How to Write a Song | Chord Functions Pt.2 | Songwriting For Beginners #2

If you’re reading this, then you’re either a dedicated songwriter or a dedicated JimJam Guitar fan. Either way, thank you. This site wouldn’t be nearly as good without your support 🙂

In our last lesson, we covered chord function basics, what they are, how they’re grouped, and how they tie into popular chord progressions. We ended on the following statement:

When two chord functions interact or are played one after the other, they either create or resolve tension.

This raised a note of question; what effects are produced between chords, and how do they tie into making progressions sound – and feel – the way they do?

This lesson will answer the above question. Get your brain train in gear; it’s time to do some learning.

If the above video seems familiar, it’s because this post is the 2nd part of the previous lesson, where this video was also featured. 

I didn’t want to fry your brains… or mine… so I spread out the above video lesson in two parts.

This lesson also ties in with the 1st part of this 3 part lesson series, which was how to build chords of the major scale, the most common chords in music, and the most useful chords to know about at the beginning.

On with the theory!

Lesson Recap

In the previous lesson we looked at:

  • Chord functions

We’ll be finishing this lesson with the following:

  • Effects produced between these functions
  • Chord progression examples

We’ll be using the key of A major as our reference major key;

Screen Shot 2019-02-19 at 21.03.01.png

Effects Between Chords

There are 4 effects that occur between chords:

  1. Progression – builds tension – Losing your keys
  2. Resolution – resolves tension – Finding your keys
  3. Prolongation – prolongs tension (similar to building tension) – Searching for your keys
  4. Retrogression – retreats from tension (similar to resolving tension) – Leaving the situation unresolved

Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 17.07.10.png

Progression happens when a more stable chord moves to a more unstable chord. This is from a tonic to a subdominant, or a subdominant to a dominant. 

Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 16.41.38.png

Resolution happens when an unstable chord moves to a stable chord. This is from a subdominant – or dominant – to a tonic.

Prolongation happens when a chord function stays the same. For example:

  • Tonic – Tonic
  • Subdominant – Subdominant
  • Dominant – Dominant

Retrogression happens when an unstable chord moves to a less unstable chord. This is only from a dominant to a subdominant. 

Now we’ve covered the effects that happen between chords, lets put this information to practical use by looking at how they fit into some of the most popular chord progressions to date.

Popular Chord Progressions

1.
I – IV – V

A – D – E7

Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 18.02.13.png  Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 18.02.20.png  Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 18.02.25.png

This progression starts with a tonic (A Major), which progresses to a subdominant (D Major), and progresses again to a dominant (E7).
On the repeat – E7 to A Major – it resolves, from a dominant (E7) to a tonic (A Major).

This progression is popular in tunes like:

  • Johnny B Goode
  • Ring of Fire
  • Three Little Birds


2.
II – V – I

Bm – E7 – A

Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 18.12.27.png  Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 18.02.25.png    Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 18.02.13.png

This progression starts with a subdominant (Bm), which progresses to a dominant (E7). It then finishes by resolving to a tonic (A Major).
On the repeat, it progresses from the tonic (A Major) to a subdominant (Bm).

This progression is a staple in Jazz tunes, and you will find it literally everywhere in a Jazz Standard tunes book. Such tunes include:

  • Lady is a Tramp
  • How High the Moon
  • Body and Soul

3.
I – VI – II – V

A – F#m – Bm – E7

Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 18.02.13.png  Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 18.18.00.png  Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 18.12.27.png  Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 18.02.25.png

This progression starts with a tonic (A Major), and then prolongs the tension – or lack thereof – by moving to another tonic (F# minor). It then progresses to a subdominant (B minor), and finally progresses further to the dominant (E7).
On the repeat the dominant (E7) resolves to a tonic (A Major).

This tune is another staple in Jazz, and can be found in the tunes listed in progression 2, as well as the following:

  • Moonlight in Vermont
  • Honeysuckle Rose
  • On Green Dolphin Street

Conclusion

So there we have it! We’ve looked at the effects produced between chords, and popular chord progression examples. However, we haven’t looked at one key thing; a determining factor that underlies all chord progressions, as important as the chosen chords themselves…

The rhythm. Specifically, the harmonic rhythm.

This is what we’ll cover in our last lesson together. Fellow traveller, we’ve ventured far and wide, and we’ll come full circle, back home, to put our feet up and complete our 3 part lesson series.

See you then. 🙂

Now I challenge you to analyse chord progressions you find in major keys, as we have done in this lesson, and see if you can hear, and feel, the effects that take place.
If you accept this challenge, post your findings and comments to the Facebook page, a place where you can discuss songwriting for guitar in all its glory. Prepare to geek out in all things guitar and songwriting.

 

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