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Basic Chord Progressions Part 3

In the first two parts, we learned the basics of major and minor key chord progressions and some of the natural relationships that reinforce these key centers.

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Now we're going to look at how to modify chords to enhance and build on these relationships, giving you more options for your songwriting.

Enhancing major and minor key relationships

Let's take a relationship from the first part, which looked at building major key songs: I - V

So, we already know that the V chord is major, but what if we modified that basic V chord?

The most common way to enhance the tension of the V chord is to use a dominant 7th variation. This is about using your knowledge of how to modify and add to the basic major/minor chord forms to see how you can create more depth and variation to your songwriting.

Tonic (I) C major G major D major A major E major
G major
D major
A major
E major
B major

All those 7th chords are covered in the lesson linked to above. The V chord now becomes V7!

Don't limit yourself to just one variation though... the more chord forms you learn, the more options you'll have to try out in these relationships. Use your ear and judgement as to whether it sounds good.

Let's take another relationship we learned in part 1 and try spicing that one up...

Tonic (I) D major C major G major
E minor
D minor
A minor

Again, this is a common way to enhance the function of the ii chord in major key chord progressions - use a minor 7th chord.

And of course, the same thing applies to minor key relationships from part 2...

Tonic (i) E minor A minor
C major
F major

The major 7th (maj7) chord is commonly used to add more depth to that particular relationship with the minor tonic.

Obviously our songs will often use more than two chords, so like in the previous lessons, we combine these relationships, with your desired chord modifications intact, and create longer chord progressions.

The more time you spend learning and understanding different chord types/forms (which you can do on this site), the more options you'll have to build on these natural relationships.

Taking chord modification a step further

The more you experiment with different variations of these natural relationships, the more potential you will discover in your songwriting.

So, what if we turned that ii chord into a major II7 chord?

Tonic (I) D major C major G major A major
E minor
D minor
A minor
B minor

This works quite nicely and is actually another common variation of that relationship!

Trust your ears initially.

Another modification could be turning the major IV chord into a minor iv chord.

Tonic (I) E major A major D major G major
A major
A minor
D major
D minor
G major
G minor
C major
C minor

You're simply changing the chord type built on that same root note position - A, D, G, C etc. to see if it works better for what you're trying to express.

Our options have suddenly become far more diverse haven't they? Take a look and listen at the examples below, based on some chord modifications in the relationships from the last two parts...

E major - B7 - A minor - click to hear

G major - A7 - C major - click to hear

E minor - Cmaj7 - D7 - Am7 - click to hear

Ultimately, it's up to you to explore this concept in your own time, since there are far too many possible combinations and variations to list here. Just as you'll experiment with your own rhythm, tempo and song structure, it's important to trust your own ideas, so please don't take all this too dogmatically. It's just a guide and a foundation which you should build on.

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