Chord Progression Theory

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Questions and Answers

Will you explain chord progression to me?

Okay, so I'm a beginner at guitar and I think I miss heard my teacher explain it, I really need to know what it is today! Please help!

Posted by Hailey
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At its simplest, a chord progression is a bunch of specific chords played in a specific order. Each of these chords has a specific relationship to the key of the song. To give you all the details requries a working knowledge of basic music theory, but let's say you play the chords G, C, D, G, in that order. In doing so, you play the I-IV-V-I chord progression, a very common one found in many songs. You play it in the key of G. The I indicates that it's the first degree of the scale (G), IV (roman numeral 4), indcates that it's the 4th degree, and V indicates it's the fifth.

Chord progressions are written out as roman numerals. Capitals (I, IV, V) mean major chords, lower case (ii, vi) mean minor chords. There are more out there for more complicated chords (dim7flat5,add9,...), but that's a start. Wikipedia has some nice information. Http://

I should note that a chord progression doesn't have an associated key. Instead, you apply it to a key, and the key you apply it to determines which chords you will use. So, for the key of G major, I-IV-V-I are the chords G, C,D,G. But for the key C major, I-IV-V-I will give us the chords C, F, G, C.

How to improvise over a four chord progression?

Ive been playing the piano my entire life but only a couple of years ago I started exploring jazz improvisation. As of almost a year I've become very interested. Here's my question, I've become quite good at improvising over charts with, let's say, a higher volume of chords. So for example something like I Got Rhythm is one of my favorites. However, I have a lot of trouble creating melodies and just basically improvising with less chord volume. For example a blues or some of Cole Porter's songs with only 4 or so chords, each being used over several bars at a time. I use the many guide tones between chords to make melodies so when there are less chords it's as if I run out of ideas. Any suggestions, videos or links?

Posted by David
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Learn some theory so that you can substitute other chords in place of the stock chord changes. That's really what jazz is all about. I can't just give you a formula because there are sooooo many ways to do it. So don't set a goal of becoming great at this in a short period of time; instead, enjoy the process, the journey, the reward of each little nugget of understanding that you gain. That's what it's like for me when I learn a cool chord substitution... Its a little thing that makes my ear happy, and understanding how and when to use it any time I want to do so makes me happy.

Here are a couple to get you started.

Substitute the relative minor for a major chord.
Ex.substitute Dm for Fmajor.

Substitute the relative major for a minor chord.
Ex. Substitute F maj for D mi

So lets say you have a chord progression C F G. You could play C Dmi G, or even C F Dm G

Put "secondary dominant" chord in between two other chords.
Example: say you have the progression C F G C. Put a D7 between the F and the G so that you have C F D7 G C. You can do this to the D7 too: put an A7 in between the F and the D7 so you have C F A7 D7 G C
The explanation for why you can do this is too long to get into. Just build a major chord off the fifth of the chord you're going to. Example An A chord is A C E, so the secondary dominant is E7. Going back to the previous example, you can put that E7 in between the F and the A7 so that it leads into the A7. Thus we have C F E7 A7 D7 G C.

Substitute the chord that is an augmented 4th or b5 away in place of the secondary dominant. Going back to our example of C F Dmi G C you can substitute a Db7 for the G7 so we now have C F Dmi Db7 C. Notice how this produces nice chromatic voice leading... D Db C.

Extend chords: make major triads into major 7ths or 9ths. Make dominant 7 chords into 13ths. Example: Cma7 Fma9 D-9 G13 Cma9. Doing this right also smooths out voice leading; for example, the 9th of the D is E and that is also the 13th of the G. The root of the D is the fifth of the G13 and the 9th of the Cma9. So this one note can (and usually should) sustain through all three chords.
BTW a "dominant 7th" chord just has a 7 in the name: C7, G7, A7, D7

A "major 7" chord has "major" in the name: Cma7, Gma7, Ama7, Dma7

Both are built on major triads (example C maj triad is CEG)

The difference is the 7th of the chord. A "major 7th" is further up from the root of the chord than a "minor 7th" is. Example if C is the root of the chord, the ma7 is B and the mi7 is Bb.

So, to spell a major 7th chord, you spell a major triad (CEG) and add the major 7th (B). Thus Cma7 is spelled CEGB.

To spell a dominant 7th you spell a major triad (CEG) and add the minor 7th (Bb). Thus C7 is spelled CEGBb

so thats about two years of music theory in five minutes 🙂 hopefully it helps more than confuses.

Take a good theory class or take some lessons, there's a lot more where that came from and a good teacher will make it a lot easier to learn.

Chord Progressions??

If I have the right thing.. When writing a song on the piano, and you're in a specific key - for example let's say we're in C major - how do you work out which chords you can use? And it's called chord progressions, right? Please tell me if i've gone off in totally the wrong direction. Thanks.

Posted by Clare
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Hope this helps! It did with me because I've been wondering the same thing. Look on the website to see the basic things you need to write a song. It helped me so much!

If you haven’t understood anything I’ve said, don’t worry. Here are some common keys, the chords you can use if you’re writing in that key, and the number that corresponds with the chord (something you’ll need later). Key of C major: C major (1), F major (4), G major (5), A minor (6), D minor (2), and E minor (3). Key of G major: G major (1), C major (4), D major (5), E minor (6), A minor (2), B minor (3). Key of A major: A major (1), D major (4), E major (5), F# minor (6), B minor (2), C# minor (3). Key of D major: D major (1), G major (4), A major (5), B minor (6), E minor (2), F# minor (3). If you don’t know how to make these chords on your instrument, you’ll need to get a chord chart—they’re easy to read and they don’t require any knowledge of theory!
One last thing before we move on: time signatures. Most popular songs are in 4/4 or 3/4. The bottom number tells you what note gets the beat (e.g., 4 = quarter note) and the top number tells you how many beats are in a measure. Don’t worry too much about the bottom number; just pay attention to the top number. In 4/4 there are four beats per measure; in 3/4 there are three. The first beat is emphasized more strongly than the other beats. So in 4/4 you would count: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. In 3/4 you’d count: 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, etc. "Row, Row, Row, Your Boat" is in 4/4 time. "Amazing Grace" is in 3/4.
Now that you’re thoroughly confused, let’s move on to writing the melody.
Writing the Melody
The easiest way to write a melody is to come up with the chord progression first and write the melody to fit that chord progression. There are a lot of songs out there that only use three chords: the 1 chord, the 4 chord, and the 5 chord. These three chords can be combined in innumerable ways. Here are a few things to keep in mind: the chord progression typically starts on the 1 chord and goes to the 5 chord before resolving back to the 1 chord; the 5 chord creates tension: it makes the listener want to return to the 1 chord. A typical chord progression might look like this: 1, 4, 1, 5. The chord progression for a blues song looks like this: 1, 4, 1, 5, 4, 1, 5. (Remember, you don’t have to stay on each chord in a progression for the same length of time.) Here’s the chord progression for "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" (the chord numbers are in parentheses): (1) Twinkle, twinkle, (4) little (1) star, (4) how I (1) wonder (5) what you (1) are.

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Basic Chord Progressions taught by Fred Sokolow

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