Chord Flow Rule
In this lesson you’ll learn a common fault that many songwriters and producers make when writing chord progressions. More importantly, though, you’ll learn our theory hack for quickly and easily fixing this fault. But first… Tea!
Hello revolutionary music makers, we are Kate and Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony), and welcome to Hack Music Theory, the fast, easy and fun way to make music! If you’re new to theory, or if you just want a refresher, then read our free book "12 Music Theory Hacks to Learn Scales & Chords". It’ll give you a super solid music theory foundation in just 30 minutes. The free download is below. Enjoy!
Firstly, just to clarify. A fault is not a mistake! Music is an art, so if you’re making music from your heart, then there cannot be any mistakes. But, when songwriters and producers don’t understand theory, which is the grammar of music, they’re not able to fully express themselves. Just like if someone was trying to write a poem in a language they didn’t speak. The resulting work of art will undoubtedly have weaknesses. And a fault is defined as a weakness.
So, what’s the fault in this chord progression?
Well, the chords are jumping all over the place (up and down!), and that makes the progression sound like a beginner made it. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with the actual chords in this progression. But, the chord changes sound really abrupt and disjointed, i.e. the progression doesn’t flow at all. And of course, if for some reason you want your chord changes to sound abrupt, then leave them as they are.
By the way, our example is in the key of G Mixolydian, which is all the white notes from G to G, and the tempo is 105 BPM. If you’re not familiar with the happy-but-serious Mixolydian mode, you can use the Mode Hack in our Songwriting & Producing PDF.
Okay, so how do we fix this progression and make the chords flow smoothly into each other, instead of abruptly jumping up and down when they change? In a word: Inversions. An inversion is just the fancy word for when you rearrange the notes in a chord. You see, if you have three notes in a chord, you can play that chord in three different ways.
For example, let’s take our root chord Gmaj. You can play the notes in the original order of G B D. Or, you can rearrange the notes and play B D G, or D G B. Same notes. Same chord. Just inverted.
Root position: 1 3 5 (G B D)
1st inversion: 3 5 1 (B D G)
2nd inversion: 5 1 3 (D G B)
The different inversions have different names, but those aren’t important, what is important is learning how to rearrange the notes in a way that makes your chords flow smoothly into each other. This hack will instantly make your chord progressions sound super creative and professional! So, how do you do that?
Well, it’s all about emphasising the similarities between chords. In other words, we need to emphasise the notes that are the same from one chord to the next. These notes are called common notes, and they act as powerful links that connect chords.
Let’s take the first two chords in our progression as an example. Our first chord is Gmaj, which consists of the notes G B D, and our next chord is Em, which consists of the notes E G B.
Now, when we compare these two chords, we find that they actually have two common notes. So, these two chords are literally ⅔ identical, yet when we change from Gmaj to Em, it sounds abrupt and disjointed.
The reason for this is because we’re not making the most of their similarities. If we bring attention to their common notes, it will sound like the Gmaj chord is effortlessly melting into the Em chord, making that chord change flow beautifully.
So, how do you bring attention to common notes in a chord change to make it flow smoothly? Easy, you simply rearrange the notes in one chord to make their common notes line up. In other words, the common note should be in the same place within the chords. That’s what creates the powerful link that connects chords!
In our example, G and B are common notes, but we can see that G is at the bottom of the Gmaj chord, and it’s in the middle of the Em chord. So, we need to rearrange the notes of one chord to get G in the same place within those chords.
In the Em chord, if we move the E up an octave, then the G is now also at the bottom of that chord, like it is in the Gmaj chord. And that also lines up our other common note as well, because B is now in the middle of both chords. So, thanks to an inversion of the Em chord, this previously abrupt chord change now sounds super smooth and professional!
Now that you know how to rearrange the notes in your chords to get their common notes in the same place (i.e. bottom, middle, or top), go through the rest of your progression and do the same for each chord change. Just a heads-up though, there are a couple of issues you’ll run into when doing this. Maybe not in your current chord progression, but these issues will definitely turn up regularly.
The first issue is that the last chord in your progression needs to flow back around into your first chord. That chord change often requires a hack to make it flow smoothly. That wasn’t a problem in this example, because our progression actually ends and begins on the same chord, Gmaj. But, usually the last chord and first chord will be different, so you’ll need a hack to make that change flow smoothly.
Then the second issue you’ll come across is trying to make a chord change flow smoothly when the two chords do not have a common note.
For example, at the end of our progression we have Am (A C E) changing to Gmaj (G B D). Those two chords do not have any common notes. So, what do you do in these situations? You make a common note! Of course that requires another hack.
And we don’t have time in this lesson to cover these two hacks as well, but if you wanna learn them, they’re in our Songwriting & Producing Course. And the course also includes our Songwriting & Producing PDF that we mentioned earlier, so you’ll get that too, along with permanent access to all the videos in the course.
So to conclude. Our Chord Flow Rule is that your chords should flow smoothly into each other, by ensuring that when you change chords there is at least one common note linking them, and that common note is in the same place within both chords. Thanks for being here in the Hack Music Theory community, you are truly valued, and we're excited to hang out with you again soon!
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