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Tonal Diatonic Harmony Progression

September 1, 2016

 

In traditional Western music, There is a predictable progression (the movement of one chord to the next) of chords within a key center. The establishment of key rests on the Dominant to Tonic chord movement, written by Roman numerals: V - I. In the key of C major this would be the G major chord moving to C major. If only notes of the scale are used to build the harmonies, the following diagram shows the expected chord movements.

diatonic harmonic progressions

Note the following:

  • The I chord can go to any of the other six diatonic chords.
  • Assuming the subdominant harmony is the ii chord and the dominant harmony is the V chord, root movement is by 5ths. For example, in the key of G major, the progression would be Bm, Em, Am, D, G.
  • As the vi chord in the diagram moves to the subdominant harmony, the choices are either the IV chord, the ii chord or a combination of both the IV - ii as the subdominant harmony. When the ii chord is used, it is many times in first inversion, rendering the bass tone of that chord the same as the IV chord. (inversions are or will be covered in another article. It is not essential to understanding the movement in this progression.)
  • In a similar fashion, as the subdominant harmony moves to the dominant harmony, the chord choice is either the Dominant V, or the Dominant vii0.
  •One common diatonic deviation is the Deceptive Cadence, where the Dominant harmony does not resolve to the expected tonic I chord, but rather proceeds to the vi Chord. This is possible because of the tonal ambiguity between the I and vi chord as they both have two scale tones in common. As example, in the key of D, the I chord is spelled D - F# - A and the vi chord is spelled B - D - F#. The resulting diagram looks like this:

harmonic progression with deceptive cadence

The diagram below shows the same progression for the harmonic minor scale.

Harmonic minor diatonic chord progression

This explains a majority of chord progressions within western music, both classical and contemporary. The bedrock progressions from this are:

ii - V- I in C major would be Dm - G - C

iio - V- i in C minor would be Do - G - Cm

IV - V - I in A major would be D - E - A

iv - V - i in A minor would be Dm - E - Am

IV - ii - V- I in D major would be G - Em - A - D

iv - iio - V- i in D minor would be Gm - Eo - A - Dm

vi - ii - V - I in F major would be Dm - Gm - C - F

VI -ii0 - V - i in F minor would be Db - G0 - C - Fm

vi - IV - V - I in G major would be Em - C - D - G

VI - iv - V - i in G minor would be Eb - Cm - D - Gm

 

 

 

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