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  1. Rep:
    smokazzi's Avatar
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    Dec 2012

    How-to: Chord Progressions

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    For some of you, matching a melody to a set of chords, or the other way around, comes naturally.

    Other people rely more upon trial and error, or playing around with what they hear in songs. In any case, if you want to develop your skills as a musician, some theory is recommended by most everyone.

    This thread will serve as an introduction to composing chord progressions, so if you already feel confident at what you are doing, then this may be quite superfluous information to you. If you are a total beginner, google can be helpful.

    From Wikipedia:
    A chord progression is a series of musical chords that aim for a definite goal of establishing or contradicting a tonality founded on a key, root or tonic chord, and that is based upon a succession of root relationships.
    If you haven't studied any musical theory, then this doesn't tell you much...

    So what?

    You probably have a good idea what a chord progression is already, and are able to recognize some of the qualities that create tension, or leave a progression resolved or unresolved. Since this is the daft club forums, let us focus on 4/4 chord progressions, which tend to sound good repeating ad infinitum. That is, let us begin with voyager.

    Probably the simplest way of giving the voyager chords is the following:
    Bm - Bsus4- Em - C
    On the left hand we play the bass notes:
    E - C# - C -D
    The arpeggio is mostly confined to these chords:
    Cmaj7 - A7 - Am7 - D7
    Note that, depending on your source for these chords, some chord inversions or alterations may be neccessary. Basically, you can play around with the order of the notes and still have the same chord.

    What may surprise you is that the bass notes are not present in the first chords, however, they are all accounted for in the arpeggio. In fact, the arpeggio's starting note for each bar closely matches or is indeed exactly the same as the bass note for that bar. Secondly, and more obviously, the arpeggio's chords are not the same as for the keyboard! The important thing to take away here is this:

    1. The notes of the melody do not need to match the chords outright.
    2. Neither does the bass!

    How can this be? Well, we would commonly argue that it all boils down to what key you are in. If you haven't noticed yet, the melody (arpeggio) and the chords pretty much only play the following notes: D,E,F#,G,A,B,C, C#. Without the C in there, that is the key of D Major or B Minor (depending on your outlook on life). Without the C#, we have the key of G Major or E Minor.

    In either case, once you have decided upon a key, you can construct the chords in that key starting with the simple triads (three notes, root note, minor or major third, and fifth) and we see that the magic happens at the second chord for the keyboard, where we presumably leave one key and enter another. What happens here?

    Well, we start with a minor chord Bm, and then we move into a suspended chord Bsus4. So the harmony shifts from one chord to another, but we keep some of the notes from the previous chord, suspending them. In a sense, we are in a state between two keys. We are ready to leave the D Major key. Later on we step-wise resolve this tension, or feeling of incompleteness, into Em and enter G Major, or indeed, the E minor key! We then make a rather uplifting finish into C, a major chord.

    Ok, so we got that part down, somewhat at least. The main point being that we create a tension from the get-go with suspension and resolve this. Key changes are hard, and they are not required, but they do add some delicious flavor. The most important thing we take away is:

    1. Create tension
    2. Resolve tension

    Next we look at what makes it loop so good.

    Since we finish with a C major chord, we could have ended here, but the bass plays a D. This note is not in the C major chord, and you get the sense that the journey is still not over. This is the essense of never-ending chord progressions, the fun never stops. The last chord essentially begs for the next chord, and we make sure to avoid the tonic (the first note of our key) chord. If we played the Em or Gm now with E in the bass the journey would end, instead we go back to Bm. It is important that the last and first chord connect smoothly when we repeat the chord progression.

    This is actually the bass at work, which has the root note D for the next key D major, since we are presumably changing back. B Minor is the relative key of D major, and it is quite common to change from major to minor chords when changing key, so it's a safe bet to go back to Bm. Actually, this doesnt tell you how to do it exactly, and there is probably something fancy going on with thirds and fifths and even 7ths, the arpeggio chords suggest this, but that is besides the point: it sounds good. The bass wants the D, so we give it the D (no pun in ten did). So..

    1. Connect the last chord smoothly with the first chord by carrying over notes
    2. The bass is perfect for this

    Some tricks to consider:
    1. The most common pop progression is C - G - Am - F (when played in C major)
    2. You're allowed to repeat chords, and sometimes this works very well
    3. Chord substitutions add variety, try the tonic sub, relative minor/major sub, diminished 7th instead of dominant 7th sub and so on..
    4. Going from minor to major is uplifting, vice versa can be a bit of a downer
    5. Tension, suspension and dissonance create a sense of movement. The absolute simplest way to make it is up/down a semi-tone
    6. Leaving this unresolved can often surprise the listener

    Three examples:
    Chords ( Bm aug 5 = G played B first.. C# m 7th no5 = A played C# first..)
    C - Cm - Bm aug 5 - C# m 7th no5
    C - D# - G - A
    Another..(Do you recognize this? :P)
    Chords (Eb m aug5 = B played Eb first.., Eb aug5 sus4 = G#m played Eb first..)
    Eb m aug5 - Eb aug5 sus4 - E - Eb
    G# - C# - E - Eb
    And finally, this last one which has a very daft punk sounding quality to it.
    A aug 5 sus 4 - Bb - Am aug5 - G sus4 6th no5
    Bb - C - D - A
    Here's some more chord progressions I made:
    Audio links (i made these pretty quickly on a broken headset, may be some issues with left/right channels)
    A more serious example (chord progression 1:48 - 2:05)
    In this I do some cheating with repeating chords

    Anyway, this is all I have to say on the topic for now. I'm hoping others will chime in and share their experience, tips and tricks. If people like this, I'll consider making an in-depth guide on making french house and funk/disco basslines.
    Last edited by smokazzi; 15th May 2015 at 22:39. Reason: Added another chord progression

  2. Rep:
    GijsH's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Winterslag, Belgium

    Re: How-to: Chord Progressions

    Thanks for the effort writing this down, this can be very usefull .

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