I recently received a question on how to start out making your own chord progressions. Well there are two courses of action to start out. First you could try throwing some chords together and see what sounds good. Secondly you might try using a little theory. Today we’ll look into the 2nd method a little. NOTE: this lesson is not on rules for making chord progressions. It is simply a lesson on ideas that can by uses to write if you’re in a composing rut.
I give you my chain method:
A major or minor scale has seven tones in it and on each tone a triad can be built. An example in C major is shown below:
Each of these seven triads can be divided into a couple of groups, each with a different job.
The first group is the tonic group. This group states the key of the progression. It is made up of the I chord.
ex. in C: CEG
This second group is the dominant group. The job of the chords in this group is to lead to the tonic chord. Chords in this group include the V chord and the vii chord. Both of these chords contain the all important leading tone.
ex. in C) GBD, BDF
The third group is the subdominant group. The job of the chords in this group is to lead to the dominant group chords. Chords with subdominant functions include the ii chord and the IV chord.
ex in C) DFA, FAC
All other chords fall into this group. They include the iii chord and the vi chord.
ex. in C) EGB, ACE
The trick to using this method is to think of a progression as linear:
OTHER–> SUBDOMINANT–> DOMINANT–> TONIC
When writing try not to go backwards in the chain; always move forward. When you use a chord in a progression the next chord should either be from the same group and not move ahead in the chain, be from the next group, or skip ahead and be from a group thats further ahead. But don’t choose a chord from a previous group.
For an example lets look at the famous jazz progression of ii-V-I. The ii chord is in the subdominant group, the V in the dominant, and the I in the tonic. Therefore the progression follows the chain (SUBDOMINANT–> DOMINANT–> TONIC).
Now for more examples:
OTHER–> DOMINANT–> TONIC
it is ok to skip ahead in the chain
SUBDOMINANT–> SUBDOMINANT–> DOMINANT–> TONIC
it is ok to not move aheadand stay in the same group
Non chain method:
DOMINANT–> SUBDOMINANT–> TONIC
it is not the chain method if you go backwards in the chain.
Have fun with this interesting way other writing.