# What is the theory behind this chord progression?

first time posting here, although I've read quite a few posts before.

So, I was analyzing the theory behind a song (Savatage - Gutter Ballet), and while it is primarily in the key of D Minor, it starts with the following chord progression:

Bb - F - C - G

The only connection I could find was in fifths, being that F is the fifth of Bb, C is the fifth of F and G is the fifth of C. Well, I guess we could say each chord is a fourth above the previous one. I've heard of secondary dominants, is there such a thing as secondary subdominants; and would it apply here? I'm honestly a bit stumped, especially since the rest of the song is fairly simple theory wise.

Cheers.

• Very similar to 'Hey Joe', which takes the sequence a little further. Yet another one to argue about what key it's in... – Tim Mar 25 '20 at 15:19

There could be a thing as secondary subdominants, but we can also explain this particular progression a bit more simply: we talk about V–I resolutions creating a large descending circle-of-fifths progression. G–C–F–B♭, for instance, is one such descending circle of fifths.

But here, we're going in the opposite direction: B♭–F–C–G! As such, this is just an ascending circle of fifths.

I don't know this song, but it's possible that this is part of a sequence, and that the music above the B♭ and F chords is all just moved up a step to happen over the C and G chords.

I wouldn't try to explain it with anything fancy, the G major is the only small surprise there, bringing D Dorian taste, as opposed to, say, a Gm or Dm chord. If the chords were just Bb - F - C - Dm, I guess you wouldn't feel a need for any sort of analysis? I think the G major is the "money chord" there, bringing some recognizable character to the harmony.

To illustrate how I hear the chords, I made a folk style reduction of the chords. Does this bring out the character of the Bb - F - C - G sequence?

So, my analysis is that it's just something like IV - I - V - II in F major.

Another approach you can take is that, after a listen to this intro, you can hear that they play Bb and C chords in the second inversion. So, there is a triad 'sliding' into third and fifth of F and G chords from the top. To me it feels more like a IV - I movement, so it sounds more like two plagal cadences, one after another.

Now, as it is not the end of a phrase and there is hardly a feeling of resolution, you can't call it a cadence in this case, so it is more about IV to I movement here: Bb(IV of F) to F, and C(IV of G) to G.

Richard's answer already points out the possibility of a harmonic sequence. I just want to elaborate on that a bit.

As you pointed out roots by descending fifth are the well known circle of fifths progression. As a two chord gesture it starts like this...

...if you sequence that down a step, you get the beginning of the circle, but also notice that each iteration, each bar starts with a root position chord...

...one way you can think of the sequence of roots by descending fifths is simply a descending line of root position chords alternating with first inversion chords. The main point being to recognize the larger scale motion which is simply a descending line.

You can apply the same idea, but use an ascending line.

The starting unit could be a descending fifth...

...or a descending fourth...

...it doesn't matter. Either one can be used sequentially in either an ascending or descending line.

If we choose the descending fourth and then use it with an ascending line we get...

I highlighted the root position chords. In D minor you can see we get...

Dm: III IV V

...a very strong drive to the dominant in D minor which could very obviously continue in D minor.

I mention this point about the root position chords moving by step to try to demystify root progression by descending fifth of descending fourth. There are a lot of ways you can put together sequential harmony, but a lot of it can just be viewed as ascending or descending by step through important scale degrees. Also, a lot of pop music uses chord changes by step which looks like bad voice leading by classical standards. Being aware of the step-wise natural of harmonic sequences helps bridge the gap between the two styles.

OK, back to the song.

Take the six chords of this sequence, but elaborate progressions up to a structural level.

The intro uses the first four chords and repeats them. It begins the ascent, but the repetition delays the eventual goal of D minor. It builds anticipation, good for an intro.

After the intro we get to D minor. But rather than the straight forward Dm and A chords it's enlarged to a whole verse section using Dm C Dm and F G. It doesn't use the dominant. You could say the verse is a big elaboration of the tonic Dm chord.

When it gets to the chorus/refrain we finally get the dominant to tonic harmony. When he sings gutter ballet it uses chords Bb A Dm which on a large scale fulfills the sixth chord - the A major chord - of the basic harmonic sequence.

Its a string of IV-I resolutions. Take it one further, to D, and you've Done The Time Warp. Again. Not uncommon in today's music.

• +1, because the intro sounds like it could be a similar thing. But then the song starts and it's in Dm, and subsequent instances of the Bb - F - C - G sequence don't sound like a IV-I series anymore, so I can't completely agree. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Mar 29 '20 at 17:45