NEW HOMEPAGE LANDING PAGE Forums Practice Questions Mel June Office Hours follow up – podcast on chord changes

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    • #48138
      Mel Newton

      hi everyone! Thanks so much for joining this week for office hours. As promised, I found the podcast that describes chord changes and how songs can all be categorized according to similar chord change patterns. It wasn’t a 99% invisible podcast….it was a Twenty Thousand Hertz episode!!!! Many thanks to Fiddlehed Carolyn for helping me track it down.
      Description of the episode: There are a few specific chord progressions that show up again and again in popular music. Across hundreds of hit songs, the same basic musical formulas have been used by artists ranging from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Lady Gaga, and from Bob Marley to Blink-182. So where did these musical tropes even come from?

      Once you start listening for these chord changes in the music around you, you will start to recognize the changes….the first step to playing them!

      Sometimes when I’m trying to understand a concept in music that my brain just can’t quite get I like to compare it to something else. For those of you that write fiction or know the mechanics of writing fiction, I like to think of chord progression formulas like the beats of a story. They are predictable and follow a couple of patterns. There’s an opening scene that grabs your attention, a life changing problem that forces the character into something new, and “fun and games” section where you and the character get to know their new world, a crisis that seem impossible, the dark night of the soul, the plan to solve the unsolvable problem, the false victory, and the thrilling conclusion.

      You’ve probably read this story a thousand times, just like you’ve heard a thousand different songs with the same chord progression. Just because they follow the same pattern doesn’t mean they are the same story. It’s what you do within this pattern that gives the story (or the song) life and character.

      I hope this helps and inspires you!

    • #57032
      Michael G

      I like your description of how you listen to the chord changes in music as stories, Mel. It’s an apt analogy. You might be interested (or might not… 😉 in a software program called Mapping Tonal Harmony by mDecks. It’s available as an app for iOS devices as well as a full desktop program. Here’s a link to the App Store version for iOS:

      A bit on the pricey side as apps go, but it’s an incredibly powerful piece of software. I was taking jazz guitar lessons for a few years, and learning all these jazz standards. As you said, there are recurring patterns that show up again and again. The ii-V7-I pattern is often referred to as the most important musical progression in jazz. Think of the tune “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” The last line of the verse ends with a ii-V7-I. And it shows up all over the place, in song after song, in different ways. If you can learn how to solo over the ii-V7-I, you can play passable jazz improv.

      MTH allows you to visualize these musical patterns – it turns chord progressions into a visual map, showing how the chords move away from the calm shores of the song’s tonal center, linger and meander around islands of harmonic tension – even dissonance – and then return home. I gained a lot of insight into how music works by playing around with this software and watching the many instructional videos posted by mDecks. (Many of these are available in front of their paywall on YouTube.) The other cool thing about MTH is that it serves as a great practice tool – you can enter chord progressions, pick a music style, and it will play a backing track for you to solo over or play along with like (Band In A Box if you’re familiar with that). There are lots of other options for this type of automated backing track creation, but I like the visualizations that MTH displays along with the music.

      There’s also an incredibly rich set of mathematical relationships that appear when you start looking at how scales and chords relate to each other. That’s a whole other level to explore. Music is such an infinitely deep and rich ocean of complexity, beauty and harmony. It never bores me.

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