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Does progress belong to music?

Sometimes yes. But we want to talk about progressions, the basis for songs. Another word used for progressions is cadence (ital: cadenca, germ.: Kadenz). And we want to know something about it because so many guitar players are talking about progresssions, or they use the word 'riff', which can be a progression, or not (guitar players are a little weired sometimes ).

We will also get the chance to use our bass now to practice, which could help us to understand progressions.

What is a progression?

Musicians tend to use phrases which sound very complicated. The same is valid for medical doctors, computer engineers and janitors.

A progression is nothing else than a sequence of chords. One of the basic construction principles of music is to create tension and release, progressions reflects this when combined in the right way. This tension/release principle is also supported by the notes inside a scale, so most chord progressions use chords which translate the scale inheritent tension to a sequence of chords.

When harmonizing a scale we added roman numerals to the table. In a new form we will use capital letters for positions with a major chord, small letters for positions with a non-major chord:

















C major

D minor

E minor

F major

G major

A minor

B dim

C major

We need some names for the scale positions so we dont have to deal with numbers.

I tonic
ii supertonic
iii mediant
IV subdominant
V dominant
vi submediant
vii leading tone

Now, when we are talking about progressions in the basic major scale we are talking about chords on the positions in this scale. One of the most used is the I - IV - V progression, for the C major scale the chords Cmajor - Fmajor - Gmajor. This sequence of chords creates a tension which results from the notes used in the chords:

Position Chord




C maj

C - E - G

Tonic with V and IV, 'landing zone'


F maj

F - A - C

Subdominant chord including C, few tension


G maj

G - B - D

Dominant chord containing the 'leading' tone, strong tension

The last chord, G major, contains the leading tone, and this leading tone creates a strong tension which requires resolution to the tonic 'C' represented by the C major chord.

From Notes to Songs

This tension/release principles are an important part when creating songs. Tension can be created by single notes (the diminished and augmented fifths also create a strong tension), by certain progressions (I - IV - V) and by the song structure (intro - weak verse - weak refrain - strong verse - strong refrain - coda). Even the lyrics can help to create tension, Rolin's 'Liar' is a good example.

However, progressions are the founding idea of most songs.

Other progressions

Some progressions are also used in many songs: ii - V - I, I - ii - V etc. etc.

In the postings from Carol Kaye you will find a lot af ideas and practical hints.

End of Theory?

Yes, I think so. You have to be aware of the fact that this was really a short introduction. For details and many other topics you should have a look into the Lessons Of The Week mentioned in the link list in the last theory chapter.