Chord Progressions

A chord PROGRESSION is simply the ordered movement of chords through one or more KEYS that helps to create the harmony that underpins a melody.

Progressions are based on the CHORD QUALITY of the various scale degrees and can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be.  But don’t outsmart yourself.  There’s a good reason certain progressions are very common – they’re sonically semi-interesting, easy to play and thanks to evolution and environment our little brains like them!

perfect-scale-degrees

The following progressions are all in the KEY of C and start and end on the same chord. The I / IV / V / I  (C, F, G, C) chord progression is based on PERFECT INTERVALS and resolves from the DOMINANT (V) scale degree back to the TONIC (I). This CADENCE (explained at bottom of page) makes it the most consonant of all chord progressions.

C major chord diagramF major chord diagramG major chord diagramC major chord diagram

The I / V / IV / I  (C, G, F, C) progression is also perfect, but resolves (goes back to I from IV) with the Sub-Dominant IV scale degree instead of the Dominant V scale degree making it slightly less consonant.

C major chord diagramG major chord diagramF major chord diagramC major chord diagram

Another VERY common chord progression is I / V / vi / IV / I.  This progression introduces a chord that isn’t rooted on a PERFECT INTERVAL.  Instead, it injects the RELATIVE minor scale degree (vi) into the mix.

C major chord diagramG major chord diagramA minor chord diagramF major chord diagramC major chord diagram

Here are a couple of PROGRESSIONS that helped to define the sound of the 1950s.

I / vi / IV / V / I  (C, Am, F, G, C)

C major chord diagramA minor chord diagramF major chord diagramG major chord diagramC major chord diagram

I / IV / ii / V / I  (C, F, Dm, G, C)

C major chord diagramF major chord diagramD minor chord diagramG major chord diagramC major chord diagram

The bottom line: the choices you make concerning PROGRESSIONS will go a long way in determining the feel of the songs you write and ultimately your musical style.  But I think you’ll find that most will be based at least partially on PERFECT scale degrees. A great source for generating chord progressions: https://autochords.com/

NOTE: If you’re an aspiring songwriter, it’s important to know that melodies can be copyrighted, chord progressions generally cannot be copyrighted.

CADENCE

To every beginning, there must be an end. I’m not going to go into the different types of cadences (there are several), but I do feel that because we’re dealing with chord based harmonies, that it’s important to at least understand what’s known as the AUTHENTIC CADENCE. The idea of a cadence is a simple concept.  It’s the natural stopping point. The AUTHENTIC CADENCE occurs when going from a V or V7 (DOMINANT 7th) chord back to the I (TONIC/ROOT) chord.  It creates a natural resolution or stopping point for the tension created by the chord progression.  Simply put – it feels complete. So in the C / F / G / C PROGRESSION above,  the last 2 chords (G / C) is the actual CADENCE.

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