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Chord Progressions for Improv
Useful to learn.
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (12 votes) 
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ELCBK
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Some people have asked why is it so important to be able to identify the Key(s) or Scale(s) used in a tune. 

If we know the correct Key/Scale used, there are common Chord Progressions that will work with it. 

  • A Chord Progression is a sequence of chords that sound great. 

Playing Back-up/Backing Tracks use Chord Progressions, but they are also extremely helpful when it comes to Solo Improvisation!  They offer an extended palette from which to choose notes - allowing more creative freedom!  

Common Chord Progressions

  • A common Chord Progression is the I-IV-V.  
  • If our tune is in the Key of G (G,A,B,C,D,E,F#) - then I is G chord, IV is C chord, and V is D chord.

The 1st chord (I) is the Root Chord of the tune scale.  The IV Chord is the Root Chord of the 4th note's scale, and the V Chord is the Root Chord of the 5th note's scale. 

  • So, if the tune is in the Key of G, the I Chord (G,B,D) is the Root Chord of the G scale. 
  • the IV Chord (C,E,G)  is the Root Chord of the C scale. 
  • the V Chord (D,F#,A) is the Root Chord of the D scale. 
  • here's a link to find the notes of Root Chords: Pianochord.org

Each Chord of a Chord Progression is played for a duration in a tune. 

While a Chord is viable, not only can the notes (that make up the chord) be added to your palette of scale notes used in your tune, but ALSO the notes that belong to the Root Chord scale!  

NOW FOR SOME FUN! 

50 Improv Ideas For the Key of G, from Dustin Ballard (DustyFiddles)! 

  

...when I started learning to play the Violin, I didn't see how any of this info was pertinent to me, at the time - maybe I would've been more aware if I'd hung out with other musicians who played more chord oriented music, but now I see the benefit of learning about Chord Progressions.

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ELCBK
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Still using the example of the Key of G - here's another VERY common  Chord Progression:

I-V-vi-IV 

The new chord in this progression is G minor 6th Chord (vi) - consists of G (root), Bb (minor 3rd), D (perfect 5th), E (major 6th). 

vi is a Tetrad.  (a chord with 3 notes is a Triad

 

Step by Step, Matt gives GREAT tips in this TUTORIAL, "FCTR: Improvising Over Chords"

 

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Gordon Shumway
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You love generating 1000-page threads, don't you!

1000-page jazz theory books have been written on this subject.

(try Jazzology it's the most convenient and most economically priced I could find. I read half of it 10 years ago)

Anything that lets you go up a ladder of fourths is good.

Check out jazz turnarounds

It's not just about jazz - it's at the heart of Western classical music theory since tonality was invented. A fabulous, extreme, sublime example is the ending of the first half of Satie's Gymnopédie I, which (arguably) has the chord sequence F#13, B11, E9, A7, D.

I haven't watched the videos. If it's classical improv, I don't want to know.

And the best way to learn improv is probably to get some jazz violin that has been written down, and you'll find many places where it's horrible, and you'll want to find better things.

E.g. recently I was looking at Grappelli's Flonville, which was an ABRSM grade 6 piece a few years ago. On the whole, it's pretty well presented, but there are places where it isn't, and other places where Grappelli plays something different from what's written, probably because he played something different every time he played it.

That's probably better than videos.

(OK, I just watched the first video - it was fun and clever)

Andrew

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ELCBK
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https://s3.amazonaws.com/pix.iemoji.com/images/emoji/apple/ios-11/256/woman-facepalming-medium-light-skin-tone.png

Geez, I think my 2 posts are MUCH more interesting for beginners than a 1000 page book. (lol) 

This current Thread isn't about Classical improv, but here's a GREAT article (with videos) about how to improvise in Classical music:

What is Improvisation in Classical Music? - The Scroll Ensemble

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Gordon Shumway
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Yeah, but it won't stop at 2 posts - you'll be asking a million questions in the morning, lol!

(classical improv - it's a guitar thing. Don't get involved. Walk around them!)

Andrew

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Laughing To Bits Emoticons

I'm just sharing stuff I wish I would've learned earlier... not asking, at least not at this moment. 

Trying to bring together what I've discovered, includes answers to some of my questions from this last couple years, hopefully in an easy to understand & meaningful way - to help other beginners. 😊

AND, I appreciate everything that other members add to this subject! 

 

THIS Thread strongly relates to these other threads - all with GREAT tips & lessons/tutorials: 

 

Helpful Tips - Start Learning to Play Back-up For Fiddle Tunes Thread

Western Swing Thread

Modal Scales/Keys Thread

Creative Use of Backing Tracks Thread

 

Let me know if there's other threads that should be linked.  

 

Btw, the link in my previous post was to a great article w/videos about Improv in Classical music - NOTHING about guitars, but there's some interesting info about improvising in Baroque music.   I'll add the link in the Classical & Baroque area, too.

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DOUBLE STOPS are a good place to start, when using Chord Progressions - especially useful for playing back-up improv.

A chord with only 2 notes is a Dyad - aka., Interval, Double Stop, Partial Chord, Power Chord (if a perfect 5th).  https://findyourmelody.com/2-n.....te-chords/

For an EASY I-IV-V Chord Progression in the Key of D - it can be played as ALL open-string, 'double-stop' chords (D chord, G chord, A chord) on the VIOLIN

  • I (root) Chord is the D Chord - D+A open strings (power chord/perfect 5th). 
  • IV Chord is the G Chord - G+D open strings (power chord/perfect 5th). 
  • V Chord is the A Chord - A+E open strings (power chord/perfect 5th). 

For VIOLA, an EASY I-IV-V Chord Progression in the Key of G - (G chord, C chord, D chord), can be played as ALL open-string, 'double-stop' chords. 

  • I (root) Chord is the G Chord - G+D open strings (power chord/perfect 5th). 
  • IV Chord is the C Chord - C+G open strings (power chord/perfect 5th). 
  • V Chord is the D Chord - D+A open strings (power chord/perfect 5th).   

VERY "Beginning Fiddle Backup, 1, 4, 5 chords" - Mike Parsons (Bluegrass with Friends)!  Starts in the Key of D.

 

The I-IV-V Chord Progression in the Key of A - (A chord, D chord, E chord).

  • I (root) Chord is the A Chord - A+E open strings (power chord/perfect 5th).
  • IV Chord is the D Chord - D+A open strings (power chord/perfect 5th).
  • V Chord is the E Chord - E+B first finger across both strings (power chord/perfect 5th).

KEY of A - "Bluegrass Fiddle Theory Chords & Licks Part 1" - Charlie Walden. 

 

Key of A - "Bluegrass Fiddle Theory Chords & Licks Part 2" - Charlie Walden.

 

EASY to find ALL chords & scales here: https://www.basicmusictheory.c.....iad-chords

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It's EASY to find the root note of chords for the I-IV-V Chord Progressions on the Fiddle, Viola & Cello! 

I probably should've shared these videos earlier! 

"Find the 1, 4, 5 chords QUICKLY on the fiddle" by Michelle Edwards (WireWood Station). 

 

Chris Haigh gives tips & shows how to find "2 Note Chord Shapes For The Fiddle" for Chord Progressions. 

 

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Linking this video (from another thread), because I'm hard pressed to find a better one that explains, in such a simple manner, the relationship of the I-IV-V Chord Progression to playing Fiddle Back-up - especially for Bluegrass music. 

This great little video also explains a little about the 12 Bar Blues - how it uses the I-IV-V Chord Progression!

 

 

 

In comparison to the banjo, we can get by with 1-note-shuffle-bowing as vamping on the Fiddle, and we use double stops (dyads) instead of playing larger chords.

We don't have frets, but our 'Fiddle' scale patterns ALSO remain constant in different positions.  We have our own, but similar, 'licks' - and use the I-IV-V Chord Progression scale notes to improvise.

 

I'd LOVE to hear more thoughts on all this!

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Wow!  This thread is FULL of video's I need to watch!  From the titles, exactly something I want to be able to do - play chords to accompany singing or for playing in a group....  if you know bluegrass you know instrumentals typically allow different instruments to play the 'lead' throughout the song, others playing background.  Switching up the leading instrument throughout the piece.  For my own pleasure here at home I am ALWAYS the soloist, (whether its bluegrass or classical or anything in between) LOL, but if I ever have the chance to jam with others I want to be able to play chords!

Thanks  Emily! @ELCBK

Lin

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@LinDee -

Really cool that you are interested in Bluegrass! 

I probably don't have all this info in any good order - but hope I'm overlapping enough to make some sense out of this thread. 😊 

 

I should probably try to make a few points clear.

If you do NOT have any background of playing guitar or other chord-based instrument - you may not be aware of this info.

1.) This thread has a lot to do with using the "Nashville Number System" - to identify note and chord positions in scales for Chord Progressions and improvisation. 

Nashville Numbering System

2.) It's important to play the chords of a Chord Progression in it's specific order, but the order of the notes played within each chord - can be changed. 

So, when we play 2-note chords (Double Stops), we can choose ANY 2 notes from a 3 (or more) note chord - AND we can play those 2 notes in ANY ORDER on the fingerboard (high or low).  Most people opt for the easiest. (lol) 

  • NOT all Double Stops are Power Chords (Perfect 5ths) - Major 3rds are a common interval. 
  • Common 3-note Major Chords start on the Root Note (or Tonic), then the 3rd, followed by the 5th.  Notes of a chord can be rotated, so if the order of notes in a Chord are changed, it's called an Inversion. 
  • The 1st Inversion starts on the 3rd, then the 5th, followed by the Root note (or Tonic). 
  • The 2nd Inversion starts on the 5th, then the Root note (or Tonic), followed by the 3rd.

3.) Once you learn chord shapes for specific Chord Progressions, they can be played in other keys/scales AND different positions on the Fiddle fingerboard - exactly the same way! 

 

In THIS video, Megan Lynch Chowning does NOT use all Power Chords (perfect 5ths) for her I-IV-V Chord Progression, in the Key of E

She has picked what gives her the best Bluegrass sound from within each chord - and shows it to us!   

 

 

This is what Megan uses: 

The I-IV-V Chord Progression for the Key of E is; E chord, A chord and B chord

  • For I, Megan plays the E,B Double Stop - use 1st finger for BOTH E on the D string & B on the A string.  She gets this from the E chord (E,G#,B).  It is a Power Chord - a Perfect 5th interval. 
  • For IV, she plays a C#,E Double Stop - high 3rd finger C# on the G string, and leave your 1st finger E on the D string.  It comes from the 1st Inversion (C#,E,A) of the A chord (A,C#,E).  It is a Major 3rd interval. 
  • For V, she plays an F#,B Double Stop - 2nd finger F# on the D string, 1st finger B on the A string.  It comes from the 2nd Inversion (F#,B,D#) of the B chord (B,D#,F#).  It is a Major 3rd interval. 

This video really confused me the 1st time I watched it 🥴 (back when I started a different thread on playing back-up with the fiddle), so felt it was important to show how Megan came to her chord decisions. 

Chord notes are always listed in order of lowest pitch, first.  This is why I show the inversions used.

 

 

Find Scales, Chords and Inversions HERE - Basic Music Theory

 

Any helpful, additional tips would be appreciated! 

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Y'all probably think I'm crazy doing all this, but I figure the more I share my understanding of this here, then the more it helps me and hopefully helps others. 

In a I-IV-V Chord Progression, I've mentioned that the I chord is the Root (or Tonic) Chord

  • IV is also known as the Subdominant Chord. 
  • V is also known as the Dominant Chord. 

I think it might be important to show a relationship to the Circle of 5ths, now. 

https://i2.wp.com/neelmodi.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Circle-of-fifths-1200.png?fit=1181%2C1200&ssl=1

If you can guess the Root (I or Tonic) Chord, the scale used, or if you can view a Key signature, then you can easily find the Subdominant (IV) Chord and the Dominant (V) Chord from this chart, to complete a I-IV-V Chord Progression.

  • Counter Clockwise, next to the Root Chord (I) is the Subdominant Chord (IV). 
  • Clockwise, next to the Root Chord (I) is the Dominant Chord (V). 
  • The inner circle gives the Relative Minor Key.

Here's TWO MINUTE crash courses on Subdominant Chords and Dominant Chords from Jesse Strickland. 

 

This is all very nice & neat, but not a complete help if the scale used is a MODE! 

...it can be hard to determine if a Mode is being used, because they have slightly different interval patterns than regular Major & Minor Scales.

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Okay, I mentioned MODES! (lol)

There's a whole other thread on this, so for now, just wanted to say I think of them as EXTRA-COOL SCALES - so consider trying a I-IV-V Chord Progression with one of them! 

* edited/added:

I have since learned, from a different site's blog, that I need to take a careful look at Chord Progressions when using MODES, because some of their note positions can be off enough to change their FUNCTION

For example, if using a MODE 7 Chord, it might be off by more than a half step to the Root - and then it won't have that feeling of urgent need to resolve to the Root. 

🤔 ...but I'm starting to see where I might have options if playing only Double Stops - maybe even adding in an augmented or diminished chord between the 7 chord & the Root.  Maybe more on this later.

 

My point is, MANY tunes (several genres) use these MODES  - they need backup and improvisation, too!

Here's an easy to understand, TWO MINUTE, crash course on MODES, by Jesse Strickland! 

 

 

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dazed

@ELCBK - my head is literally spinning, LOL!!!

must put off the 'modes' discussion for the time being - still trying to understand why C is major and the same exact notes can be Am - totally confusing, but I am working on it.  cool

The lesson above on the Nashville Numbering system is great - she is a REALLY good teacher.  My 4th finger ability is pretty much nil at the moment, so what she is showing - well, I UNDERSTAND what she is saying to do- but not sure when I will be able to actually put it in practice.  I understand the PATTERN she is showing, but I don't understand really, as the notes she is playing don't seem to actually relate to the I IV V progression, but I am sure I will figure it out eventually...  

THANK YOU for all the great info and links - love learning new things - but need to remember to keep practicing my scales and little tunes too, LOL, I find it very easy to get caught up in something and then let other things fall by the wayside, sigh.  

Lin.

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 Something important, I didn't realize
when I started playing the Violin, is that
Chords have designated FUNCTIONS in Harmony

Knowledge of functional harmony will absolutely be the one thing that helps you learn material the fastest.  Being aware of chord tendencies will help you predict what the next chord in a song will be, and will help you hone in on mistakes when one player isn’t in sync with everyone else.  What if a situation arises where you need to play a tune in a different key?  From songwriting to performing, knowing the functions of chords is essential to reach your top musical potential. (ASK.AUDIO)

https://i.stack.imgur.com/TtVLQ.png

We all enjoy a hike along an interesting woodland path

or a stroll through a beautiful garden. 

Notes and Chords form a similar path that leads us through music.   

Chord Progressions provide the skeletal structure of

HARMONY, that we build our improvisation on. 

It's up to us to make the path interesting.

 

 

 

🤔... I wanted to help beginners, so about Chord FUNCTIONS for the I-IV-V Chord Progression:

The Tonic (or Root) Chord - it is 'Home Base', it's a restful place to be and return to. 

The Subdominant Chord - adds motivational tension.  You're a little antsy, so you leave home and set out to make something happen... maybe you run into the Dominant Chord.

The Dominant Chord - is a Panic Attack.  You have too much anxiety and feel you have to run home. 

 

The I-V-vi-IV Chord Progression (post #2) - PROLONGS Harmonic FUNCTION by adding the vi Chord

The vi Chord - reinforces the tonal center.  By adding this, you now have a great home, with Family and/or pets - so you have to linger around a bit, saying goodbye to everyone, before you leave. 

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Mark
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LinDee,

must put off the 'modes' discussion for the time being - still trying to understand why C is major and the same exact notes can be Am - totally confusing, but I am working on it. 

I know your learning the fiddle but using a piano you lean music theory is way easier because you can visualize half steps and hole steps, and see how C major and its natural minor A Minor are the same notes. I'll try and find some examples to illustrate it.

Mark

Master the Frog and you have mastered the bow.

Albert Sammons

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Mark
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7LinDee,

He does a pretty good job on basic theory.

Hope it helps.

Mark

 

https://www.music-theory-for-m.....cians.com/

Master the Frog and you have mastered the bow.

Albert Sammons

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@LinDee -

Sorry, I'm going back to edit that - hopefully will be more clear. 😊

 

Megan is only playing part of each of the I-IV-V chords. 

These are the finger patterns of the three partial chords Megan plays (you don't need 4th finger for these)

1.) I is an E,B Double Stop - use 1st finger for BOTH E on the D string & B on the A string.  I think she does a little slide into it. 

2.) IV is an C#,E Double Stop - high 3rd finger C# on the G string, and leave your 1st finger E on the D string. 

3.) V is an F#,B Double Stop - 2nd finger F# on the D string, 1st finger B on the A string. 

 

You can use her SAME FINGER PATTERN of Double Stops for ANY Bluegrass tune, in ANY Key/Scale!  ...unless, for some reason they use a different Chord Progression.

Just start with your 1st finger on whatever the Root/Tonic note of the scale used - also place your 1st finger on the next higher string (at the same time), just like I above. 

Megan's choice of notes that she picked, from what was available within those chords, gives an authentic 'Bluegrass' sound! 

I think this is the PERFECT pattern for you to learn! 🤗 

...thanks for giving me a chance to fix this.

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Hope it helps.
 

Mark

https://www.music-theory-for-m.....cians.com/

  

@Mark -

That's a wonderful link for GREAT info on ALL music Theory! 

Was super nice to find a list of MODE Pattern/Formulas, there! 

This means I can now easily start in ANY Key and figure out whatever MODE I'd like to use with it!  ...might even help me figure out if a MODE is already being used for a tune!

THANK YOU! 

 

Ionian: R 2 3 4 5 6 7 R

Dorian: R 2 b3 4 5 6 b7 R

Phrygian: R b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 R

Lydian: R 2 3 #4 5 6 7 R

Mixolydian: R 2 3 4 5 6 b7 R

Aeolian: R 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 R

Locrian: R b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7 R 

R = root or tonic  

 

I wish I could remember that Modes essentially differ by ONE note, only ONE half step, from one to the next, if in order. 

locrian (change b5⇒5) becomes phrygian (change b2⇒2) becomes aeolian (change b6⇒6) becomes dorian (change b3⇒3) becomes mixolydian (change b7⇒7) becomes ionian (change 4⇒#4) becomes lydian  

Sometimes I can't see the forest for the trees. (lol)

...I need to go back & edit my earlier post on MODES, though.

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A little more about Tonic, Subdominantand Dominant, Chord FUNCTIONS - because all of the other chord FUNCTIONS can also be grouped under one of these three, AND some might possibly be interchangeable in Chord Progressions

  • TONIC: I, iii, vi
  • SUBDOMINANT: IV, ii
  • DOMINANT: V, iii, vii 

The I chord and the vi chord share 2 notes - so the vi chord can be similar enough to substitute for the I chord.  

Both the IV chord and the ii chord share 2 notes - so same thing. 

The iii chord can possibly fill in for the Tonic or the Dominant - depending on the situation as to which might sound right. 

 

All food for thought if you are improvising and need fresh ideas! 

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