Here starts the music theory and recording practice section of our monthly newsletter. Let's start this first Audiominds article with a few simple but nice chord progressions and discuss how you can have fun with them. It's not uncommon to start a new composition with a simple chord progression or maybe a simple melody line. Of course there's nothing wrong with starting this way as long as you know what to do with it and where to take it. But first things first: If you're a guitar player and know about keyboards as much as about rocket science please forgive the fact that I know about guitars as much as you know about keyboards. I'll try not to get into too much keyboard detail, but of course I can't avoid them entirely. I've also included some MP3 samples which should make it easier to understand what I'm talking about.
Being a keyboard man I give all my examples in C since it's the easiest root on the piano. For universal transcription I also give the root-less version of every chord with Roman numbers. The system of 'studio notation' in short: Every Roman number from I to VII represents one chord. The root of the chord can be found by the appropriate note on the well tempered major scale. In C-major this would be the white keys of a piano. Capital letters mean major chords (e.g. I, IV, V), small letter indicate minor chords. Extensions like 7, 9# or sus4 are simply added to the numbers. A few examples and the corresponding chords in C-major: I, V7, ii, VIj7 read: C, G7, d, Aj7. You see I also use capital letters for major chords and small letters for minor chords here. That's all folks.
So let's assume you just came up with a simple progression like c, f, G7, c which reads: i, iv, V7, i. At the moment it sounds pretty boring and you want to search some better progressions: Example 1. Stop, don't give it up so fast. I think we can use this pretty boring pattern and jam around on it: Example 2 and Example 3. So where do we want to take the song. Let's decide for the first idea because our master plan is to write a number one world-class tune for funky tuba. Now the funky feel of the progression is a good idea but the chords themselves sound yet too boring. You know there's no definite rule but let's try to find some guidelines what we could do with the chords:
Our chords take their tones form the same scale, the C-minor scale. So one thing we could do would be to add extensions to them. This is basically a very good thing to do but we have to do it with some intellect. Therefore let's try something: How about some bass work? Take the i and play a kind of a walking bass using the i in order to form the other chords as long as possible. This leads to another useful thing: A especially pleasant sound can be formed if two following chords share as many notes as possible. (a very popular technique among jazz musicians when it comes to choosing substitutes ;-)) So let's try how it sounds: Example 4. Not bad. Let's analyse this one: The first chord played is a simple i. Now the others get interesting: iv7-6 with a third in the bass followed by a plain iv7-6 and a V-aug. (aug means three major thirds) So I played in c-minor: c, f7-6/Ab, f7-6, G-aug, c. How did we get those chords? The principle used can be seen in this notation: c, c/As, c/F, cj7/G (i, i/6b, i/4, ij7/5). Those are surely nice chords but they still sound too equal. No problem, we simply take them and start replacing some notes. First of all the bass note doesn't need to be played twice. So we either leave it out in the right hand or change it to something else. If we change it only by a half or two halves an additional tension will occur. Than we replace some notes of the chords so that two following chords share max. two notes. After some experimentation I came up with this: Example 5 Finally we transformed i, iv, V7, i into i7, VIb-6, iv7, V7-aug reading: c, Ab-6, f7, G7-aug.
Now listen to the following extract of a song I did nearly three years ago: Example 6.
The same can be heard on the next part of the same song: Example 7. Now the melody become more lively played by a flute on another chord progression: I-9, IVm7, ii7, V7 or Eb9 (Eb, G, Bb, F), Ab7 (Ab, C, Eb, Gb), f7 (F, Ab, C, Eb), Bb7 (Bb, D, F, Ab). Did this ring a bell?
Now let's end this article with one last technique found in the song - the heavy use of dominant chords. Listen to the progressions during the (halfway poorly played) guitar solo: Example 8 The chords here are: iii7, vi, ii, V7. No fancy extensions in there but lot's of dominants. Fully notated the chords read like: g7, c, f, Bb7. The g7 (iii7) acts as a dominant to c (vi) which again acts as a dominant to f (ii). f again is the dominant of Bb7 the V7. Saw that? Every chord acts as a dominant to the next chord. This gives the feeling of a very smooth progression because the quint is deeply rooted in our western world and music. You also saw that the dominant of the dominant in any scale will be the second. This could be heard on all examples from that song. As a result there were many ii-V-i-connections in the song. Progressions like the ii, V, i (or I) connection are like the 'sixteen, twenty-five connection (I, vi, ii, V) and so on essential material for every musician who's only slightly into jazz or any modern music genre. Take a closer look to the chords of your favorite songs. I bet now they'll jump right into your eyes. And this is the reason why the second article about chords in the next newsletter will be about ii-V-i-connections written by our valued member Mac. In the meantime spend some happy hours with some creative chord progressions.