You can easily make a lot of interesting and surprising, short chord progressions that still have a beautiful natural flow, so I don’t think there is a reason why most pop music is recycling the same chords over and over.
Instead of trying to make pop songs “better” with lots of sus4 and maj7 chords, which rarely works that well anyway then I thought it would be more interesting to see what is possible to do with simple chords like triads because that is actually pretty mind-blowing what you can get away with and it\s a lot of fun
When I started playing guitar then I was always trying to make new music, mainly because I got bored with just practicing my classical guitar homework, so once I learned to play chords I was always messing around with what chords would go together. In the beginning, this was completely random, and most of it sounded horrible, but learning how you have I IV, and V chords in a key, how relative minor fits in and gives you a few more options made it easier to put chords together. But then I ended up with another problem because the chord progressions all sounded similar and with the random chords I sometimes had some really nice progressions that worked even if I had no clue why.
It is some of those progressions I want to explore in this video, just using basic 3 or 4-chord progressions and just using triads, I’ll explain why along the way.
Let’s start with making a variation on the most cliché pop progression:
The tools you can use here is really just knowing the key a bit better, because there are a ton of options with that and later also adding some inversions.
You probably know the diatonic chords already, so for C major:
I’ll get to why I am using these spread triads later.
One thing you can do is to borrow some chords from C minor, because they often will work as well, so you can pick one of these chords:
___in the video here you compare the two scale__
For this first example, you can keep the same chords but just change them a bit like this:
And even just using Gm and Fm then that really changes the sound a lot. The Gm has a sort of Coldplay sound to me, they do that quite a lot:
The way to explore this is probably just to experiment, because you can get chords to work together without thinking about any types of rules.
For example you can do something like this where the first half is in major and then second part is in minor:
Coming from Jazz then what I always liked about exploring these triads progressions is that you can really dig into the basic strong harmony and how you can get to move, and also how moving notes around can create progressions that sound strong, but maybe don’t move like the very common progressions that we already know, so you can find new connections.
One thing that will makes that easier is to use inversions, so you can learn those. For a C major triad you have these inversions:
and for an Am chord you have:
You will see me use different ways of playing them as well, so C can also be C and Am can also be played as Am:
That is really just about what works better moving to the next chord.
The Power Inversions
So now if you have a chord progression like the previous one:
Then you can create a different type of bassline with a few inversions:
Where the step-wise movement is a nice way to connect the chords, you can also make one that moves up to Eb which is also borrowed from C minor:
So as you can hear there are a lot of stuff to explore and create beautiful progressions with.
Why I use Spread Triads
You probably noticed that I am building all of this around these spread or open-voiced triads which are really just triads where one note is moved an octave.
You can look at this (C spread) and see it as a C root position where the 2nd note is moved up an octave or as a 2nd inversion where the middle note is dropped down an octave (C 2nd inv -> C spread)
For exploring harmony like this then I use them because when you have a 3-note voicing and it is opened up then it is easier to move the voices one at the time, for example if you have
Am then you can move the 2 outer voices down and the middle voice up to get this type of sound Am G#dim Am which is a sort of dominant sound.
Another advantage is that it is often easy to play the chord and add a bit of melody on top or just use the top-notes a s melody notes.
Adding Melody to the chords
Let’s try another one, and in this one I am being even more free with chord choices and just taking a chord that works because it resolves nicely.
Here the D/F# is really just there to resolve to the Ddim chord which resolves really smoothly down to the C chord with E in the bass.
And once you have a progression like this then you can just try to make simple melodies that move on top, mostly just step-wise.
The Power of Extra Dominant Chords
Another way to get some more chords in there is to add dominants to the progression, so if I want to move from C to Am then I can add an E in between because the E is the dominant of the Am, and that actually can give you some really nice sounds if you add inversions into the mix:
And if play it slowly, C E/B you can see how the E stays on top and the rest moves which makes it so much better. Here I am adding the Gm as a sort weird dominant for C, and I really love that sound, I guess there is some folk sound to that? Like a lot of Scandinavian folk music will have melodies that use a minor chord on the V
instead of the more classical-sounding G major:
So as you can tell, then I am not really treating this as rules that you have to follow. I change stuff around all the time and just experiment. The things I have covered until now are about giving you options to explore, and then I am using triads because that makes it easier to experiment when you are creating your own progressions. It is probably more about experimenting and then if it sounds good you can try to figure out what it is.
In general, you need to understand Jazz harmony it will make everything easier when it comes to soloing over chords or making your own progressions. So check out this video on how to understand Jazz chords and also some of the tricks that Pat Martino and Barry Harris use, it will help you get a lot further and open your mind to a lot of new ideas.
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