Chordal Harmonic Progressions can be hard to understand at first. Maybe you never even knew they were a thing!
Learning any new music theory can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be. In this post I will talk to you about one of the fundamental building blocks of song writing. In a simple nut-shell, I’ll talk to you about what chords you can use, and what order they are best used in.
A chordal harmonic progression can be defined at a succession of musical chords. To clarify, that means a few chords, played one after the other.
The basic foundation of Western Music comes from the concept of Chordal Harmonic Progression. So, today we’re going to have a look at a few simple progression and what chords can be used in a specific key.
Chords for a Key
First and foremost, do you know what the basic chords for a key are? Yes? Good, you can skip this section and go onto the next. If on the other hand you don’t know or feel like you could do with a brush-up, then keep reading.
There is a huge variety of chords that you can use in any key, today, however, we are going to look at just 14 of the chords. To fully understand chords and harmonic progressions, you should first understand the construction triads. If you are unfamiliar with triad construction, [read this first].
Right, by now you should know the basics of chord construction as well as the basic form of the major scale. Let’s work from the G Major scale for the rest of this lesson.
G Major Scale
G A B C D E F# G
I II III IV V VI VII VIII
The Roman numerals below the scale refer to the degree of the scale. To that end, we can see that D is the 5th degree of the scale, and we can also see that A is the 2nd degree.
For the purposes of Harmonic Progressions, you can apply the same theory to all keys. So the second note of a scale will always be the second degree. It’s just that simple.
So, how does this apply to your music? Well, that’s simple. Each degree of your scale will always be played as the same chord type.
I – Major or Major 7
II – Minor or Minor 7
III – Minor or Minor 7
IV – Major or Major 7
V – Major or Dominant 7
VI – Minor or Minor 7
VII – Diminished or Half Diminished
To clarify, that means that the first degree of a scale will always be a major or major 7 chord. Similarly, the third degree would be a minor or a minor 7 and the fifth degree would be played as a major or a dominant 7.
So the chords for G Major are:
G / GM7
Am / Am7
Bm / Bm7
C / CM7
D / D7
Em / Em7
F#° / F#m7b5
Now that you have a grasp of what chords you can use in a key, let’s take a look at a few common progressions found in Western Music.
Three Chord Tunes
One of the most common elements of Western Music is three chord songs. That’s not to say that all songs are written with only three chords, but many are. So much so, that Status Quo even released an album entitled “In Search of the Fourth Chord”.
The most common of three chord progression are:
1) I – IV – V – V: so in the key of G that would be G – C – D – D or GM7 – CM7 – D7 – D7 or any combination of the two
2) I – I – IV – V:
3) I – IV – V – I
4) I – IV – V – IV
The twelve bar blues and its many variants use an elongated, three-line form of the I – IV – V progression that has also generated countless hit records, including the most significant output of rock and rollers such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard. In its most elementary form (there are many variants) the chords progress as follows:
I – I – I – I
IV – IV – I – I
V – IV – I – I
There are many chord progression that we have not touched on in this lesson, but we will expand on this at another time.
Play around with these progressions and see if you can create something that sounds great.