What is your most beautiful favorite chord

Inventing chord progressions

of Jürg Hochweber; see also: chord structure, which chords where and when? Learn interactively

People who want to write their own songs or solo pieces ask me again and again how to invent good-sounding chord progressions. Because a good episode is actually the basic structure of many compositions, and when such an episode is right, the rest (melody, bass, rhythm, etc.) almost comes naturally. I hesitated for a long time because it is difficult to deal with such a comprehensive topic in a generally understandable and brief manner. Now i'm trying. Some knowledge of chord structure, and possibly. the overview of the relatives of C major. A large part of all music consists of 4, 8 or 16 bar parts. Often a composition is even largely periodic, that is, has it z. E.g. 32 bars, then two 16 bars form a large group, which can be divided into two 8 bar groups and so on.

So we're going to make chord progressions that consist of 4, 8, 16 bars. I limit myself to C major and the parallel A minor as the basic key. It is up to you to transfer the whole thing into other keys (= transpose).

English B = German H English Bb = German B.
Here I use the English spelling for chord names, for individual notes I stick to the German names.


First, let's get familiar with the term cadence:
Definition: a cadence is a short, memorable sequence of chords that clearly defines the key. This means that in a cadence (mostly) every note of the scale must appear at least once and no further notes. In C major these are the notes c d e f g a h. In A minor there are the same notes a, b, c, d, e, f, g. In addition to the g, a g sharp and, more rarely, an f sharp can appear next to f. Most of the chord progressions are actually extensions and strings of cadences.

Typical cadences in C major:
| C | F | G | C | or | C | Dm | G7 | C. |
however, is the consequence | C | On | F | C | no cadence, as the note b does not occur and it could be the key of C major, A minor or F major.

If the penultimate chord is a subdominant, it is called a plagal cadence:

As is well known, every chord can appear in different positions, so there are many variants and each one sounds a little different. Which position is best used when, also depends on the instrumental knowledge and possibilities and cannot be examined here. Here I mostly use the simple forms (for guitar).
Above you can see different positions of the C major chord. The tones c e g must appear somehow. Any number of octaves can be added to this, but one still speaks of triads. If there is a different note than c in the bass (= lowest chord note), one also speaks of inversions. The root note (which gives the chord its name) does not always have to be the bass note. So there are countless possibilities and, conversely, it takes a lot of experience to develop the right chords from pure notes.

Basically, the chord progressions should be melodious. Ideally, the uppermost notes should form a melody, as well as the lowest and even the inner ones. There are theoretically a number of voice guidance laws. Since guitar chords (and piano chords) are often perceived as simply rhythmic blocks and not as a network of several voices, you will never work as precisely as with a brass section or a vocal ensemble. This is especially true when the chords are struck. I have given all the following sound examples any rhythm that can be used in practice.

typical cadenza in (harmonic) A minor:

typical cadence in pure (or aeolian) A minor:

Cadenzas begin and end with the root chord.
Since chord progressions are often only extended cadences, it is now a matter of expanding and rebuilding these cadences.
First of all, we mainly use ladder-specific (triad) chords:
the size corresponds roughly to the frequency with which they occur
 1st stage2nd St.3rd St.4th St.5th St.6th St.7th St.
Ladder's own chords from C majorC.DmEmF.GAt theBm5-
Ladder's own chords from A minor. (including melodic minor)At theBm5-
G # dim7

in C major:
C is called the basic chord or tonic or 1st degree.
F means subdominant or 4th level.
G means dominant or 5th level, G7 can also be used here.

F and G are the closest relatives of C. Simple folk songs get by with these three.
Am, Dm, Em and Bm5 are called secondary levels.

in A minor:
Am is called the basic chord or tonic or 1st degree.
Dm means subdominant or 4th level.
E means dominant or 5th level, E7 can also be used here. Em also occurs, but is not always referred to as a dominant, as the typical leading tone g sharp is missing.

Dm and E are Am's closest relatives.

| C | Dm | G | C ||
| C | F | G | C ||
| C | G | F | C ||
| C | On | G7 | C ||
| On | Dm | E | On ||
| On | F | G | On ||
| On | G | Em | On ||
| On | Bm5- | E | On ||
It gets more exciting with 8 bars. We still only use scale-specific chords, but of course a chord can appear several times.
The ladder's own chords can be used in almost any order, anyone can follow everyone else, in the end only hearing decides, but you should do well to study the following points, they also apply when using chords from outside the ladder:

The 3 most common types of progression

1) The most common, familiar, and trouble-free chord progression is that Fifth jump down. We mean that a given chord is followed by a chord whose root is a fifth lower. The root note is the note that gives the chord its name, it does not necessarily have to be the bass note (= lowest note). A G follows C, Dm follows G, Em follows Am, etc. See: Circle of Fifths.
(Instead of a fifth jump down, we can also say a fourth jump up, you land an octave higher than with a fifth jump down, but on the same note. In this context it means the same thing).
The consequence | C | On | Dm | G | C | starts with a third step down (c a),
then loud fifths downwards (a -d -g -c).
(In certain modes, e.g. Mixolydian, this step is avoided: church modes).

2) it is also cheap Third step down (as indicated above). C is followed by Am, Am is followed by F, Em is followed by C, etc.
With a third step one always means the step from one note to the next but one in the scale. This can be a major or minor third, depending on the situation. The same applies to other interval steps.
E.g. | C | On | F | Dm | G | F | C | C || begins with 3 thirds c a f.
In the case of third steps down from ladder-specific triads, only one tone changes at a time. Even so, it's a distinctive step as the new tone is the fundamental.

It would be different with the step of a third upwards, for example | C | Em |. That doesn't sound wrong, but it's not a distinctive step, as only the note B is added, which anyway tends to be in the C as a seventh. The Em chord is then heard almost exclusively as the inverse of C. However, in pop music, where reversals are rare, the result is | C | Em | also full.

3) The third option is gradual progression upwards (Second step).
C follows Dm, Em follows F. If G or G7 is followed by Am, one also speaks of Fallacy. In A minor the fallacy is E - F. The dominant goes one step up.
Stepping down is also possible, but much less often.

Some 8-bar episodes:

|| C | Am | F | G | C | Am | G | C ||

|| C | G | Am | Em | F | G | C | C ||

|| C | Dm | G | Em | Am | F | G | C ||

|| C | F | G | Am | C | F | G | C ||

|| C | G | Am | F | C | G | F | C ||

|| Am | Dm | G7 | C | Am | Dm | E7 | Am ||

|| Am | C | E | F | G7 | C | E7 | Am ||

|| Am | F | G | Em | Am | F | G | Am ||

|| Am | D | Am | D | F | C | G | Am ||

Four notes:

As with the dominant G7 usual, it is also possible with the other stages, the seven ( = Seventh or Sept) Add. The seventh is always the seventh scale note from the chord root (this is counted). Depending on the level, this results in a large or a small Sept.

A 7 means a small Sept. A large Sept is unfortunately called differently:
Cmaj7, Cj7, C7 +, C7 #
(maj and j comes from the English / French major / majeur, which means major or greater)

the size roughly corresponds to the frequency as they occur
 1st stage2nd St.3rd St.4th St.5th St.6th St.7th St.
Ladder's own seventh chords from C majorCj7Dm7Em7Fig. 7G7On the 7thBm7 / 5-
Ladder's own seventh chords from A minor. (including melodic minor)On the 7thBm7 / 5-
Fig. 7G7
G # dim7

In principle, these seventh chords can be used anywhere the usual triads can be. They simply bring more variety and color into play. In order to connect them well, however, some skill in voice guidance is necessary.

There are hardly many examples to be found with such seventh chords where only ladder-specific chords occur. Therefore it is now time to introduce chords that also contain tones that are not part of the ladder (as in the last example of the D7).
A chord like D consists of d f sharp a. Since the F sharp does not belong to C major, it is a non-managerr chord. Likewise C7 (c e g b). It does not belong to C major, because the b (b flat) does not belong to C major. Both are so-called Intermediate dominants: Each ladder-specific chord can temporarily be viewed as a new basic chord (1st degree). We can get ahead of him then whose Insert dominant.

 1st stage2nd St.3rd St.4th St.5th St.6th St.7th St.
Ladder's own chords from C majorC.DmEmF.GAt theBm5-
their dominantsG7A7B7C7D7E7(F7)

When intermediate dominants come into play, the only difference between C major and A minor is the different weighting of the chords.
|| C | F | G | C ||
|| C C7 | F D7 | G G + | C ||

In the cadence we insert the intermediate dominants C7 and D7. Finally, we could fill the gap before the last C with an excessive triad G + (also called G5 +), it consists of the tones g h dis. It is a variant of the dominant G.

Further episodes with sub-dominants:

|| C E7 | On the F | Dm G7 | C ||

|| C Am | B7 Em | C Am | G F C ||

|| C A7 | Dm G7 | C7 Dm | G7 C ||

In the last example, the dominant G7 goes directly to C7. In addition, C7 does not resolve to F, but one step up, following the example of the fallacy, namely Dm.

The Neapolitan

An interesting A minor chord is this Neapolitan sixth chord, called Neapolitans for short. Although it has been in use for centuries, it always arouses astonishment. It is the Bb chord consisting of b d f (b means the German b, English b flat). The Neapolitan is a substitute for the subdominant Dm, which is why the d is usually in the bass:

If the tone b occurs before, as in the following example for the C7, then the Neapolitan is less noticeable:


Perhaps the most powerful means of building longer chord progressions is to sequence a group of chords. A group of two or more chords is repeated, but offset by one or more steps.
The group || C Dm G C || is e.g. followed by || Dm Em Am Dm || .
The second group is increased by one level. The sequence effect is still supported when both groups have the same rhythm.

In the following example, the group | C Am | Dm | increased by two levels, that results in | Em C | F | . Afterwards this is done twice more. As we can see, you don't have to be stubborn and you can replace a minor chord with the major 7th chord, which is a popular means of smuggling in chords that are foreign to the ladder almost unnoticed.

In the following example, the above sequence is expanded a bit:

In the following example, the group | Am F G Em | sequenced twice down two levels:

Repetition and variation

It is of course not the case that new chords always have to come in a composition. On the contrary, as shown in the sequences, the ear expects fixed patterns and repetitions. That is why chord groups are often repeated and varied. | C | G | F | C G || C | G | F | C || The only difference between the first group of four and the second is the G chord in measure 4.

In 8-bar sequences, the second half is very often a variation or a sequence of the first.

Comment on the rhythm: Chords tend to change regularly, often in bars or 2 bars or half bars, i.e. not 7 beats G then 3 strokes At the or so. However, they can be very agitated within the clock scheme and at most slightly overlap the clock boundaries. In any case, the process is much more regular than with melodies, which can be very tattered structurally. In general, it is good if the chords and melody behave in a complementary manner, that is, at the points where there is not much going on in the melody, more and more moving chords should come, if the melody is very moving, the chords can rest a little.

Minor subdominant in major

Fm occasionally appears as a substitute for the F chord:

In the example above, this Fm chord is more of a transition chord, and it is not particularly noticeable. But he opens the door to some of his relatives like Ab, Eb, Cm, who are actually far from C major:

Neapolitans in major

Following the example of the Neapolitan in minor, the Db (or Db7) chord in C major can be used as a substitute for the subdominant, therefore preferably with f in the bass. However, it contains two tones that are not related to the ladder. So it is good if a chord appears beforehand where at least one of the non-ladder tones is present, here the chord Fm6 (or Dm7 / 5-):


Suspension chords

How do I use strange things like Gsus4 or Csus9?
(often referred to as G4 or C9)
We take Gsus4 , which consists of the tones g c d instead of g h d as in the normal G. The decisive tone (I now say the sus tone) is the c, the so-called Fourth lead or English 'suspended fourth'. The sus tones are mostly contained in the preceding chord. So before Gsus4 there has to be a chord that contains the note C, that would be C, Am, F, D7. So you can say that the chords are a bit crooked, one note from the first chord sticks over the second. After the Gsus4 there is usually just G, that is, the c goes into the h.

|| C | Gsus4 | G || only in the third chord does the c go into b.
But it can also be followed by another chord that contains an b, e.g. E.g:
|| C | Gsus4 | E | On ||

Similar to the Nonvorhalt:
A Csus9 (also called Cadd9) consists of the tones c e g d. A chord must (usually) come first that contains the sus-tone d, for example G or Dm, and then normal C or a chord that contains the tone c must follow.

Or Am (sus9) (usually referred to as Am (add9) or Am9). It contains the notes a c e h. The b here is the sus tone (non-lead), it takes the place of the high a. Before Amsus9 there needs to be a chord that contains B, e.g. E.g. E, G. After Am (sus4) comes just Am or a chord that contains a, e.g. F.
Note that the ninth is an additional chord tone with the non-lead, the fourth replaces the third with the lead-fourth.
Also note that a Cm (sus4) would be the same as a C (sus) 4, since the third is not included. So you don't need the designation Cm (sus4).

Chords derived from the blue notes

In relation to C major, the notes bb, es and gb are considered to be blue notes. You can replace the notes e, g and b of the C major scale or mix them with them. In the blues they are, so to speak, leader-ship. It therefore makes sense to use them to form chords as well.

Common are: Bb, Eb, F7, C7
(We already know C7 and Bb in a different context).
The note Gb is hardly used to form chords, as this would lead too far away from C major.

Here is the well-known 12-bar blues scheme:

|| C7 | C7 | C7 | C7 |
| F7 | F7 | C7 | C7 |
| G7 | F7 | C7 | free ||

Typical episode for rock music:

Power chords

Chords without a third are (somewhat illogically) called power chords, e.g. C5. The C5 therefore only contains the two tones c and g (possibly with octave doublings):

Diminished seventh chords

And then there is this all-rounder among the chords, the diminished seventh chord, the z. E.g. on the 7th level in harmonic A minor is at home, consisting of:
g sharp - b - d - f.
It is called G # dim7 or G # o. It consists of lots of minor thirds stacked on top of each other, so that every chord tone can be reinterpreted as the root note (in equal pitch).
It can be used as a connecting chord between all kinds of chords, initially as a dominant in A minor, but also in many other combinations that I will not explain here.

The diminished seventh chord was already known in the baroque era. Since it was considered completely new and dissonant at the time, it was often used in dramatic, tragic scenes. Today it is just a versatile transition chord.

Try it yourself

Now click on the chord symbols to play your own sequences. (There may be a slight delay the first time you click)

F.C.GDmAt theEmBm5-
Fig. 7Cj7PortEb

an expanded version of this "playground" is here.


Create sequences by expanding cadences with minor steps, inserting intermediate dominants, expanding chords with seventh (ninth, leading, excessive 5), sequencing chord groups, inserting blue notes chords, etc. Nothing is impossible.
There are of course countless other possibilities, e.g. reinterpretation of the seventh chords, but the more complex the sequence, the more precisely the special position of the chords has to be taken into account, the chord symbol writing cannot represent this.
But a popular piece of music (pop, folk music, hits, etc.) usually gets by with very few chords, with 2 to about 6.
And in my examples I have shown everything in a concentrated form, but of course a chord can also be left over for several bars.

Chords are typically used to accompany a main melody. The highest and lowest notes of a chord are the most noticeable. If there is no melody above it, the highest chord notes are usually perceived as a melody. When a melody is above the chord, the bass tone alone becomes the most noticeable chord tone. It is therefore particularly important that the bass notes are melodious.

The study of chords, also known as harmony, is the most abstract branch of music. While a layman can create good melodies, rhythms or timbres even without much theoretical knowledge, it is difficult to do with the chords. You can recognize the true experts from harmony.

I hope you have learned a lot with this and are therefore also one of the experts.

Jürg Hochweber

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