Chord dictionary

Tonight, I sat down and tried to compose an eight bar chord progression to accompany Missy Higgins’ “Scar”. It was only then it dawned on me that I had no idea where to begin.

To the best of my knowledge, putting anything musical together is like stringing words and concepts into coherent sentences. But, without knowing the meaning of any words, you will inevitably arrive at the conundrum I was in. To avoid the same dead end, here’s some basic musical vocabulary.

In relation to the tonic, chords I, III and VI have a strong, confident sound. They are ideal to emphasise for greater dramatic presence; also they are a good place to begin a composition.

Chords II and IV are a little reserved and shy sounding. Even when you strike these chords hard, what comes out still sounds relatively small and tentative. Sonically, they fall in the middle and are thus ideal to signal – or lead into – a change in mood or feeling.

The last group is V and VII. These two chords are bright and uplighting. They are often used after a chord from the first group (a lot of what you hear on the radio will use sequences which go I, V and so on) to reinforce the direction or feeling of a chord progression.

Keep in mind these rules are very generalised but at least offer a solid starting point when putting together a musical composition.


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