Monday, April 25, 2016

Chord Progression and Counterpoint Ideas

Chord progressions act as the harmonic basis for any musical work. Beyond the standard major and minor chords, you can create logical progressions without using traditional chords. Master composers think about chord progressions in a creative way and don't necessarily follow the standard procedures prescribed by music theorists. Increase the originality of your work and create new harmonies to support your melodies. Create something new and discover the realm of musical sonorities waiting for you. Master composers create more than simple chord progressions based on a theory text; they create contrapuntal lines that work to build new chords and sounds in their compositions.

Chord Arpeggiation

Arpeggiations create broken chords that allow you to separate traditional block chords and create a complex background. Arpeggiate your chords by breaking them into sixteenth notes and running from the bass note of the chord to the top note. Try rearranging the notes in your chord to make more interesting arpeggiations. You can also insert pitches between chord tones to create passing tones and expansive melodic lines.

Chord Types

Non-harmonic tones consist of the tones not built out of the major and minor thirds used in tonal works. Major and minor triads built on top of each other create major and minor triads. A major triad has a major third between the bottom two notes and a minor third between the top two. Inverse that order and you get a minor triad. Diminished triads consist of two minor thirds. Add additional major or minor thirds to your basic triads to create sevenths, ninths, or even thirteenth chords. Use these in your chord progressions to see if you like the sound produced. Proper voice leading helps smooth out chords. Without going into great detail on voice leading, you can create an effective work by moving between notes of consecutive chords by step. Also, avoid skips or leaps unless you jump in one direction and then resolve by step in the opposite direction. By doing so, you avoid creating random and disorganized sounding music.

Quartal Progressions

Move to a quartal system when you grow weary of creating triad-based chords. Aaron Copland famously used quartal harmony. The sonorities produced create a spacious and open harmonic tapestry. Create bass lines using your normal method, then add intervals a fourth from the lowest note in the bass. Experiment using different interval voicing to get the sound you want. Reduce any fourths in the piece that have an open spacing into clusters that create an edgy, sharp, and distinctive sound.


Study counterpoint to understand how chord progressions naturally form by combining multiple independent melodies. When two or more melodies sound together that are a third or more apart, you create harmony. You could even create counterpoint with intervals of a minor second, but many composers and audiences object to intervals of a second and seventh. These harmonies tend to be more dissonant than thirds, sixths, and sevenths. Study 16th- and 18th-century counterpoint to increase your skill and ability to write multiple parts. Counterpoint consists of First Species to Fifth Species. Each species uses different note values to teach you progressively how to write multiple independent lines.

Once you get through the first five species of two-part counterpoint, you can move on to three-part counterpoint. First species three-part counterpoint teaches the creation of chords that work to create independent melodies in three parts. Learn to create melodic lines that support your main melody rather than simply inputting block chords into your composition. Counterpoint teaches you to create music that merges synergistically with the melodic components. Online courses, community colleges, universities, and private theory or composition instructors can help you learn counterpoint. You can also do a self-study using some of the many books created on the subject.