Chord Progression: I-vi-IV-V

Throughout the long tumultuous history of Rock ‘n’ Roll, there have been certain song patterns that have shown up over and over. Many of them are cliches by now (how many times have you heard the fire/desire rhyme?), but others are classics, comfortable sounds we recognize in our bones. We’ve heard them a million times, but can’t help but feel inspired anew every time. Today I’ll cover one of those: The I-vi-IV-V Chord Progression. Yeah, just rolls of the tongue, right? Well, trust me that it sounds better when you play it than when you try to name it.

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Slash Chords

This lesson builds directly on the Chord Inversions lesson, so I suggest re-reading that one, if you have not read it yet.

That lesson introduced the slash notation, for example, C/G, pronounced C over G. In that lesson, the slash notation was used to choose an alternate bass note from the notes that are in the chord. The notation can be expanded, though, and you can play any chord over any other bass note. Because of the way they are written, I call these types of chords slash chords. You might also see them called alternate bass chords or compound chords. All it means is you play a different note in the bass, but it opens up a whole bunch of possibilities, especially when songwriting.

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Chord Inversions

Last lesson, I covered interval inversions. You can re-read that now, if you want, though it's not a big deal if you don't. To summarize, inverting an interval just means measuring the distance between two notes starting on the second note instead of the first note, for example, instead of counting the distance from C to G (perfect fifth), you can start at G and count up to the C an octave above, giving you a perfect fourth.

A chord inversion is similar. It just means starting the chord on a note other than the tonic note.

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9th, 11th, and 13th Chords

Oooh, look at all those high numbers. Those must be really complicated, difficult chords! Probably sound craaaazy!

Ok, so maybe not.

These chord names may sound impressive, but they’re really just continuations of the same patterns we’ve already been using. A ninth chord is just a seventh chord with the added interval of the major ninth. An eleventh chord is just a ninth chord with the added interval of the perfect eleventh, and a thirteenth chord has the added interval of the major thirteenth.

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