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I'm currently studing and learning about functional harmony and chord progressions.

I tried the chord progression i - v - VII - iv (A natural minor scale : Am - Em - G - Dm7/A) and get a nice and melancolic mood, for my ears.

But I don't really know if this chord progression make sense tecnically.

It's normal to use a Minor dominant in a natural minor key? Or should I use an Major dominant to turn the scale harmonic?

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    The three types of minor scales were invented to account for the fact that music in minor keys may just as well use raised sixth and seventh scale degrees as lowered. They are more useful for someone doing performance exercises than composing or analyzing music. Think about it: how many pieces of European classical music actually have an augmented second anywhere? It's better to restrict scale to a series of ascending or descending notes, in which case a scale cannot contain any chord progression, and stick with key to denote tonality.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 15:21

6 Answers 6

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Firsttly, get rid of the notion that there's a natural minor key. There isn't. There are minor scales, including the natural minor, but a minor key can and does have several different incarnations.

It's probably more common to have the dominant chord in a minor key as a major (or dominant seventh), but there's nothing wrong with using the minor chord in its place. Listen to Black Magic Woman. That's an example.

All that apart, if you think it sounds good, use it. It won't be wrong - there really are few 'wrongs' in music - those that are usually stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. While you're learning theory, always bear in mind it tries to explain what happens far more than trying to provide a set of 'rules'. They really become known as 'rules' because they are heard to work well.

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  • 'Sore thumbs' are context-dependent. We generally accept a maj7 chord as consonant, but in some styles it's still a 'wrong note'. And do piano teachers still pencil in a 'correction' to the flattened 10th at the top of a G7(#9) chord? Used to see that a lot.
    – Laurence
    Commented Dec 12, 2023 at 13:33
  • @Laurence - don't know! Haven't been to a teacher for many a decade. But if it's #9 it's not b10 - in my book (pedantic) at least. b10 would actually make it a minor which it patently isn't. Don't even believe Jimi thought that... Sore thumbs often come from bad practice regime, anyway!
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 12, 2023 at 15:45
  • No, it would make it a dom7 shape with a m3 on top. The mere fact that it defies 'pile of 3rds' analysis doesn't make that blatantly flattened note a sharpened one!
    – Laurence
    Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 0:05
  • @Laurence - It defies analysis'? I think it defines analysis!!
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 9:19
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To add a bit to the other answers, the minor dominant is fine in a minor (or major) key. The pattern v-i does not have the same cadential effect as V-i. Many composers use v rather than V in non-cadential progressions; one example is a repeated cycle of fifths in a minor key. One often sees i-iv-VII-III-VI-ii0-v-i-iv-VII-III-VI-ii0-V7-i. For that matter, most minor fugues go to the minor v and use the V chord in cadences. Your sequence looks fine. It's a bit like the minor version of the Romanesca (Pachelbel's Canon) sequence. In a major key one gets I-V-vi-iii or I-V-vi-I64 or I-V-vi-I63 (the V and iii are often in first inversion so the bass line moves downward by steps.) In a minor key, the sequence would be i-v6-VI-III6 which (to me) seems smoother as the iii chord is not that "strong" sounding in a major key.

The main point of the V or V7 (or vii0 or vii06 or inversions) in a major is to proceed to the tonic. Using v or v6 (and VII for that matter) often sounds better (at least to me again) in non-cadential progressions (and makes the cadences stand out, if that's wanted.)

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You can use anything. In music, all rules are made to be broken.

Analysing you chord progression, they have all 7 notes of the C Major Scale. So, yes, it makes sense theoretically. If you want to stay 100% on A Minor Scale, change the G notes for G#. The chord progression will be this:

Am, E, E/G#, Dm

Where E/G# is the first inversion of E Major chord.

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    What rule is being broken here?
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 15:12
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    'If you want to stay 100% on A Minor Scale' - it could leave the G notes - they belong to both A natural and descending A melodic. No need to change for that reason. No rules broken here - in fact, there are very few rules per se anyway.
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 15:55
  • Hi Paulo, thanks for the answer! But in this chord progression, i've used Em, instead E. In this case, what made me feel confuse was the aplication of the Minor dominant, and not the Major dominant or dominant seventh. Did you have some tips for an newbie composer? Thanks a lot for the help! Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 18:14
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    @jordan zaghi "aplication of Minor dominant and not Major dominant" from which scale (A minor or C major?). I think the confusion started on this part "I tried the chord progression i - v - VII - iv (A natural minor scale : Am - Em - G - Dm(maj7)". This is not natural minor scale, it's C major. C major scale has C D E F G A B notes. A minor scale has A B C D E F G#. A minor scale doesn't have G note. Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 10:42
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    1. G natural IS in the A (natural) minor scale - and A minor key. 2. Using notes that don't belong to a scale is NOT called counterpoint. 3. The A natural minor has exactly the same set of notes as C major. Possibly time to change the theory teacher?
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 11:44
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After all that mess I made previously, guess I finally understood your doubt, Jordan. Beg my pardon. Let's analyse your chord progression note by note:

Am: A, C, E

Em: E, G, B

G: G, B, D

Dm(maj7): D, F, A, C#

As we hear chord by chord, we get an expectation that is not fullfilled on the 4th chord. The Am and Em chords give us five notes that points towards two possibilities of Major Scales> C major or G major (it will depent if the next chord uses F or F#). The 3rd chord, G, adds a new note, D, which belongs both to C and G major, so "there is nothing new" here. The magic happens on the 4th chord, Dm(maj7). Its III degree gives us the final clue we needed for which major scale the chord progression is> C major. But, you added a note that doesn't belong to none of these scales> the C# note. It made a change of sensations, but somehow it doesn't sound so awkward. I'll give my 2 bets on the next reply below.

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  • This chord progression has all 7 notes from C major scale, except one: C#. It "makes a dance" of 4 consecutive notes with half steps between: C, B, D, C#. On Am we have a C; on Em > B; on G > D; on Dm(maj7) > C#. The chord progression Am, Em, G Dm(maj7) is at the same time beautiful and awkward. It's creative, it breaks a clichê in a good spot: the last chord, and opens lots of possibilities. You can: repeat them; jump to another scale that combines with C# note (A major, D major); stay on C major scale and start another chord progression on a chord with an F (F major, Am#, G7), and so on. Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 17:11
  • Amazing explaning! I'm so thankfull for you contribution and attempt to understand my questions. But I made a mistake when a describe the last chord in the progression. It's not Dm(maj7), but Dm7/A. I'm sorry, I didn't notice that mistake. PS.: I don't know if I can ask this here, but are you brazilian? Your name looks like a brazilian name. Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 17:50
  • In this case, Dm7/A (D, F, A, C) makes the chord progression belong entirely to the C Major scale. Your mistake made me write a very nice analysis on the "wrong" chord progression l. I consider this a great and lucky mistake. Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 18:52
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When you bring up "functional harmony" and "major dominant" in minor those are concepts from common practice style harmony, so-called "classical" music. But these are the conventions of that particular style. While they are normal in that style they aren't required in other styles.

A progression like i - v - VII - iv reminds me of I V vi IV in rock music where functional dominant harmony (a true major dominant chord moving to the tonic) is deliberately avoided and part of the style. FWIW, in such progressions where you can identify three primary chords (tonic, subdominant, dominant) it should sound very tonally solid and you can order the chords just about any way you like.

If you are trying to work within a particular style, follow the conventions. Otherwise do whatever you want. Make a new style, make hybrid styles.

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  • i iv VII v is also the negative harmony equivalent of I V ii IV (which is functionally similar to the I V vi IV mentioned above)
    – Kurt Osis
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 3:29
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This chord progression is actually used by Kai Tracid in Tiefenrausch (the deep blue), which really does give the melancholy vibe that you describe. I am not very good at figuring out chord progressions by listening to them, but I think it is also used in some other (acid) trance, where not a lot of focus is on the actual chords but a lot on the quick movements and effects on the TB-303. I think some variation of this is used in most other Kai Tracid songs, but I can't find the transcribed chords except for Tiefenrausch.

Why I think this might work for acid trance is, that this style of music requires quick arpeggios over long resting chords or chord progressions. For Tiefenrausch you have Dm - Am - C - Gm - Dm, where each previous chord has a at least one note in common with the previous one Dm - Am has the a, Am - C has c and e, C - Gm has g and Gm - Dm has the d. This makes it simple to construct the runs over these chords on the TB-303.

Also, this progression basically just moves forward in the circle of fifths, except for the parallel between v and VII and the tonality shift from C to Gm instead of G. So this chord progression is easily looped, which also helps this type of music.

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