Tag Archives: chord progression tutorial

How To Make 4 Chord Vamps That Sound Great

Whether you need chord progressions for your own song or an intro for a song you are learning, you want to be able to come up with chord progressions that sound great, natural, and are not too boring, and messing around with harmony to make beautiful chord progressions is one of the most fun and creative things to do in music.

That is what I am going to talk about in this lesson.

Creating 4-chord Vamps with Subdominant Chords

The chords are supposed to loop, so we can start by choosing two chords and then fill in more chords between them.

For most of this video, I will focus on progressions going from a I or tonic chord, to a IV or subdominant chord.

Mostly because there is more variation possible and they are a little overlooked. Then we can take the basic 2-chord vamps and look at different ways to add chords and get more movement.

So let’s first check out these 2-chord options that already sound great and then turn some of those into more complicated vamps. Already here you might get some good ideas, but you can go a lot further.

#1 Cmaj7 Fm6 – IVm

#2 Cmaj7 Bb7 – bVII backdoor dominant

#3 Cmaj7 Dbmaj7 – bII Neapolitan Subdominant

#4 Cmaj7 Abmaj7 – bVImaj7

#5 Cmaj7 F#dim/C #IVdim

#6 Cmaj7 Ab7 – #IV double diminished – German Augmented 6th chord



These already sound great, so the next thing is to add a little more movement to them to make them more like a story in different phases.

Making More Interesting Chord Progressions

The trick to creating these progressions is to get them to make sense by adding chords that move in a logical way. I am not using any exact science or strict rules, so you can use any type of system that sounds natural to you. Most of the time you will see me add chords based on common progressions like a standard I VI II V turnaround, step-wise movement or moving in 4ths.

Diatonic Chords

When I am making the chord progressions I keep in mind this is in the key of C major, so I am in general pulling from C major and C minor, which gives me these diatonic chords to use:

Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7 Am7 Bø

Cm7 Dø Ebmaj7 Fm7 Gm7 Abmaj7 Bb7

CmMaj7 Dø Ebmaj7(#5) Fm7 G7 Abmaj7 Bdim

CmMaj7 Dm7 Ebmaj7(#5) F7 G7 Aø Bø

And besides that you can add secondary dominants everywhere you want, so if you have a Dm7 you can add an A7(b9) to lead to it, but also an Eb7 before an Abmaj7 (the bVI in minor).

You can check out more about secondary in the video I am linking in the description.

Turnaround with some step-wise surprises

#1 Cmaj7 Fm6 → Cmaj7 Am7 G7sus4 Fm6

Going to Am7 is coming out of a standard turnaround, and from there it is step-wise movement. You might want to notice that G7sus4 is F/G Which makes it very close to F Fm, so IV to IVm in C but with a different bass note. That is really just helping it make sense on another level.

Backdoor dominant and a secondary dominant

#2 Cmaj7 Bb7 →Cmaj7 C7/E Fm7 Bb7

With a dominant chord, you can often add a II chord in front of it to make it a II V. In this case with the Fm7, that also gives you the option of having a secondary dominant which is C7/E.

Another nice way to tie everything together is to have a pedal-point in the harmony, so a note that stays the same through all the chords. In this example, I have a G in the melody of all the chords to get that effect.

bVImaj7 is underrated

#3a Cmaj7 Abmaj7 → Cmaj7 Bb7 Am7 Abmaj7

In this example, I am using step-wise motion to go from Cmaj7 to Abmaj7. You can do this in a few ways, but this one was the nicest with the Bb7.

Instead of using stepwise motion, you can also turn it into a row of secondary dominants like this:

#3b Cmaj7 Abmaj7 → Cmaj7 Bb7 Eb7 Abmaj7

Which is a pretty different sound but certainly works as a progression that moves forward.

Composing With Chord Progressions

Coming up with chord progressions is about composing and improvising with chords so the best way to do this is to just mess around a lot and try to find new ways. There are many ways to get inspiration, but probably one of the strongest is to know and analyze a lot of songs. The advantage here is that if you learn songs you not only know the progression but also really have an idea about how it sounds, and you can always mess around with it.

Another great exercise is to harmonize or re-harmonize melodies to explore what is possible with the chords and how you can use different chords to go from A to B.


#IVdim: Neutral and spicy

The #IV is an uncomfortable chord for a lot of people, but it is a really beautiful sound. Here are two examples that work really well and also both use a C pedal point. The second one is a bit out and dark, but also beautiful.

#4a Cmaj7 F#dim/C → Cmaj7 C7 F/C F#dim/C

This is really just a basic C C7 F F#dim “gospel or country” progression with a C in the bass, but it certainly works. A great example of what you learn from checking out songs like St Thomas or Rhythm Changes.

The next one is a bit weird,

#4b Cmaj7 F#dim/C → Cmaj7 Eb7/C Abmaj7/C F#dim/C

Folk inspired Minor Chords (and a double diminished inversion)

The IVm and Vm chords together have a real folk sound which can be really beautiful and it works great here in combination with the Ab7 which has the heaviest name: (Hans Groiner).

You will also see the double diminished #IV chord referred to as the German Augmented Sixth chord.

#5 Cmaj7 Ab7 → Cmaj7 Fm7 Gm7 Ab7

To me calling it a double dim #IV tells me how it sounds, that’s why I use that. I don’t really have any association with that with German augmented chord, but that is most likely just me.

Another reason for using Subdominant chords

The progressions in this video are pretty natural sounding and will loop very well. If you plan to make songs with the same chords looping for a longer period of time, then it makes sense to not be too specific about the key. Being vague becomes a way to make it not too predictable. This is actually something you can see in a lot of pop music where you even have long discussions and articles about the key of pieces.

Using the subdominant chords makes these progressions less “predictable” and clear than a standard V I. Similar to the effect you have in Radiohead’s Creep, which is almost example 1. Another way to keep it a little more vague is to play fewer notes, so sticking to triads can be useful too.

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Great Chord Sequences And How To Use Them In A Solo

There is a great way that you can create new lines over a chord progression which is a simple way of changing the chords and outline other chord sequences. This way you get more movement in the lines and another logic to the melody. And checking out a few of those options on basic progressions like a II V I or a static chord can add a lot of variation to your solos.

In this lesson, I am going to show you a few examples of this. Some are staying within the key and others add a few outside sounds, and later I will also show you how this works if you open up the rhythm a bit.

The Basic Chord Progression and Concept

To show you how this works, first we need to set up a key and a II V I to work with.

We have a basic II V I in G major: Am7 D7 Gmaj7 and often if I play these chords then I can also get away with these chords: Am7 Bm7 Cmaj7 D7 (see example 2 below)

Using this progression in a solo

If I do that in a solo in a really basic way then that sounds like this:

You can hear that the comping is just playing the II V I, but it still works and a freer solo line that still sounds like this: could be something like this:

As you can see I am still using the super-imposed chords (short rundown of the arps)

A Modal or Static Variation

You can hear that I am using the direction of the “alternative chord progression” to give the line a specific direction that works great, almost as a counter-point to the comping underneath.

And of course, the same concept used on a static Am7 chord works as well:

More Diatonic Reharmonizations

The previous example was moving up the scale, and there is a very easy way to use the same principle and move down through diatonic chords like this:

The Ab7 is there because it fits in the descending motion, but a D7 would work as well, of course.

Strong Triad lines

A good way to clearly use the descending movement on top of the standard harmony is to use basic triads like this:

Adding Chromatic Passing Chords

There are two obvious ways you can add a chromatic passing chord in this context, namely using a side-slip up or down.

The two examples below shows how that might sound:

And if you translate these into solo lines:

Example 10 using a Bbm7:

And example 11 using Abm7:

More Creative Rhythms and Polyrhythms

Until now the chord progressions have been used as if the chords are placed on the heavy beats of the bar. This is of course what you usually find with chord changes, but when you solo you can be a lot more open and have more fluid barlines.

These 3 examples have a more open approach to the rhythm and also make use of polyrhythms.

A loose Bbm side-slip

Example 12 is a more loose way to quickly insert a Bbm7 line (actually just a Db major triad) and here it almost sounds like an added Eb7 in the context.

The triad is introduced by moving up the preceding C major triad a half step.

Dotted Quarter note arpeggios

The example below uses the Am7 Bm7 Cmaj7 D7alt chord progression, but the melody uses a 3 8th note long melody for each of the chords.

Another great 3 8th-note grouping

Again triads are a fantastic resource to create melodies. This example is using the basic triads of the chords and spelling out the Cmaj7 Bm7 Am7 Ab7 chord progression. The last two beats are covered with a quartal arpeggio that is essentially an Ab7(13).

Level up your Jazz Lines with Bop Embellishments

Another great way to add more variation to your jazz vocabulary is to use more interesting phrasing:

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