Strange discovery re: chord progressions


faith83
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faith83
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12/06/2020 10:36 pm

I was writing a song today and I discovered something very odd about chord progressions that I didn't know before, so I thought I'd share it.

I know, of course, that the chord prior influences the sound of the next chord. But what I didn't realize is that a chord several or even many measures prior can also influence the current chord.

Example: Writing in the key of G. The verse doesn't contain a C chord, but the chorus starts with a C. If I put a C chord ANYWHERE in the verse, even at the very beginning, which is a full eight measures prior to the beginning of the chorus, the (edit: CHANGE TO THE) C chord at the beginning of the chorus sounds notably different from when there are no C chords at all in the verse.

This astounds me. It feels a little like "spooky action at a distance," if there are any theoretical physics fans here -- Einstein's observation that electrons that are separated by even light years are influenced by one another.

This odd phenomenon also adds a whole new layer of complexity to choosing chords, whether for songwriting or for improvisation, jamming, etc. because it means that every chord in the song affects the sound of every other chord, and it's not just progressions that matter, but... collections? My head hurts...

Is this something that everyone knows but me? Is this something anyone else has experienced? Is there some sort of explanation for this?


"I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk."

# 1
William MG
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William MG
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12/07/2020 3:09 pm

Hi Faith,

I am not sure I understand. I just tried some chords in the key of G, but my C still sounds like a C. Are you saying yours does not?


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# 2
ChristopherSchlegel
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ChristopherSchlegel
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12/07/2020 4:48 pm
Originally Posted by: faith83

I know, of course, that the chord prior influences the sound of the next chord. But what I didn't realize is that a chord several or even many measures prior can also influence the current chord.

[p]A lot of this depends on the melody & voice leading of the chord progression. But in general what you are describing is analogous to foreshadowing in literature.

Baroque & classical composers developed the technique of using repeated & varied motifs (a musical phrase, fragment of a full melody, or a way of voice leading a chord change, for example) throughout a piece. This provides a sense of integrated cohesion through familiarity of something that repeats or keeps happen, or is alluded to throughout a piece. And it also provides a sense of variety to keep things interesting when the motif is altered (slightly, completely, or anywhere in between).

Exactly how this technique is handled is very much part of the individual composer's style.

Modern era songwriters picked this up & it is usually seen in the form of melodies or chord progressions that contain, or are built from, smaller phrases that are repeated but with slight variation. Many songwriters learn this by imitation. They learn songs they admire, then play & write from that experience. They rarely put the technique or process into these types of precise terms & concepts. They just know what seems to work without worrying much about why.

But the reason why is that they are creating integrated patterns of musical phases that have different amounts of similarity & variety according to their personal tastes & styles.

See my discussion on the melody of 'Over The Rainbow' here for concrete examples. Look at reply #14.

https://www.guitartricks.com/forum/thread.php?f=36&t=55996&pg=2

Note that William was probably just playing chords & listening for how they sound. And of course without any wider context, every C chord sounds similar.

But Faith is writing a song, so she likely has the potential song form, structure, the chord progression & vocal melody in some form in mind when she is playing & hearing those chords. So, she is working with a much more detailed context & is trying to decide how any given chord works in that structure.


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William MG
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12/07/2020 6:17 pm

Haha, yes that is exactly what I was doing Christopher, and thinking "wow, now my ears are failing me!"

Thanks for clearning it up.


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# 4
JeffS65
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JeffS65
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12/07/2020 8:39 pm
Originally Posted by: ChristopherSchlegel

A lot of this depends on the melody & voice leading of the chord progression. But in general what you are describing is analogous to foreshadowing in literature.

So Chris, would the interval matter within the progressions as to how the same chord would read tonally? For instance, would the C read tonally different if part of a tritone. Versus a more standard interval? Same note but different context would make the same chord/note sound different in context?


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faith83
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faith83
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12/07/2020 9:50 pm

I should have been more clear in my original post -- the CHANGE from G (the last chord of the verse) to C (the first chord of the chorus) sounds completely different if there's a C in the verse than if there isn't. Obviously a C is always a C (assuming it's fingered identically), but the change to the C sounds different depending on what came before, even if what came before is several lines prior to the actual change.

And yes, Christopher, thanks, that's exactly what it is and foreshadowing in songs is a technique I use consciously all the time. I try not to have a brand new chord just appear in the middle of the song (with the exception of I, IV and V, which are fair game anywhere, IMO, whether they've been used before or not) without having foreshadowed it somewhere, otherwise it risks feeling disjointed.

So for example, if I'm going to use a minor chord in the bridge, I'll probably use it in the intro or in a turnaround so that it's not coming out of the blue when it appears "for real." So it's different, but different-good not different-where-the-hell-did-that-come-from.

But this is the first time I've been able to hear the tangible difference between when you foreshadow and when you don't. I guess I didn't realize that what I was already doing intuitively actually did have such a very specific impact, besides psychological, on the sound of the chord progression.


"I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk."

# 6
ChristopherSchlegel
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ChristopherSchlegel
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12/08/2020 1:25 pm
Originally Posted by: JeffS65So Chris, would the interval matter within the progressions as to how the same chord would read tonally?[/quote]

I'm not clear on what you mean. The interval in the chord? The interval between the melody notes?

Originally Posted by: JeffS65For instance, would the C read tonally different if part of a tritone.

Now I'm really confused! :)

[quote=JeffS65] [br]Versus a more standard interval? Same note but different context would make the same chord/note sound different in context?

Different notes or different chords create different contexts. Could you give me an example of what you are describing?


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ChristopherSchlegel
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12/08/2020 1:30 pm
Originally Posted by: faith83And yes, Christopher, thanks, that's exactly what it is and foreshadowing in songs is a technique I use consciously all the time.[/quote]

Good deal.

Originally Posted by: faith83I try not to have a brand new chord just appear in the middle of the song (with the exception of I, IV and V, which are fair game anywhere, IMO, whether they've been used before or not) without having foreshadowed it somewhere, otherwise it risks feeling disjointed.

This is an interesting observation. Because I definitely get that you want any chord used to have a purpose, use or function that helps the song structure.

But, the first time a new chord appears it has to just appear by definition! Thereafter it can refer to its earlier appearance. But there has to be a first time. This is where, when & how some of the more interesting melodic & harmonic twists & turns can happen!

[quote=faith83]

But this is the first time I've been able to hear the tangible difference between when you foreshadow and when you don't. I guess I didn't realize that what I was already doing intuitively actually did have such a very specific impact, besides psychological, on the sound of the chord progression.

Good observation!


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# 8
JeffS65
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JeffS65
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12/09/2020 5:27 pm
Originally Posted by: ChristopherSchlegel
Originally Posted by: JeffS65So Chris, would the interval matter within the progressions as to how the same chord would read tonally?[/quote]

I'm not clear on what you mean. The interval in the chord? The interval between the melody notes?

Originally Posted by: JeffS65For instance, would the C read tonally different if part of a tritone.

Now I'm really confused! :)

[quote=JeffS65] [br]Versus a more standard interval? Same note but different context would make the same chord/note sound different in context?

Different notes or different chords create different contexts. Could you give me an example of what you are describing?

Because I see my questions were confusing..oops.

This was not too different from what faith was asking. Essentially, can the same note read differently in tone or melodically based the context. Better put, no note in the 'devil's triad' sounds 'evil' on their own but within the triad, they sound ominous. In a way, I kinda answered myself. I didn't know if there was some theory behind why the same note in different contexts reads differently.


# 9
ChristopherSchlegel
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ChristopherSchlegel
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12/09/2020 6:29 pm
Originally Posted by: JeffS65Essentially, can the same note read differently in tone or melodically based the context.[/quote]

Okay, you are referring to individual notes within a chord?

Originally Posted by: JeffS65Better put, no note in the 'devil's triad' sounds 'evil' on their own but within the triad, they sound ominous.

Right, different intervals between the notes result in different sounds.

[quote=JeffS65]In a way, I kinda answered myself. I didn't know if there was some theory behind why the same note in different contexts reads differently.

From a musical perspective this is simply being aware that different intervals (vertically or horizontally) create different sounds & as musicians we develop aural skills (ear training) in order to be familar with them to identify & use them.

There is also a specialized field of study called psychoacoustics (combining psychology with the acoustics of physics) that studies sound perception. Applied to music, much of it is very personal in nature because it depends on people being able to identify certain intervals & then use qualitative desscriptions that vary by individual taste, preference & familarity.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychoacoustics


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# 10

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