DIATONIC CHORD PROGRESSION

The Chords Built On Every Note
Of Each Of The 15 Keys,
Are Part Of The Basic Harmony
Of Just About Every Song Ever Written!

True? Of course!
If you look at the chord chart of a song in "C" you're bound to find C, Dm7 and G7 probably F or Em7. Am7 is very common and even Bm7b5 makes an appearance in many tunes. All of those 7 chords can, depending on the style of music, appear in basic triad form or as more complicated versions of the same chord.
Not all of the 7 chord types have to be used, maybe you'll only find 2 or 3 and there is bound to be a few "outsiders" who have crashed the party in most songs. There are many rules how to use them and it what order, but the nice challenge for the composer is to dare to be different.

To be familiar with the basics, make sure you check out my Circle of Fifths, Guide Tones and Major Scales pages.

Why is this so common and why are those 7 harmonies so buddy-buddy with each other?


First, Let's have a look at the modes (again) and the chords that belong to each, this time in the key of "G":


Diatonic Chord Progressions - G Major

Important things to note about the info in the above image:

  • None of the scales, or chords that belong to them, have any (additional) ACCIDENTALS!
  • All of the 31 chord varieties that belong to every key, sound totally "inside" (the key) and at "home".
  • You can keep it as simple or complicated as you like.
  • Additional harmonies can be created by "forcing" accidentals onto some of the unavailable (avoid) tension notes. Ex: C# in the phrygian scale, creating a 9th.
    This is a personal choice, but it will make that Bm9 chord stick out because of the "outside" note of C#.
  • Don't fuss too much about chord inversions! Learn what notes are in each chord and start experimenting. You'll soon hear what sounds good and which inversion creates clashes.
  • You can hear what these chords sound like (in F) on my Chord Name Finder Pages.

We can make all this even clearer by dividing these harmonies into:

The 3 Groups Of Similar Chord Sounds.

The 7 chords of each major scale can be divided into 3 groups of similar sounding and closely related harmonies.
They even contain many of the same notes and are often just distinguished by their bass note.

  • TONIC GROUP: Includes the I - Major (ionian), the III - Minor (phrygian) & the VI - Minor (aeolian) chords.
    3 Chord Groups - Tonic
  • SUB-DOMINANT GROUP: Includes the II - Minor (dorian) & the IV - Major (lydian) chords.
    3 Chord Groups - Sub Dominant
  • DOMINANT GROUP: Includes the V - Dominant (mixolydian) & the VII - Half-Diminished (locrian) chords.
    3 Chord Groups - Dominant

The amount of chord sounds to choose from in the above 3 groups can be expanded quite a bit by not necessarily having the exact same notes in each harmony, but selecting even just 1 note to be different.
This will result in 2 chords sounding slightly dissimilar, but still retaining the integrity of the group.

How To Use The Diatonic Chord Progressions

  • The are no rules about which order or how often these chords should be used. It depends on what you're hearing and what your melody demands.
  • The version of each chord to choose is determined mostly by the style of the music.
  • As explained on the "the circle of 5ths" page, the strongest chord movement is along the circle from right to left (anti-clockwise).
    In the key of G this would mean: Bm7 => Em7 => Am7 => D7 => G, or any part of that sequence.
  • Other strong progressions can be created by moving the bass scale-wise up or down.
    Ex (in the key of G): C => Bm7 => Am7 => G or Am7 => Bm7 => CMaj7 => D7 => G (or Em7)
  • The possibilities are as diverse as your imagination, especially when combining the 7 diatonic chords with other (out of key) harmonies. GO FOR IT!

Feel free to check out my ear training tip 4 for more info on the 3 chord groups HERE.


Are the pieces of the puzzle lining up yet?
Have you grasped the links between all this stuff?
If you see it and hear it I'm willing to bet,
you'll be writing some top hits soon enough!

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Melodic Minor Scale Chords

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