Parallel chords are the easiest way to get great chord progressions. You can create strange progressions and melodies that you otherwise might not come up with. Let’s dive in and let’s get creative!

Parallel Chords: Amazing chord progressions and melodies

The technique we will use in this lesson is called harmonic planing, parallel harmony or parallel voice leading. It has been around for centuries already. So it’s definitely not. In the Middle Ages, they were already using parallel motion in music. Just look at composers such as Léonin and Pérotin. This lesson is not a complete historical explanation of the development of parallel harmonies in music theory. What you will learn is:

Video Tutorial

I made a video for this article. Check it out if you want to hear the musical examples with real music. Feel free to check out any other interesting music tutorials that I made on YouTube.

YouTube video
Video tutorial about chord progressions with parallel harmony

How To Easily Use Parallel Chords

When you look at the chord progression below. How would you describe it and how are the chords related to each other? You could say that it is in the key of C major. But what are the E and B major chords doing there?

parallel chords guitar and parallel chords piano
Chord progression with parallel chords

What it boils down to is that you hold one chord shape and move it all across the keyboard or guitar neck. And most important, you don’t change the shape. On piano, it works a little bit differently than on guitar. I find this technique to be the most intuitive on guitar. Many guitarists already use this when they play power chords. In any case, all the distances between the notes stay the same.

How To Organise Your Chord Progression

In tonal harmony and other classical techniques, you have rules that can guide you. Also, you keep your chords within a key. But when you use parallel motion like this you are completely free. And too much freedom can also make you get lost. Especially when you have a seemingly random chain of chords that have the same sound quality.

You can use a simple trick to stay organised and make your chords share some kind of relationship or tonal centre. To maintain a sense of orientation or hierarchy, I keep all the bass notes within the same key or mode. Check out the example below. All the bass notes are in the key of C major.

Parallel Major chords and the bass notes are from the key of C major
Parallel major chords and the bass notes are in the key of C major

These bass notes are your foundation. Now you can slide your major chords to any of these root notes. It creates more unity for you and the listener when the root notes are always part of the key.

Melody Tips For Parallel Chord Progressions

How do you play or write melodies to a chord progression, that potentially has many chords and notes outside of the key? Your melody might sound good on one chord, while on the next one, it sounds horrible!

There are two main ways how you can approach this:

  1. You search for notes that the chords have in common
  2. You emphasize the notes that are different between chords

Playing common notes in your melody

A great technique is to play notes that the chords have in common. Or notes that are part of the key. This creates a smooth melody with common notes.

Look at the chord and melody example below. Both the C and E major chords have the note E. When you play the note E in your melody you will create a smooth connection. Also, between the E and B major you can play the B. They both have the note B in common.

Common notes between C major and E major
Common notes between C major and E major
Common notes between E major and B major
Common notes between E major and B major
Chord Progression with a melody that plays common notes.
Chord progression with a melody that plays common notes.

Emphasizing notes that are outside of the key

The second approach is that with your melody you emphasize the notes in the chords that are outside of the key. In our example that would be the G# that belongs to the E major chord and the F# and D# that belong to the B major chord. These melody notes highlight the interesting parts of your progression!

Chord progression where the melody accentuates the notes that are out of the key
Chord progression where the melody accentuates the notes that are outside of the key

Conclusion and Summary

I hope you now see how easy and powerful this technique is. Especially if you have listened to my examples or played them yourself. You can do this with any type of chord. With diminished chords, augmented chords and minor chords. Whatever you like. You can even make up your own chords and use this technique.

What I like about playing around with chord planing in music is that it’s very easy. And the results are surprising and original. So whenever you are stuck, try it out!

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