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How Chord Progressions Work

Darrin Koltow (383) · [archive]
Style: Basics · Level: Beginner · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1





How Chord Progressions Work

by Darrin Koltow
from the ebook Guitar Chords: a Beginner's Guide, at MaximumMusician.com



The groove that goes with this article shows a common chord progression that many popular songs are based on. You may hear songs like "What a Wonderful World," and "Cupid," by Sam Cooke, as well as some more modern tunes. I highly recommend singing a song you like as you play these changes. That makes the song come alive.

A note on strumming: strum four beats per bar with a pattern that feels natural. Focus on keeping a steady rhythm. You don't even have to use a pick. Your fingers or thumb can strum.



How it Works


The following includes some thoughts on why this song sounds as good as it does. You don't need to know this to play around with the song. Feel free to skip ahead. You don't have to read this to simply enjoy playing, but it might help you out. With just a few elementary facts about chords, you can begin writing your own progressions. Let's talk about these facts.

First, learn some Musical Math. Here are some introductory concepts to it. Chords are built from scales. The chords in the song we're working with come from the C major scale. Here are all the chords in C major:



Letter


C


d


e


F


G7


a


b*


Roman numerals


I


ii


iii


IV


V7


vi


vii*


Plain old English


One


Two


Three


Four


Five


Six


Seven
*The b* means "b half-diminished," which is kind of like a minor chord, but really closer to a G7 in its overall sound.



Five One


The strongest chord movement, or cadence in Western music is the Five One. In the key of C, that means playing a G7 chord, and then playing a C chord right after it.

When you play a G7 to C, do you hear how strongly that sets up C as the key center or tonic? Right after you strum the G7 (the Five), your ear is just itching to hear the C (the One). Just try playing the G7 and don't play the C. You'll feel like there's something important missing, like you forgot to put your underwear on this morning.

Here are Five Ones in some other keys.
  • A: E7 to A
  • D: A7 to D
  • Em: B7 to E




Two Five and Four Five


Here's another strong chord movement. Play a D min (a Two in C major) followed by a G7 (a Five from C major). This movement doesn't happen in the song we played, but something like it does: an F (a Four) to G7 (a Five). Let's play more examples of Four-Fives and Two-Fives in other keys:



in A


Bmin (ii)


E7 (V)


D (IV)


E7 (V)


A


in F


Gmin (ii)


C7 (V)


Bb (IV)


C7 (V)


F



One Six


This chord movement, which shows up in measures 1 and 2 of the Sam Cooke song, is not as strong as the Five One and Two Five movements, but it's just as important. Let's play some examples.







in E

E (I)

C#m(vi)

in A



A (I)




F#m(vi)




in G




G (I)




Em(vi)

One Six





Do you hear how close the Ones and the Sixes are? When you move to the A minor from C, it just doesn't feel as final or complete as playing a G7 to C. It's almost like you're playing two different flavors of the same chord. The music doesn't have the sense of completion that a V to I change has.

To summarize these rules: for strong chord movements, play Five to One and Two to Five. For not so strong chord movements, play One to Six.




Other Resources


Here are other places on the web where you can learn about chord progressions:

  • WholeNote.com
  • MoneyChords.com
  • www.torvund.net/guitar/


Article by Darrin Koltow, from the ebook Guitar Chords: a Beginner's Guide, available at MaximumMusician.com

How Chord Progressions Work