Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions
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Old 11-07-2015, 09:29 PM   #1
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Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions

Alright guys, here’s a harmonic technique I picked up last semester that I’ve found to work especially well in electronica and downtempo music. With some decent voice leading and experimentation, you can use this technique to create complex chord progressions that manage to move between seemingly unrelated chords while still sounding smooth.

It works by using common tones. Common tones are notes that two chords share. If you’ve taken a music theory course, you’ll probably know that utilizing common tones can really help your voice leading sound smooth and connected. Here’s an example: let’s say you have a C major chord and an E minor chord. The C chord has the pitches C, E, and G, while the E minor chord has the pitches E, G, and B. These chords have two notes in common: E and G. Now, let’s say you have your DAW open and you’re trying to play this chord progression with a pad. If you hold the same E and G between the chords, and move the C a half step lower to a B, you’re using the most efficient voice leading, and because there’s so little movement required, it sounds incredibly smooth.

One of the things I’ve found while studying minimalist music is that you don’t necessarily need to use this technique to move between chords in the same key. Here are some examples:

The G major and Eb major chords are pretty far apart. However, they share one note in common: G. If you move between a G chord and an Eb chord, while keeping the G as an anchor point, you’ll find that the chords sound quite nice and probably not as weird as you'd expect those two chords to sound like (this is also an example of modal mixture, if you happen to know what that is).

Another, more complicated example: Cm7 (C, Eb, G, and Bb) and BM7 (B, D#, F#, and A#) share two common tones (Eb and D# are the same note, and Bb and A# are the same note). These chords belong to two completely different keys. If you’re strictly sticking to one key while writing your song, you’d never, ever use these two chords in the same song. However, open up your DAW and put these chords side by side in your piano roll. If you use the same exact notes for the Eb/D# and the Bb/A#, and move the C and the G down just a half step to B and F#, you’ll find that these two chords can move smoothly between each other while still sounding fresh and exciting because they’re not in the same key. If you want, you can also move the BM7 back up to Cm7. The Cm7 – BM7 progression could easily be used in a song (Probably not for the whole song, as it’s just 2 chords and that’d get boring after a while).

For the final example, here’s a three chord progression (With the first chord held for two bars and the second and third chord held for 1 bar each) where the third chord leads back to the first chord. I’m going to start with DM7 (D, F#, A, C#) because I like major 7 chords. I’m going to pick a chord that only has one pitch in common with DM7: Bbadd9 (Bb, D, F, C). Now, the third chord has to have a common tone with Bbadd9 and DM7. The first chord that came to mind for me was Am7 (A, C, E, G). The common tone between Bbadd9 and Am7 is C, while the common tone between Am7 and DM7 is A. This creates the chord progression of DM7 – DM7 – Bbadd9 – Am7. If you put this in your piano roll, I think it sounds quite nice, and could probably be used to create an entire song.

There are so many more chord progressions you can create using this technique, so try it out. If you have any questions, or I didn’t explain something properly, or you want more examples, let me know. Sorry if none of this makes any sense.

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Old 11-07-2015, 10:46 PM   #2
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Re: Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions

Interesting! I'm gonna try that tomorrow
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Old 12-07-2015, 04:35 AM   #3
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Re: Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions

yea...I kinda figured this out on my own and it's now how I write progressions by ear...if your careful it can lead to interesting melodies as well...I don't worry much about keys these days...as
long as you can get your audience from one chord/ note to the next without much dissonance you are golden

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Old 16-07-2015, 12:13 AM   #4
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Re: Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions

Really interesting! Like relic, I usually just go by feel, but that last example of the Cmaj7 Bbadd9 and Amin7 sounded pretty good, and nicely brought the progression back around.

Beatles songs would use "wrong" chords all the time and that blew my mind, because everything sounded so simple. Which goes to show you that when done correctly it really flows and sounds perfect.

Descending notes are fun to mess with too. This is a real vanilla example, but take C, Em, F, and Dmin, and play the inversions that put C, B, Bb, and A as the highest note. You can hear this kind of thing in Bob Dylan's Lay Lady Lay, but the descending notes are root, fifth, root, fifth.
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Old 16-07-2015, 12:46 PM   #5
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Re: Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions

dude.

it's called enharmonicism and its about as complicated as a dog licking its own ass.

also the Beatles never, ever, EVER used any "wrong" chords and if you know them please show them to me because the argument will mostly be about what you think a "wrong chord" is. I guarantee I am going to make you feel pretty dumb.

actually I'll watch you post hella paragraphs then just ban you for fun.

also fuck john Lennon and the Beatles weren't that good.

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Old 16-07-2015, 08:03 PM   #6
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Re: Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions

Quote:
Originally Posted by relic View Post
yea...I kinda figured this out on my own and it's now how I write progressions by ear...if your careful it can lead to interesting melodies as well...I don't worry much about keys these days...as
long as you can get your audience from one chord/ note to the next without much dissonance you are golden
Yeah, it becomes pretty intuitive. When I first started fooling around with it, it kind of blew my mind because not long before that I was only using chords that are "in the key" for my progressions. It really opened up a lot more possibilities for me and I'm hoping that maybe someone who's stuck in the same spot I was will read this and be able to come up with new ideas.

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also the Beatles never, ever, EVER used any "wrong" chords
+1
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Old 16-07-2015, 08:18 PM   #7
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Re: Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions

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Originally Posted by Banewaker View Post
dude.

it's called enharmonicism and its about as complicated as a dog licking its own ass.

also the Beatles never, ever, EVER used any "wrong" chords and if you know them please show them to me because the argument will mostly be about what you think a "wrong chord" is. I guarantee I am going to make you feel pretty dumb.

actually I'll watch you post hella paragraphs then just ban you for fun.

also fuck john Lennon and the Beatles weren't that good.
dude.

this ain't Side Room. no reason for this kind of a response to a good quality post that someone took the time to put together and plenty (especially, those who are NOT a broke-ass Music Composition student) will find useful.

you are probably drunk and i LOL'd, but that shit is still uncalled for.

p.s. fuck you, the Beatles were off the chain.
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Old 16-07-2015, 09:03 PM   #8
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Re: Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions

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Originally Posted by Banewaker View Post
dude.

it's called enharmonicism and its about as complicated as a dog licking its own ass.
Harshness aside, thanks for the term! I do this a lot and I never knew the proper word for it and was too dumb to figure it out with Google.
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Old 17-07-2015, 05:05 AM   #9
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Re: Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions

Dude this is an awesome tip! Common tone progressions usually sound really cool and smooth! You could actually take this a step further and do some really awesome and unique chord progressions with it! Like instead of taking a C major chord and moving the C down to the B to make an E minor chord, you can make the C from the C major chord the third of an A-flat major chord, and it makes a really cool sounding progression if you wanted to stay in the key of C major! From there, you can do a bunch of crazy stuff with it!

EDIT: Sorry! I didn't realize that you had gotten into this kind of modulation! Awesome explanation of it by the way
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Old 17-07-2015, 01:16 PM   #10
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Re: Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions

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Originally Posted by UCoB View Post
dude.

this ain't Side Room. no reason for this kind of a response to a good quality post that someone took the time to put together and plenty (especially, those who are NOT a broke-ass Music Composition student) will find useful.

you are probably drunk and i LOL'd, but that shit is still uncalled for.

p.s. fuck you, the Beatles were off the chain.
yeah you're right I suck

Lennon is still a dick

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Old 17-07-2015, 08:20 PM   #11
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Re: Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions

Awesome I always wondered how to make "accidentals" non accidental.

Tried it and came up with this:



Haha, smooth melody.

So I chose G minor as the base key, and used it for the bass notes but moved into other chords. Didn't go wild with it, just one accidental but still, another neat trick learned. Cheers.

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Old 18-07-2015, 11:17 PM   #12
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Re: Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions

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Originally Posted by Esten Toreo View Post
Awesome I always wondered how to make "accidentals" non accidental.

Tried it and came up with this:



Haha, smooth melody.

So I chose G minor as the base key, and used it for the bass notes but moved into other chords. Didn't go wild with it, just one accidental but still, another neat trick learned. Cheers.
Cool little jam. The minor second chord gives it a dorian mode feel.
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Old 19-07-2015, 06:33 AM   #13
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Re: Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions

indeed, you can get away with anything with voice leading and common tones.

By the way, one thing that often accounts for chords that seem to be from an unrelated key is modal mixture. That with the addition too b2 chords, augmented sixth chords, and cromatic mediants (and mediant relationships in general). Account for just about every chord progression you could have. And of course secondary leading tones. But really that's it. Learn all the shit in this paragraph and there ain't much left.
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Old 19-07-2015, 10:31 PM   #14
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Re: Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions

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Originally Posted by mnkvolcno View Post
indeed, you can get away with anything with voice leading and common tones.

By the way, one thing that often accounts for chords that seem to be from an unrelated key is modal mixture. That with the addition too b2 chords, augmented sixth chords, and cromatic mediants (and mediant relationships in general). Account for just about every chord progression you could have. And of course secondary leading tones. But really that's it. Learn all the shit in this paragraph and there ain't much left.
Aww man and I was starting to get comfortable with my only ever using the natural minor with diatonic chords. As soon as I stray from that it brings up too many questions, I panic, and go back to my comfort zone!

Thanks for the info though, I go on a bit here but really it is just two questions if you don't mind?

So I looked up modal mixture, which is pretty straightforward to understand i.e. borrowing a chord from the parallel (not relative) major/minor scale.

When I looked up b2 chords I couldn't really suss from the results what you mean specifically?

Augmented sixths, I found a good [Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]
for. Details the Italian, German and French and how to resolve them.

Chromatic Mediants I watched a
:

Is that vid not limiting? I mean, he says your chromatic mediants have to be an M3/m3, above/below the tonic as well as being the same quality... but I always thought that you can just transpose a major or minor chord around til it sounds musical, like playing a melody with it almost? I.e. just now I put a C minor chord (three notes only) into the piano roll then did Cm Bbm Am D#m all descending and it makes musical sense to me if you were going for a horror soundtrack or something.

Then I went to copy the chord up an octave to make it thicker but put the the C minor up to an F minor by accident. So the first chord is now made up of C, D#, G, F, G#, C. Again, transpose the same way - C, Bb, A, D# descending and it still works!

I know I got lucky the F minor is diatonic to C minor, but if this works, then why don't theory teachers just say "transposing the tonic chord can sound good, just make it resolve right using your ear."? What am I missing here, why is this guy limiting me to the movement in thirds from the tonic?

Secondary leading tone, ok easy enough.

Cheers

Last edited by Esten Toreo; 20-07-2015 at 12:09 PM..

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Old 20-07-2015, 06:38 AM   #15
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Re: Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions

Quote:
Originally Posted by Esten Toreo View Post
Aww man and I was starting to get comfortable with my only ever using the natural minor with diatonic chords. As soon as I stray from that it brings up too many questions, I panic, and go back to my comfort zone!

Thanks for the info though, I go on a bit here but really it is just two questions if you don't mind?

So I looked up modal mixture, which is pretty straightforward to understand i.e. borrowing a chord from the parallel (not relative) major/minor scale.

When I looked up b2 chords I couldn't really suss from the results what you mean specifically?

Augmented sixths, I found a good [Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]
for. Details the Italian, German and French and how to resolve them.

Chromatic Mediants I watched a [Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]
:

Is that vid not limiting? I mean, he says your chromatic mediants have to be an M3/m3, above/below the tonic as well as being the same quality... but I always thought that you can just transpose a major or minor chord around til it sounds musical, like playing a melody with it almost? I.e. just now I put a C minor chord (three notes only) into the piano roll then did Cm Bbm Am D#m all descending and it makes musical sense to me if you were going for a horror soundtrack or something.

Then I went to copy the chord up an octave to make it thicker but put the the C minor up to an F minor by accident. So the first chord is now made up of C, D#, G, F, G#, C. Again, transpose the same way - C, Bb, A, D# descending and it still works!

I know I got lucky the F minor is diatonic to C minor, but if this works, then why don't theory teachers just say "transposing the tonic chord can sound good, just make it resolve right using your ear."? What am I missing here, why is this guy limiting me to the movement in thirds from the tonic?

Secondary leading tone, ok easy enough.

Cheers
Hey! glad you found that helpful

Ok first thing.. sorry about b2 (flat two chords).. They are historically called Neapolitan chords, but basically, the easy way to remember them is that they are a major triad built on the flatted 2nd scale degree (most often in a minor key). I just call em b2 cause Neapolitan is kind of a stupid name.

Interesting question about chromatic mediants. I'll try to answer your quesiton as best I can.

First of all, it's important to keep in mind that every concept of music theory is just the act of putting a label and explanation to a particular sound. So, in this light.. the idea of chromatic mediants isn't limiting. If you learn what it sounds like (which is critical in learning music theory IMO.. or it's pointless) then it is now just another tool that you can pull out whenever you hear it in your head without having to fiddle around and risk losing the idea.

Your assertion about how you can move the tonic chord around is right, really.. Basically one of the more "casual" music theory concepts is that you can move from a chord to any other chord if its the same quality, but there will also be another explaination.. or perspective you could describe this from.

For instance, if you wanted to, you could break down the example you gave. You stared on Cm and then went to Bb minor, whenever I hear two minor chords a wholestep apart, I think ii and iii chord. So in this case it would be iii ii in Abmaj. From the Bb you go down a half step. When you take a chord and go up or down a half step to a chord of the same quality, that's called chromatic planing (ok, I admit, I didn't mention that one). From hear, you went to a chord a tritone away. This has a very distinct sound as well.

So, that may seem like a lot of work, but keep in mind we're looking in retrospect. Ideally, if you have studied theory a bit and you are writing a chord progression, you might have a thought process that might be something like "ok, i'm going for this mood (whatever it is), so I'm gonna do the dorian thing, and then I want to do something that sounds weird, so I'm going to chromatically plane down a half step.. and then I want to get even weirder, so I'll take it up a tritone" Each one of these thoughts would ideally be accompanied by a sound (in your head).

That's the difference between farting around until something sounds good, and getting out an idea in your head. Not to say one is better than the other, I definitely know that I love a ton of music that was composed via farting around. But, the point of music theory is to describe and categorize sounds, specifically harmony.
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Old 20-07-2015, 09:54 AM   #16
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Re: Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions

Thanks a lot man.

Aargh I'm such a tit though, I meant Cm, Bm, A#m, D#m. So the first three chords descend as semitones.

Anyway, your point stands and I'm going to put a small chart by my computer with the info as a reminder. And read into it a bit more. Going to have a go at seeing how far I can push this for now, and then probably scale it back to mostly diatonic with these unusual chords used occasionally.

Cool stuff.

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Old 20-07-2015, 04:33 PM   #17
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Re: Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions

For sure.. Just remember, don't be afraid to say "screw it" and use your ear. That's what I do %90 of the time. You don't have to "know what you're doing" but it can help if you're feeling stuck.

One more thing, take the theory learning concept slow and steady. Just read little bits here and there, making sure you understand each concept as well as possible. Eventually, you will know a lot!
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Old 20-07-2015, 11:27 PM   #18
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Re: Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions

The whole "using chords of the same quality" concept is also called constant structures, and if you're preserving the intervals, parallel harmony. It's used in a lot of impressionist music and jazz music (think Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans). Everything mnkvolcno said is great and I agree that you should learn these concepts slowly because while it doesn't seem like a lot of concepts, there's a huge amount of depth to harmony and voice leading and you want to make sure that you understand a concept before you rush on to the next one.

Finally don't stress out about explanations. If something sounds cool, keep it even if you don't know why it sounds cool. You can always ask someone later.
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Old 27-07-2015, 08:17 PM   #19
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Re: Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions

One neat experiment you can do with common tones is modulating between lydian tonalities within an octave... For example the lydian tonality of C is C, D, E F#, G, A, B - if you play all those notes together you get a stable but jazzy chord. The tones of F# lydian within the same octave are C#, D#, F, F#, G#, A#, C but because of the single common tone of F# and the very small distances between the notes you can modulate between keys of C and F# very naturally, something you couldn't ordinarily do easily.
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Old 27-07-2015, 08:27 PM   #20
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Re: Using common tones to create cooler chord progressions

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Originally Posted by saneliv View Post
One neat experiment you can do with common tones is modulating between lydian tonalities within an octave... For example the lydian tonality of C is C, D, E F#, G, A, B - if you play all those notes together you get a stable but jazzy chord. The tones of F# lydian within the same octave are C#, D#, F, F#, G#, A#, C but because of the single common tone of F# and the very small distances between the notes you can modulate between keys of C and F# very naturally, something you couldn't ordinarily do easily.
actually it's pretty easy to modulate a tritone (C -> F#) away... just use a tritone substitution. the V7 of C and F# are basically different versions of the same chord.

So in C major (or minor or whatever) you could go C -> G7 -> F#

in F# major you could go F# -> C#7(tritone sub of G7)-> C

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