When playing in a major key, we have several options for resolving back
to the tonic or "home" chord (e.g. Cmaj in the key of C major). A backdoor progression,
sometimes referred to as a back
door cadence or, when used more specifically, backdoor
V is one of these options.
The "backdoor" refers to a particular chord position in relation to the
tonic or I
chord. The easiest way to think of the backdoor chord is to visualise a
major chord one whole
step below the tonic chord root.
So if we were playing a tonic chord shape with the bass root
the low E string, we could visualise the backdoor
chord root two frets
below as follows (note: this relationship is the same no matter what
This means, if our progression was in the key of C major, Cmaj
would be our tonic chord and Bbmaj
would be the "backdoor chord".
In the key of E major, Emaj
would be our tonic chord and Dmaj
This backdoor chord can be seen in relation to the major chord scale as
the bVII(flat 7th degree) chord. It's "flat" because we've taken
the natural 7th degree (vii)
of the major scale and flattened it by a
Here's how the backdoor bVII
would slot into the major chord scale in five common keys...
So effectively we've added an extra degree, and therefore chord, to the
major scale in the
flat 7th position (hence the numeral bVII).
If we were to visualise these chord degrees (the chord root notes) on
the low E and A bass strings of the guitar, here's how it
in the key of C major (so C
is our tonic
Why just these two strings? Because we can use them as quick bass
reference points for the most common chord shapes (e.g. E and A form
Using bVII in a backdoor progression
The most common function of this bVII
chord is as a substitute for the V
chord, which is commonly used before resolving to the tonic I
So instead of Dm / Gmaj / Cmaj (ii
V I), we might use the backdoor
approach of Dm / Bbmaj / Cmaj (ii
Listen to the standard ii
V I above followed by its backdoor
equivalent - click to hear.
To enhance this backdoor cadence, musicians often play a minor iv
(instead of the majorIV)
before moving to the bVII
chord and finally returning home to I.
major, that would be...
There are, of course, also instances where the "backdoor chord" is not
as the pre-tonic chord (the chord before resolving to the tonic). As
we're just focusing on the backdoor cadence in this
lesson, we'll cover different uses of bVII
Chord types used in back door progressions
Now we know the cadencial function of the bVII
chord, we can now look at some of the different chord types that work
well in this position.
If you're already familiar with the V
chord, any of its enhancements will also work well in the bVII
Dominant 7th, 9th and 13th chord
The most common extension of the bVII triad is a dominant 7th chord,
giving us bVII7.