Writing Music 101: Create a Chord Progression in a Minor Key | Jason Rivera | Skillshare

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Writing Music 101: Create a Chord Progression in a Minor Key

teacher avatar Jason Rivera, Composer

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

5 Lessons (23m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Chords of the Minor Scale

    • 3. Chords in Tonal Music

    • 4. How This Approach is Useful + Tips

    • 5. Class Assignment

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About This Class

Gain an understanding of how to write a tonal chord progression in a minor key with composer Jason Rivera. This 20-minute class covers how to create a balanced chord progression in a minor key using a time-honored method.

The class features detailed explanations and demonstrations on the piano. You will learn techniques and concepts that can be applied to writing music in practically any genre.

 The main topics covered in this class are:

  1. Defining tonal music
  2. Roman numeral chord notation
  3. Chords of the natural minor and harmonic minor scales
  4. Categories of chords in tonal music
  5. How to write chord progressions in a minor key
  6. Tips for how to integrate this technique into your own writing

For your class project you will write an original chord progression in a minor key, utilizing the techniques we cover in the class, and record it. Your recording doesn't have to be professional quality—a smartphone demo will work great!

Anyone interested in cultivating their skills as a songwriter and/or composer can benefit from this class. However this class is specifically designed for intermediate songwriters and composers. Basic knowledge of music notation, an understanding of the fundamentals of music theory, access to and the ability to play major, minor, diminished and dominant 7th chords on a chord-producing instrument, or the ability to program chords into your digital audio workstation or notation software, is required.

If you are interested in learning how to use the techniques described in this class in a major key check out my other course Writing Music 101: Create a Chord Progression in a Major Key.

If you want to learn how to change keys (modulate) in your chord progression check out my other class Writing Music 101: Changing Keys (Modulation).

If you're interested in putting your own original chord progressions to use in a song or composition check out my fundamentals class Writing Music 101: Songwriting Basics.

Meet Your Teacher

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Jason Rivera




I'm Jason Rivera. I compose music and teach from my studio in Los Angeles, CA. You can check out my music on my website and you can join my email list for updates.

“Excellent class!!! He made concepts that have been difficult to understand previously so clear and concise. Really got a lot out of this class. This is foundational to becoming a good composer. Can't wait to try doing the assignments!!!”

- Mona Lisa P, Skillshare Student

“Things I have been confused about for years finally made sense to me through Jason's instructions. I can't thank you enough, Jason.”

- Ronja B, Skillshare Student

“Great work, with engaging visuals and great audio and video qua... See full profile

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1. Introduction: Hello. My name is Jason Rivera. I'm a composer and multi instrumentalist. I played on countless professional recordings, have written for and conducted some of the best musicians in the world here in L. A. And I've played countless live shows having toward the U. S. As a performer. Making music is something that I work at every day. I believe that the more you learn about the technical side of music, the more freedom you have to express yourself To put it another way, As one of my early mentors used to say, discipline is your freedom. And my course is aimed to make the technical side of music easy to understand so that you can take the techniques that I present and apply them to your own music. This class is part of my writing music. Wanna one Siris on? I'm gonna cover how to ride a court progression in a minor key, since it's an essential technique toe have under your belt. My goal with this class is to provide you with the basic information that you need so that you could try this technique out right away in your own music. In this class, we will cover defining tonal music, Roman numeral cord notation, chords of the natural minor and harmonic minor scales, categories of chords and tonal music. How to ride a court progression in a minor key and tips for how to integrate this approach into your own writing. By the end of these video lessons, you'll be ready for your project, where you will create your own court progression in the minor key, utilizing the techniques from this class and then make a recording of it. A smartphone demo works perfect for this and then finally upload your recording to the Project Gallery on the class page. Okay, so let's dive in and get started with our class. 2. Chords of the Minor Scale: tonal music is music and a major or a minor key. In other words, the music is centered around a tonal pitch. For example, if we're writing in the key of a minor, then often the beginning court of your piece would be a minor, and the last court of your piece would be a minor. To check this for yourself. Google sheep music for a few recent popular songs and you'll find that 99% of the time this is the case. And that's because this is one way to establish the tonality of a piece, and it also gives the music stability. Most of the music we hear a day to day, especially popular music, is tonal, and this class will be using Roman numeral cord notation to illustrate the connection between chords and their corresponding scale degree. In a minor key, we'll be using Roman numerals one through seven major chords and dominant seventh chords. Air capitalized minor chords or lower case and diminished chords are lower case with a little oh symbol at the top right of the Roman numeral Roman numeral cord. Notation is a very useful technique to analyze other people's music and also to help organize your own ideas when writing your own pieces. Here is a chart that shows the chords in the key of a minor. There are no sharps and no flats in the key, and that's why I chose this key. To start with, it helps to keep things simple. You'll see that the one court is minor. The two court has diminished the 3/4 major. The four chord is minor. The five chord is minor, the six court is major, and the seven chord is major. A great thing about using this Roman numeral labelling system is that it could be applied to any key. For example, this chart we're looking at could be applied to the keys of E minor with one sharp or the key of B minor with two sharps or any other minor key. If you were to change to another minor key, the chords themselves change. But the underlying relationship between the notes that make up the cords remains intact, and so the sequence of the Roman numerals would be the same. I'm gonna play through these chords and a minor using root position courts so that you can hear what they sound like. By the way, if you're not sure what a root position court is, it's pretty simple. When the root note of the cord as the lowest note and the court then that cord is said to be in route position, for example, a minor and root position has the note a Aziz the lowest note anyhow, back to the cords in a minor, we have the one chord, a minor. The two chord be diminished. The three chord C major, the four core D minor, the five Chord E minor, the six chord F major and the seven Corgi major. So those are the cords in a minor and, more specifically, there the cords of the A natural minor scale. 3. Chords in Tonal Music: now that we've covered the cords of the natural minor scale and their corresponding moment numerals, and we've heard what the's court sound like in sequence. Let's move on to how to create a court progression. Here we're looking at a system for creating court progressions and tonal music. You will see that we have three main categories of chords. Tonic chords, the one and the six cords, which are stable sounding predominant cords. The four and the two diminished chords, which are precursors to the dominant chords and dominant chords the diminished seven and dominance have in court, which are unstable sounding. Now you might notice that there are two chords that are different in this chart, from the chords in the key of a minor that we looked at in the last video lesson. Let me explain this. In the last video lesson, we looked at the chords in the key of a minor, and like I mentioned more specifically, we were thinking of records based on the a natural minor scale. You can think of it this way. The key of a minor directly corresponds to the a natural minor scale. However, you can also use the a harmonic minor scale in the key of a minor. And all we have to do to achieve this sound is to raise the seven scale degree of the natural minor scale in this case were raising the seven scale degree from G to G Sharp. Remember, the key of a minor has no sharps or flats in it. Now we only raised that g sharp on the five chord and the seven Chord. So the five chord which was the minor, now becomes E major. But we're also adding 1/4 note in this chord the note D So our e minor chord is now e seven . And when we raised the G sharp on the seven chord, it goes from being a g major chord to a G sharp, diminished chord. All of the other chords in the key of a minor that we looked at in the last video lesson stay the same. So we have two new cords. E dominant seven are 57 chord and G sharp diminished are diminished. Seven chord. Why would we make this change? Well, these two chords the 57 and diminished seven helped to create tension in our music If we go back and look at the cords and tonal music chart, you'll see that the diminished seven and dominant seventh chords are in the dominant category. They're unstable cords, but they lead beautifully back into the tonic chords, the one or the six chords. The idea with this approach is to cycle from left to right, from tonic chord to predominant cord to dominant court and then back to the tonic chord, always moving from left to right until you reached the dominant chord and then circle back to the tonic court again. Cycling through the possible chords in this way provides a natural sense of tension and resolution in your music, in particular, when you move from the dominant chord to the tonic court. Like I mentioned earlier, this approach was developed and put into practice by the great Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Now what does this have to do with writing music today? While a lot of music from the 20th and 21st centuries has a lot in common with music from the Baroque era, a lot of the court progressions in our time come out of the harmony of the Baroque era for example, some of the core progressions used by the minimalist composers are come back to the Baroque . But the most common example of this is a court progression that moves from the one to the four to the 57 and then back to the one chord. For simplicity sake, let's see what this looks like in the key of C major. No sharps or flats in the key. There are countless songs that use this progression. So in the key of C major, that's the C major chord one to the F major chord, the four to the G seven Chord 57 and then back to the One Court. You've probably heard hundreds of songs that uses particular progression, especially in early rock n roll songs. Now let me demonstrate a couple of examples of using this writing technique at the piano again. We're in the key of a minor, so let's start with a tonic court. I'm gonna choose the one the a minor court. Then I moved to a predominant cord, and I'm gonna choose the four Chord, which, in the key of a minor, is D minor. Then I moved to the dominant chord and I'm gonna use the 57 chord, which in this keys e seven on. Finally, I make it back to the tonic. One chord, a minor. Let's take a listen to this progression. Uh, you can hear how that has a nice flow to it. And hopefully you can also hear the poll from the 57 Chord, the E seven to the one court a minor. Here's another example. This time I'm going to start with the major six chord as my tonic chord in the key of a minor. That's the F major chord. Then I'm gonna move to my predominant cord and I'm gonna choose the two diminished chord which, in this key, is be diminished. Uh, now moving to my dominant chord and I'm gonna choose e seven. And finally I make it back to my tonic chord f major. So let's hear what that sounds like in sequence. Let me demo one more example of how to use this technique. Let's start with the tonic a minor again. Then let's add in a three chord, which in the key of a minor is C major. You'll see in the cords and tonal music chart that you can add a three chord in between your tonic and predominant cord and or in between your predominant and dominant chord. Then I'm gonna add in a predominant court and I'll choose the four core D minor. Then I need a dominant court and I'm gonna choose the seven diminished court, which in the key of a minor, is g sharp, diminished. And then I'm gonna cycle back to a tonic chord, and I'm gonna choose a minor again. So let's hear the whole court sequence, uh, as your first experimenting with this technique always start and end your court progression on the tonic chord like I did in my demos here. This will give your progression a sense of closure as you move from your dominant court, which is tense and unstable to your tonic chord, which is stable. So hopefully you can see that cycling through chords in a key with this method gives you a lot of options for creating court progressions. That sound good. Another element that I was using here was my year. I was choosing cords from each category, moving from left to right, from tonic to predominant two dominant and at the same time I was choosing courts that I thought sounded good together in sequence. So it's a combination of science and art. I highly encourage you to play with this method until you get really comfortable with it. 4. How This Approach is Useful + Tips: If you've been writing music for a while and let's say you've only been writing music and major keys, at a certain point you're gonna get bored by that. At least that's what happened to me in my musical development. And so, with this method I've presented here, you have a whole new set of options at your fingertips. Suddenly, you have the option to use different sounding chords and organize them differently. And if you learn to write court progressions in a minor key, you then have access to writing music with a different feeling to it. Also, if you're writing music and you want to change to a different key, well, now you know how to write core progressions in a minor key. By the way, I have another chorus dedicated to changing keys or modulating in case that interests you. This technique of writing core progressions is great if you want to write a piece of music but don't know where to start. Nothing is worse than staring at a blank page and not knowing how to start writing. This approach can be a great way to get your creative energy flowing. Also, if you're not sure where to go with a piece that you've already started working on. This could be great for organizing, refining or transforming your ideas. I remember when I was just starting out writing music. Often I would have an initial idea for a piece, maybe 1/4 or two that I thought sounded good. But I had no idea of where to go from there. This technique can save you from hitting a creative wall and getting stuck there. Let me give you a few tips when trying out this method first. Going back to what I mentioned earlier in this video lesson. Realize that cords evokes specific feelings in the listener At a macro level. Major chord sound bright and happy. Minor chords have a somber sound and dominant seventh chords create a sense of tension. Please note that those air broad brushstroke ideas and the feeling of a chord can vary greatly, depending on the context and how you play the chords on your instrument. That being said, most core progressions have a mixture of different court types in them, as you are trying different combinations of chords, and you start to get comfortable with this process. Ask yourself Is there a particular feeling that I want to express? Can you create the sound of tension or evoke the sound of a battle? For example, Tip number two. Try your core progressions on an instrument as opposed to just know Tate ing different options on paper or in your head. This will cause you to involve your year in the choices that you make. Remember, music is science and art. We're not using math for the sake of impressing people. Strive to understand and implement the science behind music to help you achieve greater emotional impact with your writing. Playing your court progressions on an instrument will also help you to develop your year, and you don't have to get super fancy with how you play your court progressions. It can be simple block chords, just like I used in my court progression demos in this class, and you should play through them slowly. For the purposes of this class, we're not really interested in playing fast. We're trying to understand the concepts of creating court progressions. It's not an Olympic competition. Tip number three. When working with this court progression technique, I encourage you to work quickly of course, you want to create court progressions that sound good but really have to try this technique out a lot so that you get better at it. If you ride 100 core progressions using this method, I promise you will be really good at writing court progressions, so don't get too bogged down. Make a decision with the cords you choose and then move on. You can always start another core progression or come back later and refine your choices. Lastly, know that rules are meant to be broken. There's plenty of music out there that doesn't perfectly fit into this approach. And if you start to analyze the core progressions of your favorite music, you'll realize that. But this technique for creating core progressions is a great place to start, and once you've practiced this technique, you can jump off into different directions. For example, you can use this foundation and then changed to other keys. It's a more advanced technique, but having a solid understanding of what we're covering in this course will make it a whole lot easier 5. Class Assignment: Okay, so that completes our class on creating a court progression in a minor key. I hope that now you feel ready to try out this technique for yourself. And if you don't feel ready, be bold and give it a shot. Anyway. For your assignment, head to the attached file section of this class. There you'll find a downloadable PDF with the charts that we've looked at in this course. Print the files out or have them open on your computer or tablet so that you can reference them while working on your assignment. When starting out, I would suggest working in the key of a minor. Since it has no sharps or flats, it just makes things easier. Use the cords of the A harmonic minor scale chart in the attached file section. Start out with the tonic chord, a minor or F major. Then add in a predominant court de miner or be diminished, then moved to your dominant core G sharp diminished or you dominant seven. Then finish off with a tonic court again, a minor or F major. I would suggest keeping the rhythm simple. Just used block chords like I did in my demo At that point, you've completed the first part of the assignment. However, that's just scratching the surface. You will really benefit from trying this court progression method out, over and over. Choose different chords from each category and see what sounds good to you and for you. More advanced writers out there try this method out in different minor keys. Once you've written your core progression, you'll record a quick demo of it. It could be you playing your core progression on an instrument such as guitar or piano. If you're comfortable using a digital audio workstation or notation software, you could also program your court progression in an export. An audio file. Your demo doesn't need to be perfect in terms of the writing or the production quality. It could be a rough demo that you record on your smartphone. Then you're gonna upload your recordings to Soundcloud Dropbox or YouTube and post your links in the Project gallery. I want you to post the link to at least one recording, but I'd love to hear more like I mentioned earlier. The more you try this technique, the more you will improve your writing and the faster you'll become at it. Don't be too precious about this process. I encourage you to post works in progress in rough sketches and to write record and post as many court progressions as you can. We're not concerned with elements of rhythm or even writing a complete piece of music at this stage. This is a sketching assignment where you're focused on quickly trying out different possibilities within the context of the system I've shared and quickly recording them and then posting the link. Remember, the goal of this project is to get you writing with some new concepts and sharing your results with your fellow classmates so that we can learn from each other. The more you practice this technique, the easier it gets and the more second nature it becomes, so you don't even really have to think about it too much. I want to suggest watching these video lessons as many times as you can. There's a real benefit from repetition when you're learning a new skill. And be sure to read the project description on the class page where I have listed out the specific steps for your assignment. And don't forget to download the supplemental materials in the attached file section. Lastly, I want to mention that I have several other music classes available that go hand in hand with this course you've just taken. Specifically, I have a companion course called Create a Core Progression in a major key, and I would highly recommend checking that out. I also have a course called Song writing Basics and another called Changing Keys that I think you might be interested in. Feel free to visit my profile page to see what classes I have available. If you have any questions, please post them to the community section on the class page. I'll do my best to answer your questions as soon as I can. Thank you so much for watching this course, and I'm looking forward to hearing your work.