Ever wondered why some chord progressions just sound so good? Are you looking to have full control over your chord progressions? Then let’s dive into what chord tones are most important!
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What if I tell you that the chords in your chord progression are not the only thing that is important? The notes that you accentuate are just as important. Because when you know what are the most important chord notes, then you know how to get the sound that you like.
So what are the most important notes or tones in your chord and chord progression? In short, the top notes and the bottom notes are the most important. Let’s find out why this is.
Video Tutorial: The Most Important Chord Tones In Your Chord Progressions
If you want to hear all these examples with real music, then check out my video on the most important chord tones in your chord progressions. If you want to learn more about creative songwriting techniques, check out my creative songwriting, composition and music theory playlist on YouTube.
The Spacing and Stacking of The Chordal Tones
How your notes are ordered and how far apart they are is important. When you play a B major chord. Do you stack your notes like B-D#-F# or do you stack them B-F#-D#?
I always like to divide my chords into two parts. The bottom part provides the foundation of your chords and the top notes give your chords their extra character.
The Lower Part of The Chord
To start, only play the root note and the fifth of your chord. Do this with all of your chords in your chord progression.
The lower you play the perfect fifth interval the fuller the sound gets. And if you want a fuller sound or want to add more body, then you can double the root note an octave higher or lower. The last chord example above, we call a power chord on guitar.
Adding The Top Note In Your Progression
Now to add some colour to our chord progression we will add the 3rd note of the chord in the top voice. This means that the highest note will be a third. Of course what kind of third, depends on the chordal quality.
What are Chordal qualities?
All regular chords can either have the quality of:
Major chords and Augmented chords have a major third and Minor and Diminished chords have a minor third. Augmented chords have a augmented fifth and Diminished chords have a diminished fifth.
In jazz, they call the third in your chords one of the guide notes. Guide tones are the third and the seventh in the chord. And I always like to say that the third in your chord defines the gender of your chords. Either major or Minor-oriented.
The Most Important Chord Tones
When I play a chord progression with only the bottom note and the top note then I basically have enough. Especially if the top note is always the 3rd of your chord. Just play the following chord progression.
Comparing Different Top Notes As Most Important Chord Tones
So are the top notes or highest tones really the most important chord tones? Well, try for yourself. Play these three chord progressions in a row. And play them exactly how it is written in the examples and see if the melody of your chord progression changes.
Chord progression No.1 the 5ths are the highest chord tones
Chord progression No.2 the octaves are the highest chord tones
Chord progression No.3 the 3rds are the highest chord tones
How do you identify chord tones? And when do you choose what note to play in your top voice?
You can identify chord tones because they are part of the basic triad or seventh chord. If they are the same then you know it’s right. And you can also learn to identify them by ear. Each interval has a sound quality to it. The 3rd sounds full and colourful, the 5th sounds open and stable and the octave sounds stable and final.
In my video on writing lead melodies without using scales, I show and play you how each interval sounds in a chordal context.
So with your next chord progression. Be aware of these most important chord tones and try to make some beautiful melodies with your chord progressions!
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Suggested Video Tutorial:
The Easiest Arrangement Tip For Better Songs & Clean Mixes!
While making my video about this popular chord progression:
I noticed something that is very easy but very essential.
Have you heard this before?
Recognize it? And how about this?
So what’s so special about this progression?
It’s not the chord progression but about how you stack the notes. And this way of playing regular chords you can find it in practically any style of music.
Even in orchestral music it sounds very satisfying!
And for all the voice leading purists out there: yes I know that all the chords move in parallel motion.
Everything has to do with the spacing and the stacking of the notes. In short, how they are ordered.
It might sound a bit technical but it really is quite simple.
Let’s break it down into two sections: the bottom part and the top part.
Instead of stacking all the notes like this…
you want to open up the spacing of the cord and let all the notes breathe.
On guitar for example this comes already quite natural when you play bar chords.
To start with the lower part let’s only play the root note and the fifth so we delete the third for the time being.
It might sound a bit bare and boring but focus on how stable this interval sounds.
Especially in the lower register this really sounds perfect!
You can even double the root note an octave higher or even an octave lower if you want.
But in many cases that’s not even necessary.
Let’s add the note that will give it all the color and emotion.
The third of the chord is reserved to be the top note and if you’ve seen my other videos then you know that I like to emphasize the importance of the top notes.
Well this is because together with the bass note these notes tend to stand out naturally. So they catch your ear more easily.
In this example pay attention to how the melodies of the bass note and top note sound.
And when I add a fifth in the middle. Does the melody really change?
Now the last question: does it really matter which note is on top and does it really sound different?
To prove this point in the next chord progression I have all three options lined up.
First I’ll start with the fifth in the top voice, then with the root note or octave in the top voice and the last the third will be the top notes.
Remember to focus on the color of the chords and the melodies of the highest notes.
It’s not that one option is better than the other.
All of them have their own place and because they have their own sound you can use this to benefit your musical expression.
This ordering and stacking of the notes is used in so many famous pieces of music but unfortunately due to copyright reasons I cannot play them here.
Did you recognize this technique in one of your favorites then why don’t you share it with us in the comments?
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Have a good one,
and for now…
See you next time!