Chord Chemistry. Part 1

Chords, how to use them, tendencies, cadences ect

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I'm firstly going assume that youve read some of the other articles on the website concerning chords and general music theory. If you haven't I suggest you have a look as there's some good articles floating around on here. If I repeat some parts of someone elses article, apologies. Lets have a look at the basic chords in the key of C, we have:
1       2        3        4        5       6        7
Cmaj7   Dm7      Em7      Fmaj7    G7      Am7      Bm7b5
Now well use roman numerals to label each chord, this will make talking about each chords function much easier:
1       2        3        4        5       6        7
Cmaj7   Dm7      Em7      Fmaj7    G7      Am7      Bm7b5 

Imaj7   iim7     iiim7    IVmaj7   V7      vim7     vii7b5
Notice that the major chords have upper case numerals and the minor chords have lower case.

Chord Families

There are three chord families when talking about major key diatonic chords. Each family has a different harmonic function. Tonic: I, iii, vi Subdominant: ii, IV Dominant: V, vii and minor keys.. Tonic: i, III Subdominant: ii, iv, VI Dominant: v (or V), VII The VI chord in both major and minor keys can be seen as either a tonic or subdominant depending on the chord progression. For example if you were playing a V7 followed by a vim7, that vi chord is going to sound like a chord from the tonic family. If you play a vim7 - V7 - Imaj7 progression though, the vi is going to feel more like a subdominant. These 3 chord families and the movement between them is the basis of the majority of all western music. Usually you'll start at a place of stability (tonic), move away from it (subdominant), hit a place with tension (dominant) and then move back, or resolve, to a nice stable area. This tension and resolution is what makes chord sequences flow.

Cadences

FYI: Cadence comes from the Latin 'cadere' which means 'to fall' A cadence is simply the movement from one chord to another in a piece of music, easy right? A V - I is called an authentic cadence, or perfect cadence depending on who you ask. This is considered to be the strongest and therefore most important cadence. It gives a strong sense of resolution. The next most important is the IV - I, or plagal cadence. This also gives a sense of resolution but not as much as an authentic cadence. A deceptive cadence is the movement from V to any other chord other than I, so for example, V - vi. This is a weak cadence and lacks resolution, the movement to a V chord without following with the I can be used to create a sense of tension before eventually resolving to the I. There are a few other cadences but we wont worry about them for now. The root movements up of a 4th or down by a 5th are the strongest possible and are the building blocks of a great deal of jazz and classical music, not to mention pretty much every other genre. A good example of this movement would be a ii - V - I progression. So if the V - I is the strongest cadence, what happens when I just keep playing V - I over and over? Glad you asked! If you just keep repeating these strong movements, i.e. just keep going up by a 4th or down by a 5th youll end up with something called the cycle of 5ths. The whole cycle goes:
5ths-->                 <--4ths
C-G-D-A-E-B-F#/Gb-Db-Ab-Eb-F-C
Since this is basically a perpetual V - I cadence, try playing through the cycle of 5ths using dominant 7 chords, i.e C7-G7-D7 ect Youll find that the chords will never feel like they get 'home' or resolve to any particular note or chord. This cycling by 5ths is used in many songs as a means to modulate into new key signatures. If there's enough interest I'll cover the topic of modulation in another article. That should be enough for a basic taster of chords and their diatonic functions. Hopefully this will she'd a bit of light into the dark evil place that is music theory! If anyone has any requests and wants to learn about any particular aspect of music theory, just let me know and I'll see if I can whip up another article on it for you. Mark Jones

26 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Peter Reardon
    Hey, thanks for the article. I definitely was reminded of a lot of stuff I had completely forgotten from Music theory. This was some of the basics no doubt, but it surprised me that I have forgotten how the Circle of Fifths worked, so thanks for that. I like that the article remains clear and concise throughout, instead of having un-needed prolonged explanations. Looking forward to Part 2. Keep doing your thing.
    sadsadtoaster
    I loved the article, even though I had kinda figured most of it out already, I never really put it formal thoughts. I hope the next lesson delves deeper, I hope you write one.
    Kapalen
    lank81 wrote: Kapalen wrote: Isnt that whole "when doing a vi-v-i thing the diatonic substitution thing the guy on youtube used to prove coldplay ripped off satch? The are countless songs that sound like Satch's and many more came before Satch's. Two examples is Cat Stevens and also there is an Argentian band who has a very similar sounding song from beginning to end. Still no one says Hey Satch, why the hell did you rip off Cat Stevens, or this artist, or that artist.
    that wasn't the question, quit being a bitch.
    Diablo1986
    If you go from a V - vi, wouldn't that just resolve it in the relative minor, thus changing the key?
    zeroblackstar
    Part 2 concerning modulation should be uploaded in the next day or so, sorry for being away, I am back now
    guitardudeguy00
    Bohemian Rhapsody takes a few partial trips around the circle of 5ths I believe... good song to get an idea of that concept of V - I, V - I, V - I you mentioned
    JAZZON1
    Just joined and read this,I knew some of the material (cycle of fifths Hey Joe by Hendrix) but was far more informed than reinformed. Very well written. Lucid and succinct. If this is the quality of work one can expect from this site free of charge then I did myself a disservice in procrastination. By all means continue this series,and any other for that matterto your hearts content.
    wesselbindt
    Oh my god! I can't believe I hadn't read this before, this is awesome. Make more!
    Glen'sHeroicAct
    it'd be sweet if you could show different methods of changing keys other the secondary dominant method, and show some examples in the next lesson.
    lank81
    Kapalen wrote: Isnt that whole "when doing a vi-v-i thing the diatonic substitution thing the guy on youtube used to prove coldplay ripped off satch?
    The are countless songs that sound like Satch's and many more came before Satch's. Two examples is Cat Stevens and also there is an Argentian band who has a very similar sounding song from beginning to end. Still no one says Hey Satch, why the hell did you rip off Cat Stevens, or this artist, or that artist.
    Echoplex
    redeyedbluesman wrote: Champion mate! Very well explained! I may take special benefit from the idea of using a circle of fifths (or perfect cadences) to help me change key mid piece! What's modulation then?
    modulation is changing keys, basicaly.
    redeyedbluesman
    Champion mate! Very well explained! I may take special benefit from the idea of using a circle of fifths (or perfect cadences) to help me change key mid piece! What's modulation then?
    kwikfingers-uk
    Thanks so much for this lesson! its gone some way to help me put pieces together on this subject ...im still miss understood when it comes to combining chord progressions and modes tho, if anyone knows a little about this i would be eternally gratefull!
    freedomdeceptiv
    kwikfingers-uk wrote: Thanks so much for this lesson! its gone some way to help me put pieces together on this subject ...im still miss understood when it comes to combining chord progressions and modes tho, if anyone knows a little about this i would be eternally gratefull!
    Well modes are just scales based off of the intervals of the major scale (aeolian is the relative minor btw)... so whatever chord you are on, use the mode that starts on the root of that chord.
    freedomdeceptiv
    almost forgot, you still use the notes from the major scale in modes, just starting at a different point.
    Kapalen
    Isnt that whole "when doing a vi-v-i thing the diatonic substitution thing the guy on youtube used to prove coldplay ripped off satch?
    Colohue
    I should likely point out that modes are a far more in-depth topic that freedomdeceptiv suggests. There are a lot of articles on them, look them up.
    lank81
    thfc wrote: Great article, I'd love to hear more
    I'd love to hear more also. Modulation, CAGED System, Breaking out of the Penatonics. All of those would be great articles. Maybe some stuff on Inversions / Substitutions. Thanks.