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Harmonic Movement and Chord Progressions

     It is the interplay between chords that creates a sense of movement that can be more or less dynamic and/or static. Probably, the most obvious way to achieve harmonic movement is through harmonic rhythm, that is, how fast you change chords – i.e. if it’s one chord per measure or one chord per beat.

     Until now, only harmonic cadences were discussed as a form of ending a musical thought or section while confirming a tonal center by using a succession of certain chords. But before we arrive at a cadence, we have previous and initial harmonic motion.

     That motion is referred to as a chord progression, that is basically a chord succession in which the involved chords may be more or less interrelated according to the relationship between a chord’s tones with the following one.

     This is a consequence of pitch and chord hierarchy, specifically because of the relationship between tonic and dominant and the presence of leading tone, where the tones of a chord point to the tones of the next chord and thus establishing the harmonic progression.

     You can guide the chord progression in any direction, meaning that you can go from one chord to another one, a fifth, a third, or a second above or below. Each of these chord movements may give you a distinct feel according to the tonal or modal reference you are in.

     A progression based on perfect fifths normally have strength; the ones based on thirds are soft; based on seconds will sound more tame; and the ones based on the tritone will induce ambiguity.

     Resuming, chord progressions establish a direction towards a goal that may or may not be reached; chord successions establish a harmonic flow using contrasting chord colors to navigate; and in modal harmony, chord successions tend to be less busy.

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