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Tom Quayle: Creating Interesting Chord Progressions Part 2

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 40 **

Welcome back to my column for this new issue! I hope you enjoyed last issue’s content as we started out on our journey to create more interesting chord progressions. For this issue we’re going to be learning some new skills that will allow you to take an existing chord sequence and develop it in a really interesting way using a cool bit of theoretical knowledge and some inversions. So, let’s get going!

For a starting point I’m going to be using a chord sequence in E minor that should be familiar to some of you, especially if you are Hendrix fans. Here’s the sequence: -

Em – G – Am – Em

I’ve previously looked at adding extensions to chord progressions in earlier columns and for the sake of making this progression a little more interesting, without adding any new chords, I decided to play the following instead: -

Em9 – G – Am7 – Em9

Now, at this point, we have a perfectly good chord sequence that is easy to play over and sounds great, but we can really add to it using a simple technique that relies on Western music’s addiction to the cadence - the pull of a V chord to its associated I chord. Traditionally we think of using a V chord in its simplest context - in the key of Em the V chord would be B7 for example. But in this progression there is no B7, so at first glance it appears that there is no cadence in this progression. You’d be correct in that assumption, but we can add in a series of cadences by utilising a simple technique whereby we lead into each chord with its own V chord.

If we start to allow our minds to think outside of the key for a moment and look at each chord as an isolated event, we can figure out the V chord that would lead into each of our chords and place it into the progression. Let’s keep the Em9 at the beginning and figure out which V chord would lead into the G chord in bar 2. The V chord in the key of G is D7, so let’s lead into the G chord using this D7. For a more Jazz based approach let’s add a b9 to the chord to create some tension leading into the G. We’ll play the D7b9 on beat four of the first bar, leading into the G in bar two. This gives us the new progression: -

Em9 / / D7b9 | G / / / | Am7 / / / | Em9 / / / |

Let’s do the same thing now for the Am chord – in the key of A minor the V chord is E7, so we’ll play an E7b9 leading into the Am on beat four of bar two, giving us: -

Em9 / / D7b9 | G / / E7b9 | Am7 / / / | Em9 / / / |

Finally let’s lead into the Em9 in bar four by using its V chord – B7#5. I’ve chosen a B7#5 chord here as it voice leads very nicely into the Em9 chord and still adds tension to the progression. Now we get the final progression: -

Em9 / / D7b9 | G / / E7b9 | Am7 / / B7#5 | Em9 / / / |

The great thing about this sequence is that it doesn’t affect the soloist at all. They can continue to play in the key of Em using an Em pentatonic for the majority of their phrases and these new chords won’t cause them any issues. But if you want to play over these new V chords you can (although we don’t have time to go over how you would approach that in this particular column).

To round things off I want to show you a quick handy tip for making this progression even smoother by using an inversion of the D7b9 and the E7b9 chords. If we put the third of these chords in the bass we get D7b9 with F# in the bass and E7b9 with G# in the bass. These inversions can be thought of as F# diminished and G# diminished so if we add these into the progression it becomes even smoother and sounds fantastic. Here is the final progression with those diminished chords included – notice how smooth the bass movement is: -

Em9 / / F#dim | G / / G#dim | Am7 / / B7#5 | Em9 / / / |

Try applying this technique to other progressions – it can really transform your writing! Hope you found this useful guys and I’ll see you next time!

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