by bluesguitar101 (Mar 20, 2012)
In this lesson I will explain how to make a simple chord progression and how to make that progression more exciting. I made this lesson in three parts:
I: HOW DO YOU FORM PROGRESSIONS?
II: WHAT TO DO WITH THE CHORDS?
III: DETAILS (modes, scales, chords, triads, relative minor, and more keys)
This is a lesson for beginners actually, but it might require some understanding of the basic music theory.
I: HOW DO YOU FORM PROGRESSIONS?
For this lesson we’ll be working with the C Major scale. The notes of this scale are respectively C-D-E-F-G-A-B. the basic law for making chords out of scales is taking the Root note (in this case C) and its third and fifth intervals (E and G). with these three notes you’ll form the C major chord. This is kind of obvious since this is a C major scale, so it’s logical that the C note will become a C major chord. A mistake that is frequently made is to think that all of the chords in the C major scale are major chords. This is not true. The C major scale also features minor and even diminished chords.
So how do you find out exactly what chords occur in a scale?
It’s rather simple actually. When you know your modes it is quite easy to figure out that you can apply the law of Root Note- Third-Fifth to all of the notes by simply using every note of the scale as a Root. When you do that you will get this:
ROOT NOTE (MINOR) THIRD FIFTH.
C E G
D F A
E G B
F A C
G B D
A C E
B D F
Now when you put those three notes together you’ll find C, F and G to be major chords. D,E and A to be minor chords and B to be a diminished chord. Usually the major chords are indicated with normal roman numbers and the other chords with lowercase roman numerals.
C D E F G A B
I ii iii IV V vi vii
When you have these chords, you can subdivide them into Primary and secondary chords, the primary being Major and the secondary being Minor. The primary chords are (obviously) the chords that are used mostly in a piece. However, to create a more melodic effect, the secondary chords are also being used. What strikes you about this chord diagram are probably the relative minors and majors (see details below). Please note that the I, IV and V chords are the primary chords in this scale.
PRIMARY CHORDS SECONDARY CHORDS
THE SEVENTH CHORD.
Now one might wonder :”where the heck did that diminished B chord go all of a sudden?”. The answer to that is simple. It is still there, however the seventh chord you can make out of the scale isn’t frequently used since it is the chord derived from the Locrian scale, which in classical music theory is said to be inharmonic, and therefore practically useless. Although it is technically a secondary chord it is different from the others (not a relative minor, in fact not a minor at all) and so I’d like to refer to it as a tertiary chord.
PRIMARY CHORDS SECONDARY CHORDS TERTIARY CHORDS
C Dm -
F Em -
G Am Bdim
You now have seven chords subdivided into three classes. These chords can form your chord progression or at least the basis of it.
II: WHAT TO DO WITH THE CHORDS?
Now that you have these seven (six basically) chords you can put your progression together. There are however certain techniques that you can use, depending on what kind of song you are trying to put together. You could make chord progression using all of the chords, just the Primary, the relative minor and majors or even add chords from out of the box.
1: the V chord.
In most progressions the V chord is played as a V7 chord. In this case G7.
Also, if you are playing the blues, it is quite notorious for having Major chord progressions supporting minor scales. These scales could be C minor or pentatonic minor or even A minor, since A is the relative minor of C.
2: suspended chords.
It is often said that power chords (or fifths) are unique for being neither major nor minor, but that goes up for the suspend chords as well. Since they have no minor third or third (sus2= Second, sus4= perfect fourth) they are really fun to combine with both major and minor chords in a progression because they create a lot of musical and harmonic tension between chords. A nice one could be Am- AmSus4- Am- AmSus2- Am. For a great example, look up Led Zeppelin’s “Tangerine”.
3: major 6th and 7th chords.
When you listen to for example the song “float” as performed by Flogging Molly, you’ll find that just like with the suspend chords, they use an extra note to make the chord progression more exciting. For example: Am7- Am6- Fmaj7-Am. You can apply this technique with any chord in the progression, and not necessarily with the 6th and 7th chords.
4: It is not always necessary to stick exactly to the chords of the scale. That’s what so beautiful about music theory. You could learn it all and apply nothing.
The only thing which is often the case: once you start playing a couple of notes/chords out of the key you’ll probably find yourself playing in a complete different key. There is almost no escape possible from the keys!
5: finally, the sound of your song really depends on how you play the progression.
To show this the best possible way, take a look at the two videos below.
Both songs (Hotel California by the Eagles and We Used To Know by Jethro Tull) have the exact same chord progression (Bm- F#-A-E-G-D-Em-F#) but still sound completely different.
I hope you enjoyed this lesson and thought of it as useful.
Whenever you don’t know something please look at the details below or send me a PM with your question.
III: FURTHER INFORMATION. (modes, scales, chords, , relative minor, and more keys)
For some of you who do not understand some of the terms being used in this lesson, here is some background info:
MODES: there are seven modes in music theory. Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. It is quite a complicated and lengthy subject so I’ll refer to JazzMaverick´s lesson on it: http://www.all-guitar-chords.com/lesson.php?id=104
SCALES: A scale is simply a group of notes that sound well together. Scales can either be major or minor, though there are some exotic scales that do not really stick to these rather western music theories.
CHORDS: a chord is a group of at least three notes that form a harmonic unity when played at the same time. How to form chords from scales is explained in this and many other lessons.
If a chord is major or minor depends on if it has a Minor third or a third in it.
RELATIVE MINORS AND MAJORS: the relative minor or the sixth or Aeolian chord is a secondary chord that can be found by going three half steps downward on the neck. The relative of C major thus becomes A minor. The relative minor and majors are fascinating not only because their scales contain the same notes (duh.. they’re modes!) but also because they have a great harmonic feel about them when you play them with their relative equivalent. In the example used in the lesson: Am is the Relative minor of C, Em that of G and Dm that of F.
MORE KEYS: this is simply a table showing you all primary and secondary chords in the five most frequently used keys.
ROOT II III IV V VI
C Dm Em F G (7) Am
F Fm Am Bb C (7) Dm
G Am Bm C D (7) Em
D Em F#m G A (7) Bm
A Bm C#m D E (7) F#m