Join Julian Velard for an in-depth discussion in this video Basic minor scale chord progressions, part of Music Theory for Songwriters: Harmony.
- One of the important things that chord progressions do is establish the tonality, or tonic, of a scale. Because there are three variations of the minor scale, natural, harmonic, and melodic, the chords that stem from a minor tonality offer more harmonic variety than the major scale. Here are some of the chord progressions we hear in the minor keys. I'll cite examples of where these progressions can be found and point out which variation of the minor scale they utilize. One of the simplest ways to create the minor tonality, just like the major tonality, is through the I-IV-V progression.
Sticking with A minor, the relative minor to C major, a I-IV-V progression built off the natural minor is as follows. We've got a i... (piano chords) which is A minor to a iv... which is D minor to a v... which is E minor. We hear this progression often as a minor version of the blues, which is typically major. Here's a minor blues in A minor, with a iv and a v chord. (mellow piano blues) We're on the i...
we're gonna move to the iv here... back to the i... and here's the v... iv... i... v. In the minor blues context, you can also hear the V chord as being major, which belongs to the harmonic minor scale. Here's an A minor blues again with a i, a iv, but a V this time.
(mellow piano blues) i... iv... back to the i... and here's the V... iv... i... V. Let's hear that on the guitar. (mellow guitar blues) The use of the V versus the v is very distinct.
Traditionally in classical music, the v to the i was considered a weak cadence. Hence, the development of the melodic minor scale with the raise 7th creating the presence of the leading tone. Yet we find the v chord often in blues and soul. A nice example of this is in "Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers. This is essentially a i-v-iv with a little bit of variation in the initial chord motion of i, v, and VII in the verse.
Have a listen. (piano chords) Here's the i-v-VII-i. And that repeats. Then, we're going to move a v chord... and down to a iv chord... and here's that verse progression again of a i... to v... VII.
We hear variants of the minor blues frequently in songs. A nice example is the main progression of Amy WInehouse's "You Know I'm No Good." Here it is in A minor. (piano chords) Here's one way to play that on the guitar. (mellow guitar blues) We sometimes hear the v chord in the major context, which is a very distinct sound.
One notable example is The Kingsman's "Louie Louie," which is I-IV-v-IV. This gives the typically major progression a minor, or exotic, feel. Listen to it in A major. (piano chords) Let's hear that on the guitar. (lively guitar blues) There are also instances of tunes in a major key that utilize both the v and the V.
The verse of James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" is a nice example. The second chord of the song is a v, which then becomes a V the next time we hear it. I'll play it in C for you. (piano chords) So here's a C which is a I chord... and then we move to a v on G... then we go to a IV... and then back to a I. But then we're gonna hear a I followed by a V...
The i-VII-VI-V is a common minor scale core progression traditionally called the Andalusian cadence. It dates from the Renaissance and is a hallmark of flamenco music. I'll play it and then I'll talk it through. Here it is in A minor. (flamenco piano music) Let's hear that on the guitar.
(flamenco guitar music) In this progression, we hear the VII chord from the natural minor, followed by the V chord, which uses the G# from the harmonic minor scale in A. This gives us the flavor of the natural minor sound while having the stronger pull of a V-I cadence.
Two famous examples are the verses of "Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," first recorded by Nina Simone, and then popularized by The Animals, and Del Shannon's "Runaway." We frequently hear variations of this chord progression. Two famous examples are the i-VII-VI from Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" and Adele's "Rolling in the Deep." (piano chords) And the i-VII-VI-VII-V sus-V from The Mamas & the Papas' "California Dreamin'".
(piano chords) The diminished ii-V-i is a minor variant of the II-V-I chord progression in a major key. Except the diminished ii and the V sets up the i chord of a minor scale instead of the I chord of a major scale. Here it is in A minor. (piano chords) We hear it just as frequently as major scale II-V-I and standards from the "American Songbook." Just take any song from that era that's in a minor key and you'll spot them right away.
Some famous examples of songs with ii-v-i are Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" and Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine." (piano chords) As a result of the melodic and harmonic minor scale variations, the number of chords that are rooted in minor tonality is greater than with the major scale. I recommend you explore mixing and matching all the chords that belong to the three versions of the minor scale. See what it sounds like to use both a v and V chord in the same progression.
The results can be very inspiring and leave you to writing songs in a whole new way.
In this installment, musician Julian Velard digs into more intermediate-level music theory topics. Starting with minor scales, he shows examples of classic songs in minor keys, and then explores the modes of the diatonic scale (e.g., the mixolydian mode). Next, Julian dives into chords with 4 or more notes, covering 7th chords, chord extensions (e.g., 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths), suspended chords, diminished chords, augmented chords, and inversions. Finally, he covers key centers, modulations, pedal points, alternate bass notes, and polychords. At the end of each chapter, Julian explains the techniques shown within the context of his own original songs.
- Working in minor scales
- Using Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, and Mixolydian modes to write songs
- Extending chords
- Using 7th chords in a song
- Transposing a song
- Building different harmonies from a single melody