I know this might be a weird question, but bear with me. Recently I've been listening and analyzing Elton John's songs. I really loved the songwriting, chord progressions and chord voicing. In an interview Elton said that being a classically trained musician is the reason for his unique songwriting and chord progressions. So what do i have to Study/pay attention to while studying classical music to improve my songwriting, Chord progressions/Voicing. Or apart from classical music what do i have to study in general. Thank you in advance! P.s.: If anyone would suggest books or courses that would be great but please be free or inexpensive :)

  • I'm not sure if this is an answerable question, but I recommend playing lots of existing chord progressions and songs by ear. Transcribe and play songs, and see how they are made. Do the same for classical tunes, try to fake them with melody and chords. Can you identify any patterns? How does the bass move through the chords? How do other voices move? How are they related to the melody? Painters learn to paint by painting a lot. Chords are your paintbrush, so start painting. Copy existing works at first, and then you'll develop your own ideas. Sep 4, 2020 at 18:03
  • I agree with piiperi. For interesting chords and chord progressions I'd suggest you look at: songs by Fauré (Le Jardin Clos and Horizon Chimerique eg.); Grieg's "Two Elegiac Melodies" (there's a pno arrangement) and any of his songs for voice and piano; Kurt Weill's "Surabaya Johnny" from "Happy End", "Train to Johannesburg" and "Big Mole" from "Lost in the Stars", and "Oh Moon of Alabama" from Mahagonny, His Threepenny Opera too, but it's harder to sight-read; Many of Borodin's interesting chord-progressions are preserved in the musical Kismet; Poulenc's songs. Dvorak's Song to the Moon. . . Sep 4, 2020 at 22:39
  • ...(from Rusalka) is a favourite tune of mine. It uses simple harmonies in a way I'd never think of. Sep 4, 2020 at 22:43

1 Answer 1


By "unique" chord progressions, I would argue that he's saying that they're unique in comparison to other rock musicians. Because most of his progressions are, frankly, relative "classical" in nature.

And so this is the trick: knowing that Elton is a classically trained musician, study some of the music that he would have studied to get a sense of chord progressions that would have inspired him.

As a very famous example of this, consider the opening prelude to Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. The first four chords are C, Dm/C, G7/B, C. (Or I–ii42–V65–I in Roman-numeral notation.)

Now, consider the beginning of the vocal part in "Circle of Life." It's in B♭ major, but you'll notice that he uses the exact same chords as the Bach prelude, just transposed down a whole step: B♭, Cm/B♭, F7/A, B♭. (And I've always wondered whether there's poetic intent here: this is often one of the first Bach pieces a pianist will learn, and it accompanies the text of "from the day we arrive on the planet.")

If you ask me, there's no way this is mere coincidence; every pianist of his stature knows that Bach prelude and what these opening chords are. He did this intentionally.

So keep studying music like this: find famous works for piano, and perhaps especially see what pieces he lists as personal favorites. Study "classical" music theory to get a sense of those chord progressions, and you'll be on your way to mimicking his style.

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