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This is a two part question.

I have a piece of music written in the key of C called "Tranquility" (written by Jazz guitarist, Frank Vignola).

My two questions are:

  1. how do I identify the chord progression?
  2. how would I correctly identify a specific chord that looks like a different chord?

question 1

So the music itself is broken down like so:

  • bar 1: Cmaj7, C6/9
  • bar 2: Cmaj9, Cmaj7
  • bar 3: Dm7, Dm9, G9
  • bar 4: Cmaj7, Am7
  • bar 5: Dm7, G7
  • bar 6: Cmaj7, C6/9, Cmaj7, C6
  • bar 7: Dm9, G7b9
  • bar 8: Dbmaj7, C/G

Now from what I can tell this isn't a single chord progression, like a ii, V, I let's say, because it looks like it changes between bars.

If I translate the chords into their roman numerals:

  • bar 1: I, I
  • bar 2: I, I
  • bar 3: ii, ii, V
  • bar 4: I, vi
  • bar 5: ii, V
  • bar 6: I, I, I, I
  • bar 7: ii, V
  • bar 8: I, I

It looks to go: I, ii, V (first three bars) then I, vi, ii, V (bars 4 to 5) then I, ii, V again (bars 6 to 8).

What chord progression would this be (is it multiple)?

I'm led to believe that I vi ii V is a standard Jazz progression and as each of those numerals are used here in this song (in different variations), do we just refer to this progression as a I vi ii V?

question 2

In bar 3 there is a Dm9 played (D(1), F(m3), A(P5), C(m7), E(M2)). But if I look at the notes played, they are:

  • C (D string, 10th fret)
  • F (G string, 10th fret)
  • A (B string, 10th fret)
  • E (E string, 12th fret)

Now if I didn't have the lead sheet music, how would I know this was a rootless Dm9 chord?

Ps, could this be referred to as a 3rd inversion of a Dm9, even though there is no D played?

Looking at just the notes played it would suggest it's an Fmaj7 (drop 2 voicing if the order of notes was played as C, F, A, E).

No other combination of those notes would match a Dm9.

What would your process/steps be to figuring out that chord?

I'm guessing I would need to look at the lead sheet and take guidance by the potential chord progression and so it would be unlikely for a piece of music in the key of C with a strong leaning towards a Jazz chord progression to use an F (IV) and so I should consider looking at dropped notes.

There I would have two potential options (dropped notes in square brackets):

  1. [D], F, A, C, E
  2. F, A, C, E, [G]

If I started looking at G (which is the V in the key of C) I'd find the notes of a G7 to be G, B, D, F so nothing like the notes actually being played, where as the D (ii, so Dm7) match exactly.

But that just feels like a long winded process. Maybe over time that's something that just comes more naturally and with speed?

  • In q2, you mean fret 10 not 11, I think. In jazz, especially, some notes are left out of chords and some chords have the same notes but different names. E.g. F6/Dm7. Not sure what the actual question is asking. Hence, comment. – Tim Mar 20 '18 at 10:10
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    I - vi - ii - V is known as Rhythm changes, but it is fine to just call it a "one, six, two, five". – ex nihilo Mar 20 '18 at 13:55
  • @DavidBowling oh, interesting! I'll take a read of that, thanks! – Integralist Mar 20 '18 at 18:04
  • With respect to q2 there are many pairs of chords that are just inversions of each other. You have met one such pair here. I(maj6) and vi(-7) is one pair. But here if what you're saying is true it seems that the guitar fingering for the D-9 is missing the root. If you had no context (neighboring chords, key, etc) that would be an F maj7 pure and simple. A favored fingering of X-9 for guitarists is the same. By the way ii and IV can be substituted for each other, like (vi and I) and (iii and V). – ggcg Jun 1 '18 at 18:05
  • "bar 8: I, I" not quite. The Db is probably serving as a tri-tone sub for the dominant. The major 7th of Db is the tonic you're resolving to. And the other notes are a 1/2 step away from C chord tones making a nice chromatic progression for a resolution. – ggcg Jun 1 '18 at 18:10
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No, this piece doesn't have a simple repeated chord pattern. Why should it? Most music doesn't. You seem to have described what it DOES do quite accurately. Beyond that, there's nothing to 'identify'. It's 'the chords to "Tranquility"' That'll do!

It doesn't do anything too harmonically way-out. The first few bars explore different colourations of the tonic chord. Then there's a ii7, V7, I leading into a I, vi, ii7, F7, I. Both very common cliches (but none the less useful for that). The final ii7, V7, I is tarted up with a b5 substitution - a Db chord substituting for the G7. Added notes and inversions don't affect the harmonic structure, though it's interesting to notice that the Ab in G7(b9) sets the ear up for the Db(maj7) that follows.

You are also correct in noting that a set of chord symbols can't fully describe a piece of music. And that the nature of the guitar often restricts the choice of chord voicings. Also, it's common not to play ALL the notes defined by the chord symbol.

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I'll try to analyze the chords progression:

Looking at the chord progression it seems this song is based on a turnaround progression in particular II / V / I - I / VI / II / V / I

It starts with two bar of I then it starts with a II / V / I then I / V / II / V / I and then again on II / V.
The last bar is a plagal cadence IV - I. It use a subdominant substitution so instead of the IV degree (F) it use the Dbmaj7 (most known as neapolitan chords).

About q2 it is a common practice for the harmonic instruments (especially piano) to use the rootless chords. In jazz we have two most played voicing 3d and 7th, so we start playing the chords from the 3d and then III - V - VI - II or from the 7th VII - II - III - V. So we omit the tonic (bass usually do that).
So in your case you could choose the voicing to use, you could omit the root or no, it's your choice, but if you think at the piano as I said above you are playing simply use the 9th instead of the root.

In other hands a lot of chords has the same note but different name. As Tim suggested in comment for example F6 and Dm7 has the same note.

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