A foreword about chords in general
Chords are, basically, several notes played simultaneously, resulting in a sort of harmony. Now, there are all kinds of chord types, from melancholic minors, over joyous majors, to heavy power chords. Whenever you strum several notes on your guitar (or hit two or more keys on your piano, or any other instrument), you're essentially playing a chord.
Imagining chords as pieces, of sorts, is ideal for beginners who're not well-versed in the complex language of the music theory. These "pieces" are comprised of even smaller "parts", called notes, and assembling them in a string of consecutive sequences will be the object of our topic – chord progressions.
Understanding the fundamentals of chord progression
Plain and simple, each time you play several simultaneous chords, you're dabbling with "chord progression", just like you're making a chord each time you play several notes. Just like chords have "root notes" (or "key" notes), the basic principles of chord progression start with the "root" chord.
Basically, let's begin by building a glossary of terms we're going to use, before we progress to the point when we'll talk about chord progression:
- Note – a certain pitch of the sound
- Root note – often referred to as the "key note", the root note is the starting point, or the main note of each chord
- Harmony – playing multiple sound pitches result in a harmony. A great example of it is a "chord".
- Chord - a chord represents a note group (minor, major, diminished, augmented).
- Scale – A set of notes organized in a fundamental frequency.
How can you expand your knowledge of music with chord progression?
Even though this might have crossed your mind, you don't have to actually know what chord progression is in order to use it. In fact, you don't even need to know what chords are, for that matter, but there are several reasons that might make you feel otherwise.
For example, even the most immediate beginners are capable of accidentally playing certain chords. A great example of that is the Am (the "A minor") chord, which is often considered as one of the easiest chords to play. Now, here's the kicker – what then? Knowing which chords are compatible with other chords will yield a fine harmony, whereas the other option might not sound appealing at all.
This leads us to the following conclusion – knowing to recognize the scale in which a certain chord belongs in opens up the doors to successfully stringing good chord progressions. Even if it's not much, it's great to begin with.
Scales and chord progression
Unless you're a fan of unconventional music genres, you should at least consider learning the basics of music theory, and starting with the scales will be greatly beneficial to your knowledge of chord progression.
There are a number of scales in the music theory, including the Major scale, the Natural Minor scale, the Harmonic Minor, the Melodic Minor, pentatonic, chromatic scale, and such. Learning more about them will give you a sort of a vantage point over the notes that are musically compatible with the root note you intended to begin with.
Now, how can you use this knowledge to further improve your chord progression skills? In a way, you'll narrow down the map of your fingerboard (if it's the guitar you're playing, we're using it as an example), giving you a clear view of the direction in which the note sequence will go.
After all, the chord progression represents a sequence of chords, and understanding the scales will undoubtedly help you with this matter.
Chord progression and Roman numerals
Most people have seen roman numerals in music textbooks at the elementary school, and, in case you haven't been paying attention at that certain class when this was explained, let us clarify the issue.
First of all, let's remind ourselves that the chord progression is a sequence, and, just like any other, it has a certain order. The pattern in which the chords are played are governed by this order, thus each chord is given a number.
For example, the "Lonely Day" from System of a Down features the Verse and Chorus built upon the same chord progression – it starts off with the A-minor, going into F, later C, and ending in E. The bridge is somewhat different, as it begins with the F, after which it follows in E, G, and ending with the A-minor. Let's put the numerals before each chord:
I – A-minor
II – F
III – C
IV – E
V – E
VI – G
Now, the chord progression of this entire song would look like this:
I, II, III, IV
I, II, III, IV
II, V, VI, I
I, II, III, IV
I, II, III, IV
The idea of adding numerals instead of putting plain chord letters is quite simple, actually – it's easier to memorize the numbers than letters due to the fact that some chords have more complex "names" (such as "A7", "Dm", and such). Further on that note, it's always easier to say "go one-two-four-two" than "go A-minor, diminished F, the A seven, and end with the G major".
Apart from sheer simplicity, there were other factors that motivated musicians to use numerals instead of letter combinations. Certain bands in modern music genres often transpose their songs to new keys frequently, so the numerals play a different role here - they serve as a "silent instructor" to new band members that don't have the time to prepare, especially during improvisation sessions.
The music theory is often hard to grasp head-on if you haven't any previous experience with it, and chord progression might appear tricky to some at start. The fact is, it's not – it only takes a while to understand how chords are built, and all you have to do is simply use this knowledge to make something bigger – a complete sequence of note combinations.
Essentially, learning how to use chord progressions can be beneficial for virtually every type of musician – composing songs will be easier, learning new ones will be a breeze, and improvising might feel more natural. All in all, this isn't nuclear science, and you're sure to catch up in no time. We wish you all the luck.