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Taylor Swift - willow This chord progression is used in the song VERSE1.

https://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/taylor-swift/willow-chords-3461768 enter image description here

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6 Answers 6

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The pattern itself is at least 500 years old. It was used in "Greensleeves" and in "Guardame Las Vacas" among others. (It also occurs in "La Folia.") I haven't seen a separate name for it.

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Is there a name for the progression Ⅰ-Ⅶ?

No. But...

There is a name for VII-I

Though not the case in this song, VII-I is called a "backdoor cadence" when it occurs at the end of a phrase. See What is the functional role of the subtonic chord?, among others.

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  • It's not used like a cadence at all IMO. :) Jul 30, 2022 at 12:43
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica No, it's definitely not. Does my post suggest that it is? If so, let me know, because that's not my intention at all.
    – Aaron
    Jul 30, 2022 at 13:10
  • It just felt slightly confusing to introduce concepts that this progression does NOT have... I don't know, maybe it's good. Jul 30, 2022 at 13:47
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica Worth a clarifying edit. Thanks.
    – Aaron
    Jul 30, 2022 at 13:51
  • I have heard bVII7 chords called "backdoor dominants", with their related "backdoor" progressions, but I've never heard a VII chord called "backdoor".
    – user87976
    Jul 30, 2022 at 19:42
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The word cadence refers to, usually, the last two chords or harmonies at the end of a phrase - like perfect, interrupted, etc., (with other names on each side of the Atlantic). They're there so musos can talk about specific changes at those points in a piece. There aren't names for each change that could (and do) occur anywhere else in pieces, there would be just too many names!

Since Em>D occurs at those 'other points', it's not likely to have been christened with any special title. But in key Em, it is i>VII (not quite I>VII as you thought), and the closest it gets is imperfect, a sort of I>V equivalent is found in major. But it isn't that - or called that - or anything.

However - if you're asking about Em>D>C, then that's virtually the Andalusian or Spanish sequence. Usually moving down an extra chord to the V - Em>D>C>B, it does have a particularly Spanish feel to it, and loops round rather nicely, and has been used in many different styles, not just Spanish.

EDIT: please read Dave Miller's comments - they clear up some points better than I could, especially for Spanish readers. Thanks Dave.

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  • I'd like to make a separation between the Andalucian sequence and what I call the "Hit the Road Jack" sequence. Same backing chords, but if the melodic lines played over it are bluesy pentatonic stuff, avoiding the characteristic notes of the dominant chord, then it's Hit the Road Jack. But if the melody actually follows the chords and gives the leading tone etc, then it's Andalucian. :) Jul 30, 2022 at 13:36
  • Hi @Tim. Please, you might review your answer. If we refer to the official terminology, "Andalusian cadence" is the right name for the sequence -which is originaly a phrygian cadence- (in fact, there's no evidence of "Spanish sequence" naming related to this matter), even it's used as an ostinato pattern, not as a real closure. music.stackexchange.com/questions/8162/… laguitarra-blog.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/… Aug 16, 2022 at 8:13
  • @DaveMiller - thanks. I see a cadence as the last two chords, and a sequence as several chords. So, maybe Andalusian cadence is a bit of a misnomer. Andalusia is in Spain, and a place where the Moors were, and from where this sequence is thought, by some, to have emanated. I've heard it referred to as such many times, maybe erroneously. Can't see how it can be a cadence in its entirety, though. It (in this song) never reaches the V, which the sequence (or cadence) does. So, question-wise, i>VII has no special name.
    – Tim
    Aug 16, 2022 at 9:11
  • @Tim - You are welcome! I completely agree with your explanation to the fact that "cadence" it's not a proper designation for the sequence, as it's used in a diferent way nowadays. Maybe this word is simply inherited from the sequence origins, as it's based on dorian greek tetrachords, or because of the use of the sequence over the years, until its final form as Andalusian cadence. Aug 17, 2022 at 7:31
  • Please, you could check the second link I posted in my comment, that contains a complete study by Julio Blasco, Doctor from Alcalá University, a doctoral thesis that contains one of the best resources/studies you could find about these matter and it's effect in flamenco music. Don't know if you talk/know spanish, because I'm afraid there is no public english version of the document, but the study is very deep and wide and mentions the works of others (even Manolo Sanlúcar, one of the most important flamenco guitarists), and explains the origin, evolution and uses of the Andalusian cadence. Aug 17, 2022 at 7:31
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No.

Some progressions have well known names, but not all.

If you want to use Roman numerals without a key label, you should used letter case for major/minor and flats to show roots modified from a major scale: i ♭VII. That makes it much clearer you're talking about a minor triad followed by a major triad rooted a whole step below, in this particular case Em D.

When i ♭VII uses no more than a few characters, and the spoken English version - "minor one flat seven" is precise, I don't see what advantage a "name" provides. "Andalusian progression" which is i ♭VII ♭VI V would be misleading for this song, and something like "truncated Andalusian progression" is pretty wordy and not at all commonly understood. Same applies to shoe-horning it into "backdoor progression." This is not that.

However, because the progression is based on moving back and forth between Em and D (and by some harmony theory the C is just a form of the tonic Em, certainly not subdominant or dominant, and so harmonically static), you might generically refer to the progression as a vamp. I think if you said the song's accompaniment was mostly an Em vamp (in a moderate tempo, low dynamics) you would have tagged it pretty well.

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  • A vamp could be any short, repeated sequence of chords. Suggesting it as an answer to this question isn't really very helpful.
    – Laurence
    Aug 17, 2022 at 16:17
  • Why? It explains what is happening. Just because there can be many ways to vamp doesn't make it any less a vamp. Beyond that there isn't much else to say about the progression. Aug 17, 2022 at 19:07
  • The question was about the chords. 'Vamp' tells us nothing about them. 'Vamp' has two musical meanings - either a 'um-cha' or 'um-cha-cha' style of accompaniment or a, 'until ready' round-and-round bar or few bars' Neither of those imply i -VIIm.
    – Laurence
    Aug 17, 2022 at 19:17
  • My point is about the static harmony. It's just back and forth between two chords. That's characteristic of a vamp. Also, people do use the term vamp to describe accompaniment, not just an introduction. Aug 17, 2022 at 21:13
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I'll claim that there is no special name for this particular combination of chords, because there's nothing special about it. Pop songs use things like that. This is hard to prove, because absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evidence_of_absence

How could one possibly show "based on facts" that there cannot be a name that's been used commonly enough to claim that there "is" a name.

It's not listed on Wikipedia's semi-random list of chord progressions https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_chord_progressions (there's some questionable stuff there, "50's progression"..?) Does that prove there's no name for it?

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I appreciate this forum's mania for labelling things - 'What is this called?' comes second only to 'Why does this work?' But I don't think there's much value in trying to pin a label on to this mini-progression.

So, no there isn't.

Others have mentioned that it would be better written as i ♭VII. I might add that ♭VII has become so common and unremarkable in today's music that it deserves 'honorary diatonic' status. No excuse of 'modal mixture' or 'borrowing' required. And it can co-exist happily with a (major) V7 in the same piece. ♭VII is family now!

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  • Come on, if you're going to downvote, it's only polite to say why!
    – Laurence
    Aug 17, 2022 at 16:36

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