Having an understanding of chord progressions is equivalent to have a better handle on how music is put together. Knowledge of what chord progressions are and how a composer utilizes them unlocks much of the mystery behind what makes a song sound the way it does; it provides insight as to how a song is distinctly different from another harmonically as well as how they may be similar.
Whether you are playing the music of Beethoven, Bach, Billy Joel, or Elton John, the essential laws of music are being respected. It’s what the composer decides to do with these laws that makes a musical masterpiece stand out as being unique in its own way.
So, what is a chord progression? In simple terms, it’s a series of two or more chords played in succession. When one chord progresses to another chord, you have a chord progression. Now, as you explore more and more of these progressions, you discover that there are those that occur more often in music than others. They become so easily recognizable. Just as a pattern of any kind (such as that used in the design of a quilt) has a certain direction, a chord progression does as well.
When one becomes competent at recognizing these progressions just by hearing them, that is a definite sign that his or her “musical ears” have developed. When it comes to playing music by ear, this recognition of chord progressions is absolutely essential. For the individual who is intentionally focused on this kind of listening development, this recognition is also inevitable. One cannot help but identify these “chord patterns,” as they occur in music time and time again.
As mentioned earlier, certain chord progressions occur more often than others. Here are just a few of these:
I – V – I
I – IV – I
II – V – I
I – VI – II – V
Harmonic analysis is generally expressed using Roman numerals as seen above. The first example (I – V – I) represents a chord progression that starts on the tonic chord of a key to the dominant chord back to the tonic. In the key of C Major, this would be:
C Major – G Major – C Major
The “I” chord is played to establish the key (C Major). Progressing to the “V” chord creates both musical movement and a certain amount of “tension” in the music. Progressing back to the “I” chord makes for a strong resolution, since we have arrived back to our “home” chord in the key that we are in.
There is a whole lot more light to be shed on this topic of chord progressions. If you would be interested in a popular video session that was created with this in mind, simply visit here. When you start to learn that you actually have what it takes to actually predict what chord is coming next in a song (even if you never heard the song before or seen the sheet music), then you know that you’re well on your way toward musical mastery!