Musical examples of basic harmonic progressions

Here are five from the popular songbook—a blues,a jazz standard, three from the Beatles and even an old country-western tune— that clearly demonstrate the musical progressions defined in the previous pages. I choose them because they are perfect examples of Harmonic Polarity at work at an intuitive level. But that I mean this: neither Lennon/McCartney nor Gene Autry, "the singing cowboy," had formal training in harmony. What their training consisted of was learning hundreds of tunes that used standard harmonic progressions. They absorbed these progressions and use them intuitively in their own compositions. The progressions themselves represent the deeper, more fundamental principles of harmonic polarity and harmonic movement that found their expression through these classic melodies.

How Long

This great blues by Urban Blues creator Leroy Carr is also a terrific expression of the tonic chord "How Long..." turning into the V7/IV ("HOW LONG") has that evenin' train been gone (IV). Did Leroy know this was V7/IV to IV -- well maybe not by the Roman numerals, but you bet he knew it by the feeling, which is what I want you to get here. When the tonic triad takes on the flat 7 (from the 7th partial?), in propels the music into the sad, inward, subdominant realm.

Back in the Saddle Again

I like this tune because by any account it could be considered a simple song, yet it makes use of six of the essential harmonies covered on the previous pages. It has the tonic (I), the dominant seventh (V7), the subdominant triad (IV), the relative tonic (vi), the dominant of the dominant (V7/V) and the dominant of the subdominant (V7/IV). If you listen to this tune and learn to hear these chord progressions clearly, you will come a quick and clear understanding of the sound and function of these essential harmonies. The very simplicity with which there harmonies are presented by Gene Autry, the old "singing cowboy," makes it a perfect (if somewhat hokey!) demonstration of these fundamental harmonies and how they move from one to the other.

We will soon be studying the proper motion of chords and how they should be voiced on the piano and in four-part writing to create good voice leading. For the purposes of this page, I will simply voice them in root position, without regard for how they could be more smoothly connected. We will cover that in the next chapter.

Here, I put the Roman numeral progressions under the chords, and the Function symbols above the chords.

Georgia on my Mind

Georgia on my Mind is a classic tune by Indiana's own great songwriter Hoagy Charmichael. (See the Humphrey Bogart/ Lauren Bacall classic "To Have or Have not" to catch Hoagy at the keyboard during the bar scenes).

The music is the perfect example of the expressive use of V7/vi. The tune starts out "Georgia" (I chord), "Georgia" (V7/vi), which goes to vi, "the whole day through.)

It also demos a classic use of V7 of ii, in the phrase "just an old sweet song:" that hold on "song" is the V7/ ii. Hear it! In general, the end of the A section is a great "turnaround," which goes I, V7/ii, ii, V7, I.

If you go to iTunes, you'll see 150 DIFFERENT recordings of Georgia on my Mind with artists from lots of different genres. Everyone loves this tune. I present here the classic Louis Armstrong version, one of the first and still one of the greatest.

Hey Jude

Hey Jude is another demonstration of a tune that swings clearly from tonic to subdominant, upwards to the dominant and then back to the tonic again. During the closing coda (nah, nah, nah), it stays completely on the subdominant side, moving from tonic to the subdominant of the subdominant, to subdominant to tonic. Listen to this closely so you can hear this essential chordal movement.

It is sufficient here to just put in the lyrics and the chord progressions. The chords are followed in parenthesis by the Roman numeral () and the function symbols []. That is : C (I) [T] Means C triad, which is the I triad, also known as the tonic triad.

Hey Jude

C (I) [T] ......................G (V) [D]
Hey Jude don't make it bad,

...........G7 (V7) [D7] ...................C (I) [T] .. C7 (V7/IV) [D (S) ]
Take a sad song and make it better,

.... F (IV) [S] ..............................C (I) [T]
Remember, to let her into your heart,

.......................G (V) [D] ..............C
Then you can start to make it better.

{second verse, same as the first}

C7 (V7/IV) [D (S) ] .............F (IV) [S]
And anytime you feel the pain,

F/E bass ........Dm (ii) [S-R]
Hey Jude refrain,

.........................G (V) [D] .....................C
Don't carry the world upon your shoulders.

C7 (V7/IV) [D (S) ] .............F (IV) [S]
For well you know that it's a fool,

F/E bass ........Dm (ii) [S-R]
Who plays it cool,


.........................G (V) [D] .....................C
By making his world a little colder.

C (I) [T] .......... G7 (V7) [D7]

REPEAT CHORD PROGRESSIONS OVER NEW VERSES

CODA:

-----
C (I) [T] ............Bb (IV of IV) [S S]
Nah, Nah, Nah, Na-na-na-nah

F (IV) [S] ................C
Na-na-na-nah, Hey Jude

Norwegian Wood

Norwegian wood is a good example of the use of the modal shift in pop music, where the I tonic chord becomes the i minor chord in the bridge section. It's also a wonderful use of a mixolydian melody harmonized by a chord progression on the subdominant side (IV of IV followed by IV), which then swings over to the dominant side at the very end.

C (I) [T] .....................................Bb (IV/IV) [SS] ... F (IV) [S] ..C (I) [T]
I once had a girl, or should I say, she once ............had ...........me

C (I) [T] ...............................................Bb (IV/IV) [SS] ... F (IV) [S] ..C (I) [T]
She showed me her room, isn't it good, Norwe..................gian ..........wood.

(repeat chord progression over instrumental)

Cm (i) [tP] .................................................. F (IV) [S]
She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere

Cm (i) [tP] .................................................. F (IV) [S] ...... G7 (V7) [D7]
So I looked around and I noticed there wasn't a chair.

NEW VERSES, SAME CHORD PROGRESSION

Let it Be

Let It Be forms a polar contrast to Hey Jude. Here the movement is from the Tonic, up to the dominant, down to the subdominant and back to tonic. It is important to be able to hear these two tunes and the way the harmony swings between tonic, dominant and subdominant in opposing directions. This chord progression derives itself more from blues and gospel music. There is a page a few steps later that deals more fully with blues and blues progressions.

Here I will just put the chord progressions. I think you can now work out the functional relationships here betwen the Tonic (I or C), the Dominant (V or G), the subdominant (IV or G) and the Tonic-relative (vi or Aminor).

C ...............................G
When I find myself in times of trouble

Am ..................F
Mother Mary comes to me

C ..........................G ..................F........ C
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

C ..........................G
And in my hour of darkness

...........Am ......................F
She is standing right in front of me

C .........................G ..................F .........C
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

.........Am ..........G
Let it be, let it be,

..........F ..........C
Let it be, let it be,

C .........................G .................F .......C
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

 

Next: 3J Seventh Chords

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