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Thread: "powerful" Chord progressions

  1. #1
    Registered User
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    Dec 2006

    "powerful" Chord progressions

    Using the whole I ii iii IV V vi viidim theory, can anyone reccommend chord progressions which sound powerful? Not like, they are louder or anything, but any progressions which convey a feeling of power? I'm having difficulty getting one suddenly
    We hurdle bodies that lay on the ground, and the Russians fire another round...

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Northwood, Ohio
    This is from a text I used when first studying chord relationships a few years ago. I don't have the citation info though because my teacher photocopied (ah!) them out of one of his theory text books.

    "Harmonic movement may be considered strong, neutral, or weak, depending upon, first, root movement, and second, movement of the bass. For a given haarmonic progression, movements in root position (assuming diminished and augmented triads are not employed) tend to be stronger than those that involve inversions...a successful harmonization is teh result of proper balance between root and bass movement.

    1. The strongest harmonic movement occurs when chord roots are seperated by ascending fourths or descending fifths. Particularly strong is a progression that makes use of consecutive chords in the circle of fifths, i.e. any part of I-IV-VII-III-VI-II-V-I.

    Movement in the opposite direction, descending fourths or ascending fifths, also produces strong harmonic motion, but tends to lead away from, rather than towards, cadence point...."

    To sum the rest of the chapter up briefly:
    -Chords a third apart progress weakly becasue there are always two common tones
    -Chords a second apart lack the drive of those a fourth or fifth apart, but are stronger than those a third apart becasue no common tones exist. Ascending seconds are considered stronger than descending seconds.

    Hope this helps you some.
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  3. #3
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    Dec 2006
    Thanks very much. It certainly will. I was trying to write a song with an essence of power about it but it always sounded really flimsy and weak. thanks!
    We hurdle bodies that lay on the ground, and the Russians fire another round...

  4. #4
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Dec 2002
    Twickenham, UK
    It really depends what you mean by "powerful".

    The types of changes jloving listed are the conventional moves.
    E.g., although it says moves in a circle of 5ths (up a 4th or down a 5th) are "strong", most of us would hear that sequence as "predictable", even "cheesy" or "dull". This is because it's so familiar from decades of jazz standards and pop songwriting - never mind classical music.

    IOW, the "strength" of those moves lie in their forward momentum. Basically, a dom7 chord "wants" to move up a 4th to a major or minor triad.
    E7 kind of "pulls" towards A or Am.
    But do you find such a move "powerful"?
    Eg, here's that I-IV-VII-III-VI-II-V-I cycle of 5ths sequence in C major: C-F-Bdim-Em-Am-Dm-G-C.
    Add 7ths to get jazz changes:
    Now we can hear the forward momentum more clearly. Replace the Em7 with E7, and you'll have a familiar jazz sequence moving between the major and relative minor keys:
    All sounds sensible and logical, sure. But "powerful"? More like "mellow", "reassuring"...

    In contrast, a change of a 3rd CAN be heard as "strong", despite its theoretical weakness. E.g, I've always considered a move from Am-C or Em-G to have a "strong" sound. Or likewise a move from Am-F or Em-C. (Very common choices in rock songs.)
    The "strength of these changes probably comes from the move from a minor chord ("weak") to a major ("strong")

    In terms of rock music, more "powerful" chord changes tend to be those using chromatic chords - often chords borrowed from the parallel minor.
    So in the key of E major, a circle-of-5ths move from E to A is not going to be "powerful". It's going to sound completely natural, even expected.
    But what will be powerful is to go from E to G or D - or best of all to C. (All these chords being diatonic to the E minor key, which is how they can still work with E major.)
    The Who and Jimi Hendrix - avid seekers of powerful chord changes! - liked the move from E to C.
    Think about Voodoo Chile. Key of E. Just an E7#9 chord for the verse. But he hits a C chord to go into the chorus, because he wants the "pow!" that that change provides.
    The Who do it in Listening To You/See Me Feel Me.
                   A    B       C
    Listening to you, I get the music
    The key is E major up to this point, and the A-B change leads you to expect a resolution to E - esp as it is preceded by a long B7sus chord. The C fits because the melody note is E, but has a much more powerful impact than E would. (B-E, remember, is what is considered in the conventional rules as a "strong" change, a V-I. But B-C, in this context - V-bVI - is more "powerful".)

    Queen do something similar in "We Will Rock You". An intro sequence in A major culminates in a long E note (underlined by guitar feedback), which is eventually harmonised with a crashing C major chord.

    Actually, the fact that an E note can be harmonised by a C chord as well as by E or A has been exploited throughout rock music, beginning with Carl Perkins "Honey Don't" (which alternates E and C chords in a 12-bar blues context) - covered by the Beatles, which is how most rock musicians would have encountered it. The Beatles also used a C chord in key of E in "I Saw Her Standing There" (for maximum impact on the falsetto "ooh" in the bridge).

    So for "power" in rock, think "borrowing from parallel minor" - or think about harmonising any scale note with a chord from outside the key when possible.

  5. #5
    Modbod UKRuss's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Funky Munky World
    My word Jon,

    That's some serious analysis there. Great stuff.

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