11. Chord progressions

So is this like some sort of variation on any of those mathematical progressions I have nightmares about?

1. Topics of discussion

In this tutorial, we will be taking a look at what a chord progression is and also listen to some examples. So, let’s have some fun.

2. Chord progression examples

A chord progression is a succession of chords, usually from the same key, that serves as the rhythm section of a song. A chord progression also helps in setting out the general melodic direction of a song.

Chord progressions are usually notated by using Roman numerals. If you recall, in the last tutorial we talked about how each note of a scale has a degree associated to it. There are several ways in which you can name that degree and one of them involves Roman numerals.

More precisely, the note degrees present in a diatonic scale can be named by using the first 8 Roman representations of numbers: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII and VIII, with I corresponding to the tonic degree, II corresponding to the supertonic degree and so on.

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s take a look at a I-IV-V progression in the C major scale:


And here it is played back:

In this example, we have used the tonic, subdominant and dominant chords, with the subdominant one leading into the dominant chord and the progression repeating itself afterwards. Next up, let’s take a look at a I-III-V-VI progression, also in the key of C major:


And here it is played back:

As you can see, in the example we start on the tonic chord and then move on to the mediant chord which leads into the dominant chord. We then move on to the submediant chord and end on a tonic chord.

Finally, let’s take a look at a I-II-V-VII progression in the key of C:


Here it is played back:

This time around, we start on the tonic chord and move to the supertonic chord. Afterwards we move to the dominant and the leading chord, which as you can hear has a very high tendency to want you to play the tonic chord afterwards.

As a general rule, chord progressions should be somewhere between 2 to 4 measures in length and can feature as many chords as you like. Just make sure you give the ear enough time to process what it’s hearing. In other words, don’t jam too many chords in two few measures. If you plan on using a two measure progression, don’t use more than 4 chords, as it will feel way too hectic, depending on your rhythm.

That about covers it for this tutorial. Next time we are going to have a small recap of what we have learned so far, as we prepare ourselves for more advanced chords. See you then.

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