Music theory holds the key to us understanding the notes we hear and play everyday, allowing us to unlock some areas of our song writing and compositional skills that we might not have previously tapped into.
One of those areas is the ease in which we can put together great sounding chord progressions.
Let’s start by looking at the A Major Scale as a reference point and the degrees of the scale. This will be useful for us creating chord progressions.
Please note: in these examples I have excluded a key signature and added chord repeats for ease of learning and as an extra visual aid. Watch out for the next lesson exploring Key Signatures!
We can play any major scale as a series of chords as follows:
In relation to our scale choice, the chords we now have available are:
Now, we can start putting together chord progressions in the key of A Major. Let’s start with a blues progression.
I, IV, V
Blues, typically moving in a 12-bar cycle, is created with the intervals I, IV and V (1, 4, 5). I, IV, V is an interval chord progression you will hear a lot in your learning journey:
III, V, I, VI
We can also use these intervals/chord types to now create our own progressions which will work as they all sit in the same key. Let’s look at a III, V, I, VI progression which in this key will give us C# Minor, E Major, A Major, F# Minor:
II, V, I
If you dabble in the world of jazz, you might also be familiar with the II, V, I progression, which as you can probably guess, we can also create from this giving us B Minor, E Major, A Major:
While this concept is explained here in A Major, this is transposable to any key you want. All you need to do is start with your Major scale and create your progressions by applying the intervals of the scale to the chord types that sit with each interval as outlined at the start of this lesson.
Use this knowledge to build your own progressions. Even if you stick with A Major at first, you can try out a range of combinations of chords to see what interesting movements you can create. If you know of any songs in the key of A Major, or any other major key for that matter, once you know what key the song is it, you can analyse the chords to see how others use this theory to aid their composition.
The upcoming Rockschool Music Theory exam entry deadline is fast approaching. Get your entries in by 17th June!
About the Author:
This article has been written for Rockschool on behalf of MGR Music by Leigh Fuge, a professional guitarist, tutor and journalist from Wales in the UK. He has been working in the music industry for over 10 years as a touring and studio musician with various artists, guitar tutor and writer for many high profile guitar publications. Read more of Leigh's pieces relating to Rockschool here...