Vol.17 No.4

Techniques: Understanding Chord Progressions

Developing a deeper understanding of how chords work together

National Standards: 1-3, 5-7, 9, 11


Have the class read Techniques: Understanding Chord Progressions (page 22 of the student edition).

Key points in the article:

    • Arrangers use various combinations of chords to invoke different feelings and emotions
    • We respond to chords in a similar way that we respond to colors in a painting
    • Developing a deeper understanding of chord progressions will help you to further your own compositional ideas and broaden your creativity


Example 1

Ask students to identify the parts of a chord and the differences between them. How do you identify the triad of any given root? The fifth? What is the difference between a major and minor triad?

Play the chords in the example and have students say whether they are major or minor.

Example 2

Play the chords in the example, but hold the common tone in between so students can hear the overlap. This reinforces the idea that the common tone changes depending on the inversion.

Example 3

Have students improvise with inversions of each chord within the four measure bars. Some voicings will sound better than others. Experiment!

Example 5

After reviewing each example, have students pair up and select any song they choose. Then have them look up (on a computer, phone or tablet) the basic chord progression for that song. Have them write it out using staff paper and roman numerals.