Chord progressions are sequences that are characteristically from chords that generate a harmonic feeling of preparation and conclusion.
There are innumerous sequences from possible chords to create a song, but some sequences are really common to appear due to their sound effect and because of it, they are called progressions (or cadences). A really common progression, as we saw in the article “Harmonic Function”, it is the progression IV – V – I.
Chord progressions and harmonic functions
Progressions serve like a standard (cliché), something that can be used in many contexts, with the aim of creating a harmonic feeling. This is why progressions work with harmonic functions.
If you consider, for example, the degrees sequence II, V and I. We already saw that the 2nd degree has a subdominant function, the 5th degree has a dominant function and the 1st degree is the tonic.
We can see that this sequence creates the exactly idea of suspending/preparing/concluding.
When the tonic is a major chord, this cadence (using tetrads) normally has the following shape:
IIm7 – V7 – I7M
Example in the harmonic field of C:
Dm7 – G7 – C7M
If you still have troubles in making association with degrees (I, II, III, etc.) with their respective harmonic functions, it is better that you return and study again this topic (Harmonic Functions) calmly, making notes, playing in your instrument; till you memorize well this part. This is really important and has to be automatic in your mind. You should see the chords of a harmonic field as they would have a surname, which is the harmonic function. From now on we will talk a lot about functions and their degrees. So if you didn’t understand the essence of this, you will have problems. It is better to take a step back and then after, a step forward. And you will have progress. Otherwise, you can think this topic is too heavy and give up. But don’t make this mistake; we are going to the most interesting and powerful points of music! It is worth to invest in it and progress slowly!!
Minor chord progressions
So, for those who didn’t understand the previous example, we can also create the following idea suspending/preparing/concluding when the tonic is a minor chord.
In this case, the cadence has the following shape:
IIm7(b5) – V7(b9) – Im7
Example of the tonality in C minor:
Dm7(b5) – G7(b9) – Cm7
These shapes didn’t come by accident, therefore these chords (in both examples we showed) belong to major and minor harmonic fields of C, respectively. Check it (in red):
The only “different” chord that we showed and didn’t appear in the table was the dominant in progression II – V – I to minor chord, because in the minor harmonic field it has as shape Vm7 (Gm7) and in our example, it appeared as G7(b9). The explanation is that this shape (Vm7) doesn’t have tritone (which characterizes the “tension” of dominant function), this is why we changed it in a major chord with seventh (G7). Besides that, we added a flatted ninth (G7b9), because this b9 of G (Ab, in this case) it is the sixth minor of C, which is present in C minor scale (in major scale, the sixth is major!). This softened slightly the fact that G7 is major and does not belong to the field of C as we said.
Nice, but there is another common cadence shape to minor chords:
IIm7(b5) – V7(#5) – Im7(9)
Example in C tonic:
Dm7(b5) – G7(#5) – Cm7(9)
The difference here in relation to the previous shape was putting a 9th as tonic.
This changing made the dominant changed too (it received an augmented 5th), because this enabled an interesting chromaticism between D# and D notes (augmented 5th of G and 9th major of C). This is why this shape is well used and accepted too.
Ok. We finished the first part of this study showing all the typical chord progressions that appear in songs. In the second part of this topic (how to use chord progressions), we will talk about how they can be useful for many purposes.
Back to: Module 6