I was playing yesterday and made up this 4 bar chord progression:

Cm, F, C, Fm

It's odd I guess, but it sounds perfect to what I am singing over it.

Does it comply with music rules and is it anyway close to a normal chord progression used in classical music for instance? How can I understand this chord progression from the point of view of music theory?

  • 3
    Music rules? What are they..?
    – Tim
    Jul 17, 2018 at 5:27
  • 1
    Music rules are those prescription rules given by teachers of music who give you classical music theory. Jul 17, 2018 at 5:34
  • It's doubtful that your sequence would have appeared in any classical music.
    – Tim
    Jul 17, 2018 at 5:43
  • Why not? Is it unique? Jul 17, 2018 at 5:51

3 Answers 3


Your progression complies with common practice period music rules if we apply enough tonicizations.

Cm to F is i to IV in C minor. Borrowing the IV chord from C major is allowed.

F to C is IV to I in C major (or I to V in F major).

C to Fm is I to iv in C major. Borrowing the iv chord from C minor is allowed (and it's a tactic I've used a fair few times before). Alternately, this is also V to i in F minor.

If your chord progression loops, Fm to Cm is iv to i in C minor.

  • 3
    Don't even have to borrow from C major. The appropriate notes are already there, in C melodic minor.
    – Tim
    Jul 17, 2018 at 5:28
  • Not certain whether the word 'allowed' should be allowed to be used in music!
    – Tim
    Jul 18, 2018 at 8:18

There's nothing about your chord progression that is "against the rules." You can analyze it in a number of different ways. A lot of how you would analyze it depends on the rest of your piece.

Don't get too caught up in doing it "right." Beethoven was heavily criticized by many of his contemporaries for breaking rules of theory; much was made about the "dissonance" of the opening chords of his first symphony. One of Chopin's contemporaries said this: "In search of ear-rending dissonances, torturous transitions, sharp modulations, repugnant contortions of melody and rhythm, Chopin is altogether indefatigable." And that doesn't begin to equal what some critics had to say about Debussy and Stravinsky in their times.

So, if you like it (I like it, too) then by all means use it. Passing the "smell test" is more important than whether it's a "normal" chord progression. Much of the world's great music was written while breaking the rules of its time.

  • Thank you. The problem is, trying to arrange other instruments to fit in nicely with this verse progression. Jul 18, 2018 at 8:04
  • Music would have vegetated had it not been for people breaking out of the 'rules'. Often it was at the cost of their recognition in their own lifetimes. Luckily for those who later realised, we have growth and development. Not always acceptable to everyone, but we need those pioneers!
    – Tim
    Jul 18, 2018 at 8:16
  • @SovereignSun That is a problem no matter what chords you are using! I'm sure you'll solve it. :)
    – BobRodes
    Jul 18, 2018 at 16:03

It looks uncommon indeed, and I doesn't look classical to me.

According to my interpretation, this progression is in Fm, because the C Fm (V i) at the end is a very strong resolution. So, the only chord out of the scale would be the F, borrowed from F major.

Though, when the progression starts, Cm F sound like a ii V of Bb. When C comes after F, it sounds like a V and the progression is biased towards F, but Fm comes instead, which is unexpected, but also makes sense and provides resolution.

For me, the Roman Numeral analysis would be: v I V i.

The best features, in my opinion, are the presence of C, when one would expect a Bb, and then an Fm when one would now expect and F.

  • Well, I kind of like the way it sounds. Jul 17, 2018 at 13:56
  • 1
    And it's fine. Don't torture yourself by trying to decide what key it's in though!
    – Laurence
    Jul 17, 2018 at 14:18
  • @LaurencePayne - aw, I think we really need to know...
    – Tim
    Jul 17, 2018 at 16:05
  • What's all this 'borrowing' about? Totally unnecessary.
    – Tim
    Jul 17, 2018 at 16:07
  • 1
    You miss the point. If one borrows from somewhere, that's what needs to happen. However, here, the notes are available anyway. So there is no need for any borrowing. There is not always no need to borrow. in other words, sometimes there is a need to borrow. Here there is not.
    – Tim
    Jul 17, 2018 at 19:57

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