Weekend Chops Builder: Pop Organ Workshop by Bill Irwin - Chord Symbols & Turnarounds

March 10, 2016

Continuing our celebration of 40 years of Keyboard, we'll present some of our old -- but still very relevant -- lessons for our Weekend Chops Builder exercises. Enjoy.


There are a couple of harmony techniques I want to cover in this and future columns, but I've been getting some feedback that the chord progression notation used in the examples is not clear to all of you, so let's take a minute to clear the matter up.

There are some points of conflict in chord progression notation between the way it's used in traditional harmony studies in colleges and universities and the way it's used in "commercial" music, but the pop approach is easily understood. Roman numerals are used to indicate steps of the major scale:

Arabic numerals and abbreviations are used to indicate the types of chords built on the various steps of the scale: 7 = seventh chord; 9 = ninth chord; dim = diminished; aug = augmented; etc.

When Roman numerals are used to refer to chords rather than single notes, the Roman numeral without any Arabic numeral or abbreviation indicates the major chord built on that step. V7 indicates the common dominant seventh chord built on the fifth step of the scale, and IVm is the minor triad built on the fourth step. Study the following progression:

Key I II7 IVm V7 I
C C major D7 F minor G7 C major
F F major G7 Bb minor C7 F major
G G major A7 C minor D7 G major

Use chord progression notation to practice progressions in all keys, especially the five simplest keys of C, F, G, Eb, and Bb. You can also use chord progression notation to transpose both melody and harmonic accompaniment quickly and easily. Study the following example: 

It's fairly obvious how the chord progression notation immediately indicates the chords to be played in the different keys. Before going on, transpose the progression given above into the keys of Eb and Bb.

In transposing the melody, you can either relate all the melody notes to steps of the scale of the original key, or think of each melody note as a step of the chord that accompanies it:

The various accompanying chords are not relevant to the first approach to transposition; the second approach might be easier for a performer who is heavily harmonically oriented.

Use each of these approaches to transpose the melody shown. Trying both approaches should quickly show you which one best fits your musical thinking.

* * * *

Let's move on to a group of chord progressions that are extremely useful both as introductions and for turnarounds. A turnaround progression can be used to return to a theme, as a "fill" for first endings in lead sheets, as a harmonic fill at the end of an eight-measure theme before continuing the tune, as a substitute progression used at the end of a tune to return to the beginning for another chorus, or as a substitute harmony to expand your melodic thinking in improvisation.

Once the movement of the progression has begun, it will proceed in either a dominant (movement in intervals of a fourth) or chromatic (movement in half-steps) manner, or a combination of both. This point is extremely important and should have great impact on your harmonic progression creativeness.

Stop and think about how the average progression moves around the Circle in Fourths, i.e. E7 to A7 to D7 to G7 to C7, etc. Depending on the melody, try moving from E7 to D7 chromatically using Eb7 (the equivalent of A7 with a flatted 5th and flatted 9th, with the flatted 5th, Eb, played in the bass), from D9 to C6 using Db9, and so on. We might mix them up by moving from E9 to A9, then to Ab9 (instead of D9) on the way to G9.

Remember; avoid being "locked in" when it comes to suggested chords. Majors can be major plus 9, major 6th plus 9, major 7th or 9th; minor 7th can be minor 7th plus 9; seventh chords can be replaced by ninths, elevenths, thirteenths with flatted 5ths and 9ths, or thirteenths with sharped 5ths and 9ths. Initially, let the melody notes decide which chords and progressions you will use. Later, you can take "artistic liberty" with original melody notes and use your imagination in constructing progressions.

Let's examine two musical situations before proceeding—the first ending with no indicated progression for two measures and the final two measures of a song you want to repeat: 

Here are some examples of how progressions can be added to the first ending (melodies can be constructed from the new chords): 

And here are some examples of turnarounds for returning to the beginning of a chorus instead of playing the original ending: 

Progressions starting with a I chord include: I6, VIm7, I Im7, V7; 16, ldim, IIm7, V7; I6, #Idim, IIm7, V7; 16, bIII9, IIm7(9), V13; I6, bIII9, II9, bII9; I, VI7, II7, V7 (for "oldies"); I, bVII, bVI, V9. Progressions in a minor key include: Im, V7, Im, V7; Im, lVm, Im, V7; Im, IVm, bVI9, V9.

Instead of starting on or returning to a I chord, depending on the melody note or on your taste, you can start the progression with a III or VI chord and move either diatonically or chromatically: IIIm7, VIm7, IIm7, V7(b9); IIIm7, VI7(b9), IIm7(b5), V13; IIIm7, bIIIm7, IIm7, V9; IIIm7, bIIIm7, IIm7, bII9; III9, bIII9, II9, bII9; VIm7, IIm7, V9, bII9; VIm7, IIm7, IVm6, V13(b9); VIm7, bV19, IIm7, V9; VIm7, bVI13, IIm7(9), bII9.

If you found the following examples of diatonic and chromatic progressions in the key of C, could you notate them and transpose them to other keys? Em7, Eb9, Ab9, G9; Em7, Eb9, Ab9, Db9. 

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