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The Ultimate Guide to Chord Progressions: Everything You Need to Know

wavmonopoly June 5, 2022

Chord progressions are one of the most important aspects of music. They create the harmonic foundation for a song and can be found in almost every genre of music. Without chord progressions, music would be uninteresting and lack cohesiveness.

In this article, we will discuss what chord progressions are, how to read Roman numerals, chords in a major key, chords in a minor key, and popular chord progressions in music. We will also provide tips on how to practice and use chord progressions in your own songs!

What are chord progressions?

Major chord progressions on piano

A chord progression is a series of chords that are played in a specific order. The order of the chords creates a harmonic progression, which is the backbone of a song. Chord progressions can be short and simple, or they can be long and complex.

Chord progressions usually consist of two or more chords that are played in succession. The most common type of chord progression is called cadence. A cadence is a two-chord progression that usually occurs at the end of a phrase or section of music.

Cadences can be either perfect or imperfect. Perfect cadences occur when the chords are in the order of V-I (five-one). Imperfect cadences occur when the chords are in the order of V-ii (five-two).

They also have a significant role in the song’s story. With one small chord choice, a certain chord at a specific moment in the song’s progression may radically alter the mood from happy to sad or dark to light.

A single major, minor, or diminished chord cannot convey much narrative on its own. Even basic, monotonous chord progressions can express a wide range of emotions and musical ideas.

With a solid chord progression as your foundation, other aspects of your track, such as lead melodies or basslines, are considerably simpler to produce based on the chords you’ve chosen and where they fall.

Roman numerals in music

The Roman numeral system is a way of labeling chords that was developed by music theorists in the 18th century. The Roman numeral system is used to notate chord progressions.

Because all of the note-to-note relationships in music are permanent, you may use symbols to save time when comprehending how chords operate in your music. The numerical symbols most frequently used to explain how chords function in keys are Roman numerals. Music keys are collections of notes that follow recurring forms—for example, major and minor.

In a major key, Roman numerals are utilized to represent chords. The major chords are represented by the uppercase Roman numerals, while the minor chords are represented by the lowercase Roman numerals. The numbers in between the Roman numerals represent the intervals of each chord.

The relationship between chord progressions

The relationship between chords can be shown by the distance, or interval, between them. The most basic intervals are called thirds. A third is a distance between two notes that are three scale degrees apart.

For example, in the key of C major, the chord built on C is a major chord (C-E-G), and the chord built on D is a minor chord (D-F-A). The interval between C and D is a third, so we would say that the chords are built in thirds.

The next most common interval is a fifth. A fifth is a distance between two notes that are five scale degrees apart. For example, in the key of C major, the chord built on G is a major chord (G-B-D), and the chord built on F is a minor chord (F-A-C). The interval between F and G is a fifth, so we would say that these chords are also built-in fifths.

The Roman numeral system is a very helpful way to think about chords and their relationships to each other. It is also a great way to communicate with other musicians.

When you see a chord progression written in Roman numerals, it is helpful to know how to read them. The following is a guide to reading Roman numerals:

  • Uppercase Roman numerals represent major chords.
  • Lowercase Roman numerals represent minor chords.
  • If there is a small circle next to a Roman numeral, it means that the chord is diminished.
  • If there is a small triangle next to a Roman numeral, it means that the chord is augmented.

Now that you know how to read Roman numerals, you are ready to start learning about some of the most popular chord progressions.

Popular chord progressions in music

Popular major chord progressions

One of the most popular chord progressions in Western music is the I-IV-V progression. This progression is found in countless songs in many different genres.

The I-IV-V progression is made up of the chords that are built on the first, fourth, and fifth scale degrees of a major or minor key. In the key of C major, the I-IV-V progression would be made up of the chords C major (C-E-G), F major (F-A-C), and G major (G-B-D).

This progression is so popular because it is very versatile. It can be used to express a wide range of emotions, from happiness to sadness.

Another popular chord progression is the ii-V-I progression. This progression is found in many Jazz standards.

The ii-V-I progression is made up of the chords that are built on the second, fifth, and first scale degrees of a major or minor key. In the key of C major, the ii-V-I progression would be made up of the chords D minor (D-F-A), G major (G-B-D), and C major (C-E-G).

This progression is popular because it has a strong sense of forwarding momentum. It also sounds very pleasing to the ear.

The last chord progression that we will look at is the iii-vi-ii-V-I progression. This progression is sometimes called the Jazz blues progression.

The iii-vi-ii-V-I progression is made up of the chords that are built on the third, sixth, second, fifth, and first scale degrees of a major or minor key. In the key of C major, the iii-vi-ii-V-I progression would be made up of the chords E minor (E-G-B), A minor (A-C-E), D minor (D-F-A), G major (G=B=D), and C major (C-E-G).

This progression is popular because it has a very bluesy sound. It is also used in many Jazz standards.

How to use chord progressions in your songs

Now that you know some of the most popular chord progressions, you are probably wondering how you can use them in your own songs.

One way to use chord progressions in your songs is to create a basic outline of the song using Roman numerals. For example, if you were writing a song in the key of C major, you could start by writing out the chords of the I-IV-V progression in Roman numerals. This would give you a basic outline of the song that you can then flesh out with melodies and other chord progressions.

Another way to use chord progressions in your songs is to use them as a starting point for creating your own unique progressions.

If you are stuck, try reversing the order of a chord progression, or substituting different chords in place of one of the chords in a progression. For example, instead of using a major chord, you could use a minor chord or a diminished chord.

You could also try adding in an extra chord to a progression or leaving out one of the chords. Experimentation is the key to finding new and interesting progressions.

How to Practice

The best way to practice chord progressions is by using a metronome. Start by setting the metronome to a slow tempo, such as 60 beats per minute. Play each chord in the progression for one beat.

Once you have the hang of playing the progression at a slow tempo, you can gradually increase the tempo.

Another way to practice chord progressions is by using a backing track. Backing tracks are recordings of drums, bass, and other instruments that you can play along with.

You can find backing tracks online or you can create your own using a MIDI keyboard and a DAW. Backing tracks are a great way to practice chord progressions because they give you something to play along with and they can help you keep a steady tempo.

Conclusion

Chord progressions are an essential part of songwriting. By understanding how to use them, you can write better songs and progress as a musician. Experiment with different progressions and practice regularly to improve your skills.

I hope you enjoyed this guide to chord progressions. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below. Thanks for reading!

 

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