6.18.1 10 Chord Progression Guidelines (#1): Start with the Circular Harmonic Scale as Your
Basic Chord Progression Framework
6.18.2 10 Chord Progression Guidelines (#2): Learn How to Use Chase Charts to See How a Song’s Chord Progression
6.18.3 10 Chord Progression Guidelines (#3): Use the Chord Progression Chart (Appendix
3) to Save Time and Avoid Frustration
6.18.4 10 Chord
Progression Guidelines (#4): Take Advantage of
Tonic Chord Stability
6.18.5 10 Chord Progression Guidelines (#5): Take Advantage of
Dominant Chord Instability
6.18.6 10 Chord Progression Guidelines (#6): Make Structured Use
of Chords of the Same
6.18.7 10 Chord Progression Guidelines (#7): Take Advantage of
Major Triad Consonance to Progress to Chords Built on
6.18.8 10 Chord Progression Guidelines (#8): Try Not to Commit the Sin of Monotony—Use Modulation, Variant
Chords, Chromatic Chords
6.18.9 10 Chord Progression Guidelines (#9): Keep in Mind the Emotions People Associate
6.18.10 10 Chord Progression Guidelines (#10): Use a
Roedy Black Chord Chart to Save
Time, and to Avoid Interrupting Your Creative Flow
~ • ~ • ~ • ~
Use these 10
guidelines or rules of thumb as you craft your chord progressions. If you do,
it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever create an unpalatable progression.
Here’s the first
To secure and preserve harmonic unity, always use the
harmonic scale as your starting point, a basic chord
popular music, you only have three or four minutes to make a complete musical
statement. Using the harmonic scale as your basic organizing framework makes it
easy for you to establish tonality. As already mentioned, that’s the purpose of
a four- or eight-bar instrumental introduction to a song.
If you don't establish tonality, the ear just hears random chords
and tones, and gets confused or bored quickly.
Establishing a harmonic centre early also enables you to create
harmonic contrast (see Guideline #4 below).
A Chase chart is a
diagram that maps how the chord progression for any song actually works,
revealing the nature of its effectiveness—or lack of effectiveness.
Use Chase charts to map the chord progressions of your own songs, or songs
you’ve heard that intrigue you.
you’ve seen in this chapter, you don’t need to know how to read or write music
notation. Chase charts are easy to sketch and will save you a lot of time while
providing you with some real insight on how to create palatable-sounding chord
progressions for your own tunes.
Chord Progression Chart, reproduced in Appendix 1,
shows the harmonic scales, including Nashville Numbers, for all 12
major and minor keys.
Chord Progression Chart to quickly sketch Chase
charts and work out chord progressions for your own material.
Here's another good
reason to make sure you do establish tonality right away (see Guideline #1):
Moving to any chord—even to a chromatic chord—from the tonic chord sounds
palatable to the ear, once you’ve established tonality.
The tonic chord is the stable bedrock chord of the key. So if you
move to a chromatic chord from the tonic chord, like this
C – B♭ – C (in the
key of C major)
it’s usually a good
idea to return to the tonic chord (or at least to a chord in the harmonic scale)
right away to preserve the sense of tonality (assuming you’re not modulating).
The dominant seventh chord is inherently unstable (all dominant-seventh
type chords contain the tritone; minor sevenths do not) and can therefore serve
as a transition chord to another chord. The dominant seventh is probably the
most useful and versatile of all chords.
Any chord can always progress to any dominant seventh chord
without sounding unpalatable.
But watch out when you go the other way. Moving from a
dominant seventh to its own major or minor chord does not sound
palatable. For example, try to avoid doing this:
G7 – G
G7 – Gm
or at least have a very good reason for doing it.
OF THE SAME
You can use
sequences of the same type of chord any time:
Moving from any chord to any other chord of the same type
sounds palatable to the ear.
You should do it in
some organized manner, such as progressing in intervals that are the same
C – G – D – A – E
(the classic song, “Hey Joe”)
even though it’s moving against the “natural” (clockwise) flow of the harmonic
scale, because all the chords are of the same type (major triads).
If you reverse the chord sequence, like this:
E – A – D – G – C
the progression sounds more natural because it goes with the flow,
the natural direction around the harmonic scale. The chords of most
great songs progress in this general direction.
Another way to string together three or more chords of the same
type is to progress along a scale of chord roots (up or down). For
example, going up:
C9♭5 – D9♭5 – E9♭5 –
F9♭5 – G9♭5
or going down:
G9♭5 – F9♭5 – E9♭5 –
D9♭5 – C9♭5
another way to do this is to use a sequence of chords—one set of chords followed
by a second, different set of the same chord type, repeated in the same pattern.
Cm7 – Dm7 – Fm7
followed by (in a parallel phrase or sub-phrase):
Bm7 – C♯m7 – Em7
you string together three or more chords of the same type, the chord type itself
doesn’t matter. You can even use extended chords such as 9th, 11th, or 13th
chords, so long as you preserve the same chord type throughout the progression.
ON THE SAME
Progression from consonant to dissonant works.
Moving from a major triad to any other chord built on the same
root sounds palatable to the ear.
C – C9
C – Cm7
A major triad is a consonant chord, so moving from a consonant
chord to a dissonant chord (i. e., any chord except a major or minor triad)
built on the same root (in the above examples, the root is the note C) does not
introduce the potential problems of harmonic confusion that
dissonant-to-consonant progressions (built on the same root) create, such as C7–
C or C7–Cm.
There are several ways to create variety in your chord
Without losing harmonic cohesion, go for
some variety in
your chord progressions.
Here are some ways and means, covered in this
Once you’ve established tonality, you can use at least four tasteful methods of
modulating (changing keys):
1. Pivot chord modulation
2. Relative key modulation
3. Parallel key modulation
4. Sequential modulation
Avoid using shift modulation unless you really know what you’re
and have a good reason for doing it
2. Chord Variants:
You can make a chord progression harmonically interesting
simply by replacing the default chords at any of the seven
harmonic scale degrees. You have upwards of 30 variant chords
to choose from for each scale degree.
You can use more than one chord variant at each harmonic
scale position in the same song.
3. Chromatic Chords:
Using chromatic chords is not difficult, but you have to be careful not to go
overboard, or you’ll blur tonality. Review the examples earlier in this chapter.
are only guidelines. You don’t have to try to modulate or use chord
variants or chromatic chords every time you sit down to compose a tune. As you
know, many many excellent songs only have two or three chords—a couple of simple
triads and maybe a seventh. But they usually have something else going for them,
such as a knockout melody or a gripping lyric.
Refer to the list of
descriptors in Table 52 once in a while.
As you create your progressions, keep in mind that most
people associate certain harmonies with more or less
AND TO AVOID
charts provide instant access to the fingering diagrams for all the different types of
chords in each key. They also show the chords of the
harmonic scale for every key, together with their Nashville Numbers.
Black’s Complete Guitar Chord Poster or
Complete Keyboard Chord Poster to avoid wasting time
looking up chords in books, computers, or chord-finder