TonalityGUIDE - basic tonal music theory and analysis for undergraduates
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Short Progressions

introduction diatonic chromatic

introduction | fifths | seconds | thirds

short progs.
longer progs.

As discussed in the introduction to tonality, tonal music is partly defined by the sense of 'being in a key'. This section on short diatonic progressions of chords asks two main questions:

  • how strongly does the progression establish the key from which the chords are drawn?
  • does the progression feel open (the music is unfinished and requires continuation), or closed (a sense of finality)? put another way, does the progression create tension or resolution?
What do we mean when we say music is open, closed or that it creates tension or resolution? Even the concepts of ascending and descending musical motion, or motion towards and away from the tonic are all metaphors. The assumptions behind these metaphors are discussed briefly on the Music and Metaphor page.

The progressions in this section are organised according to the interval between the roots of the two chords (fifth, second or third). Only the first of the examples below involves a fifth in the bass, but the other two involve the same harmonic progression by fifth.

  • in the second example, the bass moves by perfect fourth which is the inversion of a perfect fifth
  • in the third example, the harmonic progression by fifth is disguised by the fact that chord V is in first inversion triad are harmonically equivalent

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© Copyright Thomas Pankhurst

TonalityGUIDE - Tonal Harmony and Voiceleading - Table of Contents