMarine said: It all comes down to voice leading.
- worth putting that in bold, because it's the principle that explains ANY chord change that works, regardless of key or any other theory (in fact, you could say all the other theories derive from the voice-leading).
Think of each note in each chord as part of a melodic line leading to the nearest note in the next chord. (i.e., a chord sequence is a row of 3 or 4 separate melodic lines.)
Imagine your chord sequence sung by a choir - each person obviously only has one note, and when the chord changes they don't want to have to move up or down more than a half or whole step if they can avoid it. Staying on the same note will suit them just fine. (Yes this is a very lazy choir...) Of course, any voice can leap up or down more than that occasionally, but try to reserve that for a special effect. (The bass is the one voice that might jump around more than the others, at least if it's only singing the roots. Of course the bass doesn't have to stick to roots...)
Think of each guitar string as one "voice", and find different shapes in the same position on the fretboard (rather than using the same shape shifted up or down), so that some notes stay the same, and others just slip up or down by a fret or two. Almost any chord change can be configured in that way.
(You're following this principle already in parts of your song.)
It means that you don't have to use orthodox chords. You can take your first chord, and decide which "voices" in the chord actually need to move to make the next chord. Maybe only one does? Maybe two - maybe in different directions? If that next chord sounds good, who cares what it's called? Just carry on moving your voices accordingly. (The principle to follow here is to make each melodic line sound coherent in its own right: how does the series of notes on the 4th string string sound? how about the 3rd string sequence? etc)

This doesn't mean what you're doing is less good (moving block shapes up or down the neck). It's just a different technique for a different effect. Trust your ear - and follow the voices....
Last edited by jongtr at Apr 24, 2016,