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Thread: Tips to writing interesting chord progressions?

  1. #1
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    Default Tips to writing interesting chord progressions?

    Note: This is copied and pasted from the exact same thread I made in the MP.com forums. I thought I'd post it here too to get some more responses =)

    I've been really stuck with the usual boring rock progression. I stumbled upon this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxSptvviV6w and I'm not sure how well it actually works on guitar, since the guitar's pretty damn limited when it comes to chords.

    I'd appreciate it if we discuss some of the approaches popular songwriters in prog have when it comes to chord progressions. I'm pretty new to the whole chordal approach to songwriting as I had always been more focused on riffs based around a single root (like Metallica).

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    Yeah I watched the first bit of the video, it sounds like its about linear chord progressions as opposed to thinking in keys which is how we are generally taught in most basic theory classes. For me personally learning modern jazz and fusion helped me break out of using boring chord progressions.

    The basic idea is that chords are separate entities of their own in no relation to any key. The relate to the other chords usually by use of common tones. Say a C chord has a C E and G in it. Well an Abmaj7 also has a G and C in it. So this would be a very strong progression.

    Crap I gotta go, I'll finish my post later, i'll edit more stuff in lol.
    John Petrucci - Life is like a pumpkin, it's hard on the outside but once you open it up it's very gooey

  3. #3
    Crimson Sunset
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wolfgangshredder
    ...

    For me personally learning modern jazz and fusion helped me break out of using boring chord progressions.

    ...
    Could you suggest me some bands/musicians that play modern jazz / fusion ? thanks !


    TS, check out this site:
    http://satriani.worldsgreatestguitar...xis/index.html

    It's about "pitch axis" (I don't know if that's an official term or not). You can create some intresting chord progression with that.

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    If you write down the notes of the chord, and see how they don't move or make small changes, that's what he's talking about. Google 'voice leading'.

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    The first thing to figure out is what chords sound good just moving from root to root, minor to major and so on. Then, don't go to 7th chords yet... Instead, figure out what sounds good from root to inversion or inversion to inversion, because you basically have as many possibilities as you had with the root to root chords, but times four, heh...

    Then once you got the triads down pretty well, go ahead and add other notes like 7ths and tensions.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Xaem
    Then once you got the triads down pretty well, go ahead and add other notes like 7ths and tensions.
    This is key. It's important to know what makes a chord in the first place. Once you get an idea of how that works, then I think it's important to learn circle-of-fifths progressions.

    See, the thing about music theory, is some people think that by learning it that they're diminishing their natural creative energy. Which is bullshit, really. Basically, if you know your theory well enough, you can forget it and be surprised at how much you retain, because there is a sort of simple logic to it. And anyways, circle-of-fifths is only one tiny aspect, sort of like long division in the realm of mathematics.

    But yeah, chord progressions within the circle-of-fifths work based on common chord tones. One popular one from the '50s or '60s (or both decades) is the I vi IV V progression. How do you read that? Well, let's say you're in the key of C. The progression would be C, Ami, F, and G. It gives you that malt shop teen pop sound, like in "Earth Angel" and whatever. Most rock songs do away with the vi chord and just do I IV V. And with all the added sevenths, ninths, elevenths, and so on, many jazz standards operate on ii V i, or ii V I.

    I hope this isn't too much to swallow. It really isn't too much harder than it seems. Oh! Also, once you know the circle-of-fifths pattern and you know which chords are major and minor in a key, then you can get creative and alter some of those chords. Like if the IV chord in a key is major, then you can alter it and make it minor to give it a different sound. Or vice versa.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Crimson Sunset
    Could you suggest me some bands/musicians that play modern jazz / fusion ? thanks !


    TS, check out this site:
    http://satriani.worldsgreatestguitar...xis/index.html

    It's about "pitch axis" (I don't know if that's an official term or not). You can create some intresting chord progression with that.
    Well a big one for me was Pat Metheny, a lot of his writing has almost no functional harmony in it, like ii V I's and such. Check out Bright Size Life, the whole album is full of strange chord changes that seem to make little sense at first glance. I'm not sure what your experience is with this sort of music so I don't want to throw a bunch of examples at you and just confuse you.
    But check out chord charts to these tunes if you like.

    Miles Davis - Nardis
    Wayne Shorter - Juju
    Pat Metheny - Bright Size Life
    Pat Metheny - Sirabhorn

    For some very extreme examples try some Chick Corea tunes like Desert Air or Tones for Joan's Bones. I wouldn;t except anyone to suddenly understand these just by looking at them, but it will at least open your ears to new possibilities of chords that sound great. I am not really sure how I got into them, so i can;t really recommend a good starting point or method. But I just jumped right in and tried to make sense of it and my ears adapted to it.

    Xaem's advice is great since it doesn't take the jazz approach that I took. It will probably make more sense if you don't have the background.

    Try some chord progressions like Cmaj Ebmaj Abmaj Dbmaj Cmaj. Try it with maj7 chords if you like, it makes little sense theoretically (G is common to all the chords, its the #11 on the Db) but it sounds good. A lot of them feel really random, but as long as they sound good who cares.
    John Petrucci - Life is like a pumpkin, it's hard on the outside but once you open it up it's very gooey

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    This shit is way too advanced... Pitch axis, cycle 5th, those are pointless theories to some degree. You have to start way smaller than that, and I have a feeling he's really not ready.


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    I dunno, I'm not suggesting he takes a college course. Hell, you can probably just look up circle of fifths on Wikipedia and get what you need to get started. I think knowing how it works takes a lot of work out of trial and error.

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    Check out Ted Greene's book Modern Chord Progressions. It has tons of cool voicings and progressions. It won't have all of the theory and such but it will get some new sounds in your ears and new chords under your fingers. That book is awesome.

    Search google videos and youtube for some ted greene videos if you get a chance.

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