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Blues “root of the contemporary music”

Analysis of The Chord Progression

Prem Gurung
Nepal Sangeet Vidhyalaya Analysis of The Chord progression

This compilation of document "Chord Progression Analysis" is prepared under the instruction of Mr. Rizu Tuladhar (Instructor: Bass Guitar Faculty for 'Nepal Sangeet Vidhyalaya') aimed at analyzation of texture of music. The texts and document in this compilation have been adopted by various Artists’ History and Composition, Music Encyclopedia, etc. With regard to the content of documents and texts in the compilation have generally expressed to fundamental idea to the contemporary music, its nature and root to the development.

Documents and texts used in the compilation contain general concept of continuous transition of music to the students learning in Nepal Sangeet Vidhyalaya. The compilation of documents and texts is a useful resource for all the learner of music theory (analytical) especially for the students of Nepal Sangeet Vidhyalaya (Bass Faculty) who would like to comparative research in music.

Chord Progression
Harmony8 is an important component in music. Chord progressions, which represent harmonic changes of music with understandable notations, have been used in popular music and Jazz. So, the chord progression is an important component in music.

1. Eight Bar Blues
The 8-bar blues (or blues changes) is one of the most popular chord progressions in popular music, including the Jazz and blues. This is a typical blues chord progression. The blues progression has a distinctive form in lyrics and phrase11 and chord structure. It is, at its most basic, based on the I-IV-V chords of a key. Here is a standard 8 bar Jazz blues.

The western classical music theory is not well suited to describe the Blues, but we don't have a choice. There is different prospective of composition idea between Classical music and Blues jazz. In Roman numerals is also called the tonic I, the sub-dominant the IV, and the dominant the V. For a short reference, here is a short example of classical of a composition by Johann Pachelbel:

Pachelbel's Canon, also known as Canon4 in D major, is the most famous piece of music by German Baroque composer Johann Pachelbel. It was originally scored for three violins and basso continuo2 and paired in the same key. Canon remained forgotten for centuries and was rediscovered only in the 20th century. Several decades after it was first published in 1919, the piece became extremely popular. So, now we have here transposed version in G major.

Pachelbel's Canon combines the techniques of canon and ground bass. Canon is a polyphonic 13 device in which several voices play the same music, entering in sequence. In Pachelbel's piece, there are three voices engaged in canon, but there is also a fourth voice, the basso continuo, which plays an independent part. This sequence, "I V VI III IV I IV V", and similar sequences appear elsewhere in western classical music.

In jazz and blues, eight bar blues progressions are expanded with moving substitutions 18 and chordal variations. The cadence3 ( a Cadence can be defined as "a melodic or harmonic configuration that creates a sense of repose or resolution". Cadences therefore usually mark the end of a music phrase, or segment ("period") or composition.) uniquely leads to the root by perfect intervals of fourths and fifth. The following chord progression is a good introduction to the blues sequence of chords. This one is an 8 bar sequence and taken from a composition by Status Quo “Rocking all over the World”. And serves to illustrate that there is no such thing as a 'standard' blues chord sequence.

In this chord progression, fourth measure10 ends with sub-dominant (i.e. IV) and fifth measure10 starts with tonic 14(i.e. I). So, this cadence is Plagal Cadence12. And, last measure10 or turnaround ends with dominant (i.e. V) and next bar or introduction will start with tonic14 (i.e. I). So, this type of cadence is called Authentic Cadence1. The strongest homophonic9 (harmonic) cadence, the authentic cadence, dominant to tonic14 (V-I or V7-I), is in part created by the dissonant tritone created by the seventh, also dissonant, in the dominant seventh chord, which precedes the tonic14.

Here is chord progression from above illustration.

The tonic is substituted (functioned) by sub-dominant in measure10 third and fourth and in measure sixth and seventh by dominant. The 7th chord has one note added to the basic triad15, meaning that they are all four-note chords. We can see the 7th chord either as extensions of the triads, with one more third added, or as a chord with a 7th note added. The result is the same, and both views might be useful. The first 7th chord has a minor third added to the major triad, or a minor 7th added to the chord. When we use the term "7th", we mean a major chord with a minor seventh (i.e. b7), opposed to minor chords with added sevenths (m7) or major chords with a major seventh (maj7). General Elements of the 8-Bar Blues chord progression: 1. The progression is 8 measures long. 2. The 3rd measure is the Subdominant (IV chord), or the chord based on the fourth step of the Tonic scale. 3. The 5th measure begins a cadence progressing to the Tonic (I chord).

construction of 7th chord
As a diatonic chord in a major key, the 7th can only be found in 5th interval. All other diatonic 7th chords will be other kinds of 7ths. But if you use the 7th in another harmonic context, for instance as an IV7 chord in an 8-bar blues progression, it does not function as a dominant chord7. In the key of C-major, the dominant 7th chord is G7. Now we have to be sure that we do not mix the different terms we will use. The chord is built on the fifth or dominant of the Cmajor scale. C is the root of the scale. But if we look at the chord, the first note - G - is the root of the chord. If we count from the root of the chord, a 7th chord in root position will have the notes 1-3-5-7. What kind of 3rd, 5th and 7th will depend on which scale note the chord is built on. If we count the scale notes, with 1 as the root of the scale, then a 7th chord built on the fifth note will have the scale notes 5-7-2(9)-4(11). If the key is C then the dominant 7th G7 will have the notes G-B-D-F.

effect of 7th chord
If we analyze the structure of the chord, we find that the first three notes form a basic major triad: G-B-D, with a major 3rd form G to B, a minor 3rd from B to D and a perfect fifth from G to D. Nothing is new so far. From D to F is another minor 3rd. The interval from G to F, the minor 7th is new. It is a dissonant interval6, which makes the 7th chord a dissonant chord. It is restless, hence wants to move on. But what really gives the dominant 7th chord it's power is the interval from B to F - the 3rd and 7th of the chord, or it's inversion F to B. This is a tritone16. If we count from B to F it is a diminished fifth, and from F to B is an augmented fourth. The interval might be spelled different, but it is still 6 half steps. Our ear listen to the sound, it does not count whole and half steps. If it is three whole steps (augmented fourth) or two whole steps and two half steps (diminished fifth) does not matter.

effect of tritone
In this particular chord (along any dominant 7th chord), the interval between B and F is one that has a lot of tension (which is known as triton) as it is considered very dissonant. Play this chord on your instrument, then play just the triton and then play C-E. You will easily hear how the B seems to want to resolve the tension by moving up to a C, and the F wants to resolve the tension by moving down to the E. The tension created by the triton resolves, and the sound is put to rest. When we were discussing basic chord substitution, I said that the root and the 3rd were the most important notes to maintain in the new chord. These are the most significant notes of a C major triad: the C because it is the root and tonic of the key, the E because that is what defines it as a major type of chord. Tritone resolution inwards and outwards is figured below:

resolving inward

resolving outward

The cross relation5 of these notes (variable) creates another transition to a progression. Not so with the dominant 7th. The important note to keep is the 3rd and the 7th, the notes that create the triton. If you want to substitute the dominant 7th with a chord that has the same effect, it should be substituted by a chord that has the same triton interval. So, now not only have we just created tension by adding a note (the 7th) to a chord, we created extra tension because that particular note sets up a certain amount of dissonance within the chord, and this tension finds release by progressing to the tonic chord and so completing that journey (or part of a bigger journey):

Blues breaks the rules of conventional jazz harmony and improvisation. I mentioned above that the I chord (or tonic), can sound "at rest". Other chords can often sound as if they want to change, either back to the tonic or to a different chord. This is because there is a certain amount of tension, either because they are simply not the tonic chord, or else because the notes within the chord create tension with each other. The use of tension (and it’s subsequent release) is a very important part of music, either in adding interest or creating emotions as the chords move from one to another. The distinctive sound of blues chords is often created by the flattening of various notes (mainly the 3rd, 5th and 7th). The harmony often becomes ambiguous as the flattened 3rd will often be used in a melody at the same time as the major 3rd in the accompanying harmony. (Not the other way round: in a minor blues all 3rds are flattened). There is a blues scale which contains these notes (i.e. 1, b3, 4, b5, 5, b7), however in a major key most players combine the flattened notes with the natural notes. When using the blues scale or phrases11 derived from it the same (tonic) scale is used over all three areas, i.e. in the key of C you use a C blues scale and do not usually change to an F blues scale for the F7 chord at bar 5. Note the melodic alternation between major and minor 3rd. The major 3rd of the tonic drops to the minor 3rd (7th of the IV chord) and back again which creates another alternation for chord formation. The resulting dissonances are effective depending on the players taste and feel for the blues.

When looking at the more basic 8 bar blues chord sequences (i.e. those in blues music rather than some of the more sophisticated jazz/blues) it does not usually make sense to use the RN analysis in the same way that we have used to where key centres are defined by dominant chords. The flattened 7th is often used on tonic and subdominant chords purely as colour and need not imply a V7-I cadence. In this example, in the key of C the C7 chord in bar 4 of a typical 8 bar blues appears to be a secondary dominant chord (V7 of IV), but it is more in keeping with the blues to think of the 3rd and 4th bars as the subdominant rather than a new key centre. The IV chord of a blues is invariably a IV7, but the F7 at bar 4 is chord IV7 of C, not chord V7 of Bb. Although theoretically you could think in terms of the Roman Numerical analysis we have been using, and play a scale of F Mixolydian (mode starting on F using notes of the Bb major scale) this is unlikely to sound like good blues. Although some or all of the tonic and subdominant chords may have a minor 7 added, this is a blue note and does not have its usual harmonic function as a dominant chord (except in bar 3 and 4 where it acts a secondary dominant leading to the tonic chord). The above example introduces the 7th to the tonic to emphasise this chord change. It is not a modulation to IV as it would be in classical harmony. Blues musicians tend to use phrases11 and patterns rather than scale runs like arpeggios, though jazz variations of blues can be based on 8, 12 and 16 bar blues structure and can include jazz and blues style patterns alongside each other.

2. Sixteen Bar Jazz Blues
Blues is more directed toward the audience on the surface, as if doing a simple speech with melodic, rhythmatic, and poetic features, while the other genre's lyric are more abstracted even when just listening. Due to the African roots the rhythm was first in Blues and Jazz music. The songs used only a few, often only one "chord" all over the song. Later the influences of the western music introduced chord changes, but they were different to the existing musical forms. Something new was born, and after several changes and various forms (and some of them are still used) the 16 bar Blues became the most popular jazz blues form. Basically, 16 bar jazz blues is the extended form of eight bar blues. There are many many different sets of blues progressions, going from the basic original blues to the more modern variations like the bebop and Coltrane blues changes or the changes played by Miles Davis or Thelonious Monk.

Here is a standard form of 16 bar jazz blues chord frame:


This is the fundamental chord progression for 16 bar jazz blues. The first eight measures remains same chord progression. In next eighth measure, I is substituted by fifth and fifth is again substituted by its tritone. Now, the tritone for fifth became the bII for I. And, after four measure this bII is substituted by its fourth and that fourth is substituted by its tritone i.e. I. In the last two measure turnaround is played.

So, here we go through a standard 16 bar jazz blues.

This is a standard sixteen bar jazz blues tune. A main melody and chord progression of this tune is written in above example. This type of melody is also called main theme (motif) of the song. So, this phrase is repeated or improvised.

Interpretation and summary

For further detail, this whole tune analyzed comparing with standard sixteen bar frame and divided in every four bar. Now, we get the four measures’ set of four.

||C7|C7|F7|F7|D7b5|G7b9|C7|C7|D#7|G#7|C# 7| C# 7|D7b5|G7b9|C7|D7b5, G7b9||

a. If we analyses first four bar, tonic is repeated for two bar and for next two bar tonic is substituted by its sub-dominant. b. In next four bar tonic is substituted by its’ super tonic and dominant and resolves to tonic. This phrase creates a II, V, I chord progression which is known as dominant cadence and turnaround. This type of cadential chord progression used in a wide variety of music genres, especially jazz harmony. It is a succession of chords whose roots descend in fifths from the second degree, or supertonic, to the fifth degree, or dominant, and finally to the tonic. In a major key, the supertonic (II) triad is minor, while in a minor key, this triad is diminished. The dominant chord is, in its most basic form, a major triad and, commonly, a dominant seventh chord. With the addition of chord alterations, substitutions, and extensions (most often sevenths), limitless variations exist on this simple formula. c. Now in ninth bar, I is substituted by bII. In jazz, the II is typically played as a minor 7th chord, and the I is typically played as a major 7th chord (though it can also be played as a major 6th chord). The IIm7-V7-Imaj7 progression provides smooth voice leading between the thirds and sevenths of these chords. But, in this composition II chord is used as dominant 7th to create tension for bluesy sound. The third of II chord pulled to the flat seventh for the next chord, and the seventh of V chord moves down a half-step to become the third for the next chord. In ninth bar to twelfth, the standard jazz II-V-I progression is D#7-G#7-C#maj7, and the thirds and sevenths of these chords are F#-C, C-F#, F-C; inverted to get the effect of triton and resolve.

d. II – V - I progressions are extremely common in jazz. They serve two primary functions, which are often intertwined: to temporarily imply passing tonalities, and to lead strongly toward a goal (the "I" chord). One potential situation where II-V-I progressions can be put to use is in a blues, whose generic form has no such progressions. In this section, bII returned to the tonic by substituting its fourth and triton of fourth (here, fourth for bII is F# and tritone for F# is C). The last four bar is about turnaround17 for given tune.

During the first decades of the 20th century, blues music was not clearly defined in terms of a chord progression. With the popularity of early performers, use of the eight-bar, twelve-bar and sixteen-bar blues spread across the music industry during the 1920s and 30s. Particularly, blues music is about human behavior. So, these theoretical explanation is just a mechanism of musical terms.


1] Authentic Cadence: A cadence consisting of the dominant to tonic harmonic progression. 2] Basso continuo: An essential structural and identifying element of the Baroque period. 3] Cadence: A melodic or harmonic configuration that creates a sense of response or resolution. 4] Canon: A melody that can be sung against itself in imitation. 5] Cross relation: A conflict, produced by a tone in one voice, followed in another voice by the same tone (same letter name) altered a half step. 6] Dissonant interval: A combination of interval (sound) that produce harsh or discordant results, or that increase the desire for resolution. 7] Dominant chord: A chord built on fifth scale degree of a diatonic scale. 8] Harmony: A study of simultaneously sounding tones or concern with the chordal structure of a musical composition. 9] Homophonic: A single, clearly defined melody with chordal accompaniment. 10] Measure: One unit of meter, consisting of a number of accented and unaccented beats. A measure is indicated in music notation by bar lines. 11] Phrase: A phrase is a group of notes which form a musical constituent and so function as a single unit in the syntax of a composition. 12] Plagal Cadence: A cadence made up of a harmonic progression from subdominant to tonic. 13] Polyphonic: a texture consisting of two or more independent melodic voices 14] Tonic: The Key note of a piece of music or composition. The tone that is felt to be a point of rest, where the music can logically conclude. 15] Triad: Strictly speaking, a triad is any three-tone chord. 16] Tritone: is a musical interval that spans three whole tones. 17] Turn Around: A term used in popular song to denote four chord formulas that signal the repetition of a period or return to be a previous period.

18] Substitution: A syntactic transformation on notes of musical composition.