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I recently started studying music theory, and while exploring inverted 7th chords, I put together this chord progression simply because it sounded quite good to me.

What I can’t get is how to understand/analyse this progression. And I’m asking because I’m stuck with these 4 chords for now and can’t get more ideas on how to expand on it. Does it fit any commonly used chord progression that I can probably use to get more ideas?

I was able to get this far with my limited knowledge:

In key of C - the first 2 chords fit Dorian (i7, IV7), while last 2 fit Locrian (bVMaj7, bVI).

Any pointers on how to understand this progression and ideas on how to expand on it? Would very much appreciate if someone could shed some light on this.

Thanks in advance.

  • could you tell us the context of this progression, please, otherwise we can only have some assumptions... – Albrecht Hügli Oct 22 at 9:04
  • I've tried to give an answer interpreting your chord progression. Now I read it again and you say " I put together this chord progression simply because it sounded quite good to me." I've overlooked that you put hem together yourself, so it is not from a sheet! But maybe unconsciously you hear the functions I am describing. – Albrecht Hügli Oct 22 at 10:13
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Let me guess:

I assume we are in the key of B♭ major, the Cm7-F7 is a ii7-V7 -> cadence in B♭ (at the end of the tune).

This means F7 and F#Maj7 are unrelated, they have nothing in common. So this is a "harmonische Rückung" (as we say in German - I'm still looking for the English term.)

Modulation B♭ -> D♭ F#Maj7-G# (probably G#7) could be (or will be?) (IV7-V) I -> C# which would be a modulation (D♭) to the mediant of Bb -> C#=Db i.e. (in this case F#Maj7-G# should be better notated by its enharmonic equivalent chords:

G♭Maj7-A♭ -> (IV7-V7) D♭

So in my analysis in the final cadence Cm-7-F7 -B♭ the tonic B♭ is skipped in purpose to modulate to D♭.

I've found this explanation for what I mean by "harmonische Rückung" :

Phrase modulation: Phrase (also called direct, static, or abrupt) modulation is a modulation in which one phrase ends with a cadence in the original key, and begins the next phrase in the destination key without any transition material linking the two keys. This type of modulation is frequently done to a closely related key—particularly the dominant or the relative major/minor key.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modulation_(music)

This describes exactly what I mean in my analysis of the progression above.

Direct/phrase modulation A direct modulation occurs when a chord in the previous key is followed directly by a chord in the new key. In other words, there is no smooth transition or overlap between keys, just a direct movement from one key to the next. This often happens at phrase boundaries, with the old-key tonic ending one phrase and the new-key tonic beginning the next. When a direct modulation happens across a phrase boundary, it is also called a phrase modulation.

http://openmusictheory.com/Modulation.html

Edit:

While I have to add:

In your progression you could consider (ii7-V7) and the following (IV7-V) as a smooth transition.

  • Thanks for the great answer! This is definitely the right direction. The more I fool around with the Db major chords, the more they seem to fit the overall harmony. – azeemshaikh38 Oct 23 at 6:35
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I hear the first two chords as a ii7-V7 in Bb and the second pair as IVmaj7-V7 in Db (C# enharmonic).

Personally, I can rarely resist adding a ninth to a ii7 and consequently I'm hearing the Gb maj7 as Ebm7-9 (albeit without the Eb bass note). However, that does give a lead as to where to go next. Each pair of chords can be thought of as ii7-9 - V7 with the second pair transposed (or modulated) up by a minor third.

Continuing with this pattern would lead to

F#m7-9 - B7 (ii7-9 - V7 in E)

Cmaj7 - D7 (IVmaj7 - V7 in G) or Am7-9 - D7 (ii7-9 - V7 in G)

...which will bring us back to doh.

Another option is to change the degree of modulation; rather than shifting the four chords up by three semitone, you can experiment with one, two, four or whatever else you fancy.

A third option is to take the second pair of chords as the starting point for the next sequence, substituting the IVmaj7 with the related ii7-9.

Again, you can mix all of these possibilities together until you find something you simply like the sound of and worry about the theory later. Experimentation is a great teacher. I'm a big believer in the notion that whatever works for you is a good way to proceed.

  • Great answer!! I agree 100% about the sequence of ii-Vs, and I tend to hear the Gb as Ebmin9 and the Ab as Ab7. – jdjazz Oct 23 at 2:37
  • This is an excellent answer. Exactly what I was looking for. It opens up possibilities for me to explore and experiment more. I also played around a bit with the suggestions you made and they seem very promising. Thanks for the help! – azeemshaikh38 Oct 23 at 6:39
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Be aware that there may not be any specific rationale behind the chords. If you wrote them and they sound good, and the chords just loop forever, then it's probably not worthwhile to try and label them with traditional functional harmony. They're seventh chords, they're smooth, and they sound nice played back to back. Not much more explanation can really be given without context.

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    This is more a comment than an answer. I'd like to up vote you too for Not much more explanation can really be given without context. But OP asks: "Any pointers on how to understand this progression and ideas on how to expand on it? Would very much appreciate if someone could shed some light on this." – Albrecht Hügli Oct 22 at 18:51
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...it sounded quite good to me.

You can sort of turn the question around and say something like: 'there aren't any triadic or seventh chord progressions that sound bad."

There are simply different functional and non-functional progressions and they all have some expressive potential depending on how they are used. From the aesthetic point of view of 'sounding good' there will always be some potential for listeners to disagree.

This part...

Cm7-F7

...you already understand as a diatonic progression, could be C Dorian, could be B flat major.

This part...

F7-F#Maj7-G#

...could be called non-functional. Depending on the voice leading it could be parallel motion or chord planing.

The question now becomes: 'what happens next?' You could alternate between the contrasting regions of C and F#, you could somehow try to relate the two with modulations, would meander to various tonics and not establish a center.

You might consider re-writing Cm7-F7-F#Maj7-G# with flats as Cm7-F7-GbMaj7-Ab if you want some kind of C minor-ish center. Ab is easier to relate to Cm as Cm:VI than the spelling G#. Gb might not relate so easily but from Cm it pushes it into Phrygian and Locrian.

  • I always first post my answer and then I read the others. If you did so too I have to say there's a lot agreement! I mean: the ii-V7 is not surprising and the re-writing to flat chords neither. But the point: what happens next? and assuming a modulation ... that's what I mean. – Albrecht Hügli Oct 22 at 18:53

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