Today on 3-Minute Theory: How to make your chord progressions flow like a pro!
What we’re really talking about here are chord changes. So, let’s have a look at the chord progression we made in the previous lesson, using the white-note hack in D Dorian, we’ve got: Dm → Am → Em → Gmaj. While these chords are all in the same key and work well together, and sound great too, the actual chord changes sound disjointed and abrupt. Kinda sounds like a cat jumping around on a piano. A very talented cat, granted, but a cat nonetheless.
Figure 1: Original chord progression in D Dorian: Dm → Am → Em → Gmaj
Instead, we want our chords to flow really smoothly into each other, we want them to melt into each other as the chord progression unfolds. The way we achieve this is by finding common notes between chords, and using those as a common thread to tie those chords together.
Let me show you what I mean. In our first chord (Dm) to our second chord (Am), we can see that both those chords have an A in them, that’s a common note! Now, you’re probably wondering why that chord change still sounds abrupt, even though they have a common note. The reason is that the common note is in a different place within those chords, and we need the common note to be in the same place within the chords as they change.
You can see that the common note, A, is at the top of the Dm and at the bottom of the Am. So it’s actually a quick and easy fix, we just grab the notes above that A in the Am chord, and move them down an octave. And voilà, we now have the common note (i.e. A) at the top in both of those chords. Listen to how smooth that chord change now sounds after this one small tweak. Amazing!
Figure 2: Re-arranged notes of Am, with the common note, A (highlighted), at the top of both Dm and Am
Now, let’s fix the rest of ‘em too. We can also see there’s a common note, E, in both Am and Em. But, it’s in the middle of the Am chord, and at the bottom of the Em chord. Quick fix again, just grab that top note (i.e. B) in Em and move it down an octave, and now the E is in the middle of both Am and Em. Then into the last chord, we can see that common note, G, in Em and Gmaj. But, it’s currently at the top of Em, and at the bottom of Gmaj, so quick fix yet again, we just grab the notes above that G (i.e. B & D) in the Gmaj chord and move them down an octave, and now we’ve got the common note, G, at the top of both Em and Gmaj.
Lastly, please don’t forget that chord progressions loop, which means your last chord needs to always work smoothly back around to your first chord. As you can see, we have the common note D in both Gmaj and Dm, but once again in different places (middle of Gmaj, and bottom of Dm). So here’s a really cool hack for the turnaround in a chord progression, which will also give you some momentum as it heads back around to the first chord. Cut our last chord in half, cos we’re gonna play two different versions of that chord. In the second half of that Gmaj, let’s move the bottom note (i.e. B) up an octave, which leaves that D at the bottom, and exactly where it is in the first chord, Dm. That last chord is still all Gmaj, just two different versions of it, as we re-arranged the notes over the second half. Now, all the chords in our progression have their common notes in the same place as they move into each other, and this is gonna sound incredible cos it’s gonna flow like a pro! Have a listen at 3:16 in the video/podcast.
Figure 3: Final chord progression with all common notes in the same place between chords
Next time I’ll teach you how to do this hack when there’s no common note between two chords, so stay tuned for that. Also, if you want to go deeper into writing chord progressions using the modes, please check out my Hack Music Theory for Songwriting & Producing PDF. Until next time, happy songwriting!
Victoria BC, Canada
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