I'm just starting and I know just the basic stuff, I can't get chord progressions and I have a couple questions.

  1. How do I know what progression can I do. I know that there are major and minor scales but does this mean that I can make whatever progression I want. Let's say, 1-6-1-7 or 1-3-2-7 and chord note 1 will always be the root note?

  2. Can I change octaves in making progressions, something like E1-D1-E2-F1 (numbers = octaves)?

  3. Someone told me that progression F-E-F-D have the root D and I can't understand why, I thought that this progression is made in F scale and the root is F, I even thought that there is no F in D scale so why it turns out that D is a root?

  4. When the first note in progression is not the root key?

  5. Does the melody at top of the chord progression makes the root note different or just chords make root keys and melody at the top of them doesn't matter and even if it will be in a different key then the root key of the song will be determined by chords?

closed as too broad by jdjazz, ttw, David Bowling, Todd Wilcox, Dom Jun 19 '18 at 15:39

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.


Your question raises several issues. Maybe you are dealing with a characteristic of contemporary pop styles which involves a repeated chord progression over a sustained or repeated bass note which is the tonic/root note/key note. Maybe not all the chords in the progression contain the tonic/root note/key note, but that's ok because the repetition of the bass note directs our attention away from any 'clashes' in the harmony. If this is the style of music you're working in you will find that it has its own set of rules which might include the bending, breaking or ignoring of the traditional rules of harmony.

But maybe you are wanting to work with the traditional rules of harmony. I assume that you are working on a composition in a particular key. If so, your melody will want to 'come home' to a particular note. In the key of D your melody will want to return to the note D (in any octave). This does not mean it has to start on D. When you're starting out at composition it's probably a good idea to start your melody on the key note (e.g. D) or the 3rd degree (e.g. F#) or the 5th degree (e.g. A) and finish on the key note.

You can start with a key and write the melody first then add chords, or you can start with a chord progression and compose a melody that will fit the chords. Either way is fine.

One reason why chords I, IV and V are used so often is that between them they contain all the notes in a major scale. By using inversions of these three chords you can come up with a smooth chordal accompaniment to your melody. This is a good place to start your composition work because it will give you a 'mathematical' answer when your ear is uninspired. You are eventually going to come across passing notes (passing tones) and non-chord notes (non-chord tones). The trick with them is to put them on 'weak' beats of the bar (i.e. not beats 1 or 3 or not on the first note in a pair of quavers).

As to your question about lowest notes and root notes: I believe you are referring to inversions. If you have a D and and F I guess you're looking at a D minor chord. In Root Position the chord would be stacked DFA with the root (D) at the bottom. In First Inversion the notes would be stacked FAD and in Second Inversion they would be stacked ADF. All those chords should be called D minor. One piece of advice: regardless of the chords in your progression, try to step or skip your melody from chord to chord, or even repeat a melody note for the new chord, rather than making big leaps in the melody. Eventually you can bend or break this rule but you can get a lot of mileage out of it before that happens.

  1. You can create any progression you want if it sounds nice to you, but there are certain progressions such as the I-IV-V (1-4-5) that work better. No the first note in the chord doesn't always have to be in root position, there's something called inversions, so for instance instead of playing C-E-G, I can play E-G-C, and make E the root note. That's known as first inversion. There's second inversion which would be G-C-E but that's rare and has a set of rules in order to use

  2. Yes

  3. I honestly don't understand what you're trying to say.

  4. See 1

  5. The melody usually doubles a note from the chord progression, the melody should be in the same key as the chords, yes.

  • Thanks for answer. What I meant by third question is: I had little note progression (it was working like a chords, just giving a strong background to the melody) which was F-E-F-D and I thought that the root of such progression is F but someone who listened to that, told me that I'm wrong and the root of such progression is D. I didn't understand why? – user38151 Apr 1 '17 at 19:42
  • D is a lower note than F that's why if you're playing in the same octave. The root is the lowest note not the first note. – Demitri Apr 2 '17 at 4:19
  • Alright I get it now. So if I simply make the D octave higher, F will become a root note? Is this a rule that the lowest note is the root or just in that particular progression? – user38151 Apr 2 '17 at 12:47

SHORT ANSWER: Focus on identifying and learning the common note intervals between melodic notes and root notes played on the main down beats. Read on for more details...

Yes, learning music theory will help ultimately. The problem though is that music theory is primarily descriptive rather than prescriptive in function. Music theory is primarily used to describe and communicate what notes to play and the specific relationships between notes. As a result, music theory doesn’t really tell you when to play specific root notes and corresponding chords to go with specific notes in a song’s melody, for example.

And yes, you can certainly learn chords and common chord progressions to play on your left hand. But here we have a similar problem - how does one know which chord progressions go with what specific song at the time you want to improvise and play the song (without relying on sheet music or pure memorization)? How do you add chords to a melody that you are making up on the spot?

So here’s what I do to begin learning and figuring out what to play on the left hand for whatever melody I’m playing spontaneously and by ear on the right hand. Focus on identifying the note intervals between the melodic notes played on the main down beats and the root notes! You can play a large majority of songs by ear using the following process.

  1. Play ROOT note at 1, 3 or 5 intervals (+ 1 octave) BELOW melodic note played on (sometimes immediately after) main down beat with left pinky. Play intervals 1 or 5 for melodic note I, II, IV, V and 3 for II, VI, VII; 3 when melody progresses chromatically up & down; 2, 4, or 7 in melancholy or midsection of song.

  2. Roll CHORD up & down notes at 1-3-5 or 1-5-8-to-10 intervals ABOVE root notes. Jazz up with 7-9. If you play the song in the key of C (minimizing use of black keys), you can for most of the time just freeze your hand into a three finger claw and roll the notes up from the root notes to play the chords with little or no thought.

Another suggestion: Play lots of songs off fake books that show only the melodic notes and the root notes (identified by the letters that specify the chords). As you play each song, play only the melodic and the root notes to help you quickly identify the number of intervals between the melodic notes played on the main down beats and the root notes. By doing this, you will quickly figure out (after playing just four or five songs) the common melody-root note intervals used to play certain types of songs and to play in various times and places within a song.

Once you figure out the patterns, you can read up on music theory to explore other options and ways to add variety to the left hand accompaniment (e.g. playing inverted chords to leave out the root note, selecting other types of chords to play off a given root note to create different feel or texture).


Progressions are tied to styles. There are progressions and voice leading motions that are accepted in one style of music but prohibited or not used in another style of music. Differences between Jazz and Classical music are an example of it.

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