March 12, 2010
Today’s progression makes use of what is often referred to in music theory as a “backdoor cadence”. It’s about resolving your progression back to the major tonic, but via a VII subtonic, which replaces the standard vii diminished leading chord in the diatonic scale.
The VII chord is positioned a whole step (equivalent of two frets) down from the tonic chord. As you’ll hear in the example below, I enhance this “backdoor” tension-resolution by using a dominant 9th chord with a flat 5th, although even just a regular dominant 7th will give it the depth it needs. The result is a rather psychedelic and distant ambiguity.
Open D major
Open E minor 7 (Em7)
D major with F# bass note (D/F#)
G minor barre chord (Gm)
C dominant 9 flat 5 (C9b5)
A common way to lead in to this backdoor VII chord is through a minor iv chord. For a less tragic sound though, stick to the standard major IV chord. Or, to blues it up a little, use an IV7 chord.
The flat 5th VII7 chord is used a lot in jazz and blues, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be strived for in other genres and styles. A good alternative to your standard V – I or vii – I resolution.
Try out different combinations – you don’t necessarily have to resolve from the VII chord. For example – D Gm C9 Em7 D – there, the back door is left open for the ii chord (Em7 in this example)!
February 10, 2010
When it’s just you playing with your guitar, without the convenient aid of a bassist, you should experiment with moving the chord bass notes around yourself.
By keeping a chord shape static as you apply a progressive bass pattern around it, using the lowest 2 strings of your guitar, you can create a defined movement with minimal finger changes…
B major movable chord
B major with E bass note (B/E)
A flat minor 7 shell chord (Abm7)
G major added 6 open chord (Gadd6)
So the B major chord becomes what we call a “slash chord” with an E bass note. As the note E is part of the B major key, it’s compatible. It was then just a case of finding a suitable next movement for that E string bass note, again, ensuring the new note is compatible with the static B major triad.
The vibrant open G chord provided a slightly unpredictable collapse down from the unstable Abm chord. Personally, I love the sound of moving down a semitone, from minor to major. If that major landing chord happens to resolve naturally back to the tonic (or even a new tonic), then it gives it a kind of logical after-thought. In this case, I felt the G major chord could resolve nicely back to the B major tonic, even though it lies outside of the traditional diatonic framework.
So do try working those bass lines around static chord shapes and see if you can weave them into your progressions, as opposed to crowbarring! Your mind should be a pool of ideas, free of closed intentions. Let your fine balance of intuition and exploration craft the chord progression.
November 3, 2009
I can’t believe it’s been over a month since my last update. Apologies!
Anyway, here we have a progression that makes use of the diminished chord a semitone up from the IV chord (in this case, the IV chord is Amaj7). Take a look and listen first and hear how the diminished 7th chord interacts with the chords either side of it…
E major open chord
A major 7 (Amaj7) open chord
B flat diminished 7 (Bbdim7) open chord
E major open chord
B 9 suspended 4 (B9sus4) movable chord
This is actually quite a typical movement used in a lot of pop songwriting. The use of the diminished chord destabalises the progression following the Amaj7 IV chord, which acts as a safe “resting point” away from the E major tonic chord.
This instability is resolved simply by moving back to the tonic.
I just find it more interesting to sometimes use these slightly more tense chords in progressions that would otherwise feel “safe” and “middle of the road”. Of course, sometimes a straightahead E major / Amaj7 (I / IV) yo-yo is effective enough (especially if you want to keep the backing chords simple for some lead improv).
Diminished chords have a fascinating role in music, and I’ll most likely be using them in different contexts in future posts.
Experiment with different combinations…
e.g. Amaj7 | B9sus4/B7 | E major | Bbdim7
September 12, 2009
I’ve been playing around with descending chord shapes over the past few days. Many guitarists know the E and A form barre chords, but few experiment with chord shapes that descend from the root/bass fret. You can get some very nice voicings from these shapes, as demonstrated below…
A major 7 (Amaj7) movable chord shape
A 7 suspended 4 (A7sus4) (open high e)
A major 7 (Amaj7) movable chord shape
E minor 9 (Em9) (open low E)
By alternating the open A bass with an open E bass, this provides us with a convenient way to variate the sound of these shapes. Of course, if you’re playing with a bassist, they will most often define the bass note for you, but on your own it’s something to think about more consciously.
When the open A or E strings are compatible, give them a pick and see what effect they have on those movable shapes. Just by adding a new bass note, you can change the whole feel of the chord.
September 2, 2009
Time for an alternate tuning – E A D G A d (online tuner here)
Probably my favourite tuning for open chord playing, as you can get some really interesting voicings from those familiar chord shapes you might use in standard tuning.
By letting those newly tuned top two strings ring out, we can add some very nice tones to the progression. Take a listen…
G major added 9 (Gadd9) open chord
A minor 7 added 11 (Am7add11) open chord
F major added 6 (Fadd6) open chord
D dominant 7 (D7) open chord
The ending chord you hear in the audio clip is simply the first chord in the sequence played with a full barre – a voicing you just wouldn’t be able to acheive in standard tuning. A similar thing with that second chord, with a new tone – the 11th – being added to a standard minor 7th barre form.
For some reason, I find it much easier to come up with interesting progressions in this tuning than standard, by experimenting with different open string chords. It’s certainly not a replacement for standard tuning, but it’s a refreshing change.
Have a go.
August 31, 2009
Today, as with a lot of progressions I’ve shown you, I’m using a mixture of movable chord shapes (no open strings) and open “floated” chord shapes (with open strings). The idea is to use the tones that are available simply from the tuning of the guitar.
For example, in the first chord, I chose to leave the D string open, because it added a bassy 9th tone to the chord which gave it more depth. All I did was un-barre my index finger and remove my 4th finger from what would have been a standard barre chord shape…
C major 9 (Cmaj9) open chord
C dominant 7 (C7) (inv) movable chord shape
F major 7 (Fmaj7) movable chord shape
F minor major 7 (FmM7) open chord
The second chord, an inversion of the tonic C major chord, uses a bass note one semitone down from the following Fmaj7 chord, so it provides that leading movement to carry the progression up to that stable IV chord.
That safe IV chord is then shattered into minor misery using a more tragic minor/major 7th chord (a minor chord with an added major 7th – the major 7th provided conveniently by the open high E string). This is a common transformation of the IV chord, as the resolution back to the tonic I chord becomes all the more satisfying.
So I suppose a good point to come out of today’s progression is to experiment with turning major into minor and vice-versa. You can extract completely different emotions from your music by doing so.
Don’t let the listener get too comfortable!
August 30, 2009
Today’s progression is a little unconventional, if only for one jarring chord movement. It reminds me of something Blur might have done, as Grahame Coxon often made use of those slightly misplaced barre chord riffs…
A major open chord
F sharp minor (F#m) movable chord shape
D major movable chord shape
A flat major (Ab) movable chord shape
A major open chord
F sharp minor (F#m) movable chord shape
C major movable chord shape
E major movable chord shape
The role of that oddly positioned A flat major chord interrupts that comfortable and predictable sequence formed by the first 3 chords. As the A flat major chord is a half step down from the tonic A major chord, it acts as a kind of “leading chord”. You’ll find this technique being used a lot in blues and jazz. Making that chord a dominant 7th can enhance its role as a more interesting alternative to a diminished leading chord.
You can obviously replace the C and D major barre chords with their open chord equivalents for a fuller sound, but I imagined this being played quite dirtily, accompanied by a pounding rhythm, so using barre chords tightens up the attack nicely.
August 26, 2009
Today’s progression highlights the role of the V chord resolving to the I major tonic chord (Gsus13 to Cmaj7 in this case). Hearing this resolution just feels “right”, and if you stack up that V chord, which I’ve done here to a suspended 13th degree, you can really enhance that V tension. Take a listen:
There’s also the inclusion of an A minor vi chord (the relative minor of C major) which helps collapse the progression nicely into that V chord. A little conventional and a little predictable, but a sequence that you can add in to your songs when you need it.
The chords are simple…
G suspended 13 (Gsus13) open chord
C major 7 (Cmaj7) open chord
A minor (Am) open chord
August 23, 2009
Today’s progression makes use of the tension and resolution between A7 and D minor. This relationship is known as a V – i relationship – the minor i chord being the resolved tonic of the progression. The V chord, or dominant chord, which in this case is A7 (A dominant 7) , provides that tension before the “return home” to its minor tonic.
This relationship is taken straight out of harmonic minor theory, and you can learn more about this relationship in this lesson. It’s worth learning how this relationship works all across the fretboard, in any key, as it’s an effective way to “prepare” your chord progression for a minor resolution.
G minor added 6 (Gmadd6) open chord
B flat major added 6 (Bbadd6) open chord
A dominant 7 (A7) open chord
D minor 9 (Dm9) movable shape (with open high E)
By leaving the high E string open on that standard A shape minor form, we get a nice depth to the resolution and really “brings it home”. Of course, there’s loads of other things you can do with these chords.
I found using a finger picked, samba inspired rhythm really complements this progression. Try and pick out a harmony from your progressions like in the clip below…
…and that’s only a very simple modification. Happy experimenting!
August 21, 2009
A simple, 3 chord, ii – V progression. I was strumming this late last night and it sent shivers up my spine! The open 9th (B string) on the Am chord really gives it that cold, distant quality, which plays off the warmer tension of the D7 chord.
As there’s no real resolution to this sequence, it feels gracefully lost, far from home. Or perhaps it’s just a bunch of chords stuck together… I don’t know.
A minor 9 (Am9) open chord
D9 open chord
D9 suspended 4 (D9sus4) open chord
Ideas for this chord progression:
- Try swapping the D9 and D9sus4 chords around.
- Sounds really nice finger picked.
- If you want to resolve it, try G major or Gmaj7
Any other ideas? Let us know – leave a comment below.