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The roman intervals used here refer to the corresponding chord of a note on a scale.

In C
Major, the first note is C, so a I chord would be C major. A ii chord would be d minor, III
would be E major and so on. Use any scale you want and count up. Uppercase means
major chord, lowercase mean minor chord, and lowercase with a means diminished chord.

Tonic
The I chord is called the tonic chord. It is the first chord of a scale and has the same name
as the scale. In the key of C Major, it would be the C Major chord.

All other chords and their progressions are described as relative to the tonic chord, and so
are fundamentally based on it. In general, a musical phrase should always start and end on
the tonic, and it is the job of the other chords in a progression to depart from and eventually
lead back to the tonic (or resolve to it) in a satisfactory way. At its most fundamental level,
that is how music works.

The I chord has no restrictions as to what other chord it can go to.

Dominant
The function of dominant chords is to go to the tonic, signifying the end of that particular
chord progression. The most important dominant chord is the V chord (in the key of C
Major, this is the G major chord). A perfectly viable chord progression would thus be:

I V I (C major, G major, C major)

The V chords function is to go to I. If you remember, the I chord can go anywhere. Try this
chord progression out, and listen to how satisfying it is when V resolves to I.

Another dominant chord is the vii chord (b diminished chord in the key of C Major.) vii
chords generally sound uglier than V chords and arent quite as satisfying when they resolve
to the I chord, but they still have a dominant function. Thus, another possible chord
progression is:

I vii I (C Major, b diminished, C Major)

Note that the vii chord is not used nearly as often as V (and is almost never used in popular
music), and if it is used it usually has some other chords than just the I chord preceding it. If
you want to alternate between just tonic and a dominant, always use the V chord. If you
want to finish an entire song, use the V chord.

One last thing to note: You can have both a V chord and a vii chord right next to each
other. If you do so, however, the vii chord should come before the V:

I (other chords) vii V I


This isnt particularly common, but if you do it you should generally have the V and vii
chords have half the tempo of the other chords in the bar.

Subdominant
The function of subdominant chords is to go to a dominant. In traditional harmony, the more
common subdominant chord is the IV chord. For example:

I IV V I (C Major, F Major, G Major, C Major)


I IV vii I [Less common]

*Important*
The I IV V I chord progression is one of the most idiomatic chord progressions there is, and
can be viewed as a sort of model off of which other progressions are based. You could
easily write an entire song with just the chords I, IV, and V. View other chord progressions
as modification of this simple model, rather than just haphazardly sticking together chords
because their functions technically line up.

The other subdominant chord is the ii chord, which is more common in jazz than the IV
chord. For example:

I ii V I (C Major, d minor, G Major, C Major)


I ii vii V I

Remember how you can have two dominants in a row? You can also have two
subdominants in a row, but the IV usually comes before the ii:

I IV ii V I
I IV ii vii V I

(You may want to do a little review before you move on)

The vi chord
The vi chord (a minor in the key of C Major) usually has the role of leading to the
subdominants:

I vi IV V I (You should know what the chords are by now)


I vi ii V I

Heres another important function: The V chord can actually lead into the vi chord. Crazy,
right? The vi chord then goes on as normal into the subdominants:

I V vi IV V I
I vi IV V vi ii vii I
In the second example above, the vi chord is used twice: Once to lead from I into the
subdominants, and another time to lead from V into the subdominants.

A less common usage of the vi chord is to skip over the subdominants entirely and go
straight to the V chord. Probably dont use this too often or as the basis for an entire song,
but its a nice sort of transitioning progression between sections

I vi V I

The iii chord


The iii chord (e minor in the key of C Major) has the function of leading into the vi chord:

I iii vi IV V I

Remember you dont need to have all those chords before the IV, as the I chord can go to
whatever chord it wants.

The iii chord can also lead directly into the subdominants:

I iii IV V I
I iii IV ii V I
I iii ii V vi IV V I

And thats all of the chords. Try starting on I and going to a random chord, and seeing if you
know where you can go from there.

Other functions of chords


In blues music, it is common to go from the IV chord to the I chord:

I IV I

And to end a phrase or section by going:

I V IV I

Despite pop music usually being fairly simple chord wise, they actually commonly use a
really funky chord progression:

I V vi IV I

Wierd, right? They use the vi chord to go from the V chord, but then they also use the IV
chord to go to the I chord.
In general, avoid coming up with progressions like this, at least at first. This one in
particular happens to work, but songs are still ended with a V followed by an I. Remember,
use the I IV V I progression as your base, because just because things technically follow the
rules doesnt mean theyll sound good. For example, I could technically keep alternating
between the vi and V chords ad infinitum, but it would not sound like anything and the
listener would just lose track of what key youre in.

Also, you can use the VII chord to lead into the III chord, but this only works in minor. Do
not use the vii chord to go to iii in a Major key (note how the capitalizations of the chords
are different. This is because different chords are major and minor in the minor key):

i VII III iv V i

There are still way more chords (like augmented sixth chords and all the different types of
seventh chords), and you still have yet to learn about inversions, but if you want to learn
about those things just pick up a music theory book at that point (or maybe Ill write more
sometime). The rules presented in this guide should take you fairly far. I might write a bit
more about applying these chords in the context of a musical phrase and about the basics of
inversions and bass lines, and maybe even melodies and voice leading, but this should take
the layman music producer pretty far.