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Eric Davis

Dynamic harmony and chord progressions

Posted on 17-Nov-08 10:59
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I'm not sure if anyone is reading these little articles but as i said before; Part of the reason for writing them is that you realise how much you understand something when you try to explain it to someone else.
So having found a brilliant website teaching a new theory on harmony I thought I'd share some of the information I feel I've gleaned from It while confirming my own understanding.

I have provided a link to the site and strongly recomend you pay it a visit.

Dynamic harmony is made up almost exclusively of three of the six possible types of root progression.
These will be referred to as the three strong chord progressions and will be labelled alpha, beta and gamma.

alpha - root progression by rising 4th (or falling 5th). G4 to C5=rising 4th, G4 to C4=falling 5th

I    C E G     IV    F A C
V-  G B D      I-   C E G

beta - root progression by falling 3rd (or rising 6th).  C5 to A4=falling 3rd, C5 to A6=rising 6th

I-   C E G      vi-   A C E
vi      A C E    IV      F A C

gamma - root progression by rising 2nd (or falling 7th).  C5 to D5=rising 2nd, C5 to D4=falling 7th

ii  D F A       V    G B D
I-   C E G     IV-    F A C

Using this theory you can lay out 3 tables(note wrap around at vii) listing 50% of progressions within a given key.
The other 50% are reversals of these progressions ie I-V, vi-I, ii-I etc and according to this theory are not greatly used in dynamic harmony.

Alpha         Beta            Gamma

5    4       3     6          7    2
I-IV          I-vi            I-ii
4    5       6     3          2    7

5     4      3      6         7      2
ii-V         ii-vii           ii-iii
4     5      6      3         2      7

5      4     3      6         7      2
iii-vi        iii-I           iii-IV
4      5     6      3         2      7

5      4     3      6         7      2
IV-vii        IV-ii            IV-V
4      5     6      3         2      7

5      4     3      6         7      2
V-I         V-iii             V-vi
4      5     6      3         2      7

5      4     3      6         7      2
vi-ii        vi-iv            vi-vii
4      5     6      3         2      7

5       4     3      6         7      2
vii-iii       vii-V            vii-I
4       5     6      3         2      7

5-Jan-09 23:30


Hi Eric

''Part of the reason for writing them is that you realise how much you understand something when you try to explain it to someone else.''

That's excellent,you are doing the right thing. I will do more of that too...I have heard that excellent learners do that and you seem one of them.
I have studied harmony as self-taught off Conservatory books,but I hope to enroll in a good music college in the future.

I have never heard of the system that you outlined,but I have just had a look at the website you mention,and it seems very interesting,I have studied today the part where the website has an article about modal harmony in popular music.

It seems strange that I have never heard that term 'static' or 'dynamic' harmony. I know what it means,it's just called differently in the books I have studied (Arnold Schoenberg calls them 'strong progressions' 'superstrong progressions' etc)

I will give a  more attentive look at the system you outline as soon as I finish to check out Songtrix and a few other programs. It would be good if we interact with each other by explaining harmonic concepts to each other (even if the other knows it) so that our learning process is accelerated.

I am intermediate,so not advanced. Let's keep in touch,this is going to be a longer term thing but I think it's well worth the effort.

all the best

6-Jan-09 10:01

Eric Davis

Hi Lou
Like yourself I'm self taught and struggling to find the way.
Prior to finding the website above all the material found on chord progressions seemed vague and had no structure so the website seemed to be the missing link.
If nothing else I can now see how one chord progresses to another and am able to put them in some order.
I think you will find chord wizard a good choice as It's the best program i've seen for experimenting with harmony without getting bogged down in the detail not to mention there valued support for this forum which enables collaboration with other struggling musicians, you may allso like "" which is a melody development program but you should note that the user manual is terrible.
Provided i can keep pace i would be more than happy to collaborate with you and anyone else via these forum's; to our mutual benefit.

7-Jan-09 10:58


Hi Eric

I too find that music theory on the internet is very scattered. If you want to go in order,I suggest you buy a good harmony textbook,the kind that they use in music colleges. You will save a lot of time....although you can find all that information on the internet,you won't find it  all on one website,which results in wasting a lot of web browsing and time wasted trying to complete the puzzle

Some books that have been invaluable to me:

'Melody and Harmony' by Stewart MacPherson (book one and two,about 20 bucks for both,bought new)

'Harmony,melody and composition' by Paul Sturman

you can probably find them on ebay for next to nothing

It's good for us to be able to collaborate and discuss about music concepts. As soon as I have some time,I will start writing some articles here about some concepts I know.

But yes,you are doing the right things,although I find the system you mentioned 'alpha-beta-gamma'  a bit too complicated.

I find that it's easier to just know that the strongest root progressions are a fourth up (or a fifth down) a third down (or a sixth up,but a third down is preferable because a sixth is considered quite a big leap and better avoided).

A second up is one of the stronger  progressions as well,as in the cadences I - IV-V or  I-V-VI

I have downloaded and am having a look at the melody development program that you mentioned...thanks.  Seems a programs from which quite a bit can be learned. You are right about the manual,thought,it's horrible!!

Even someone like me who never studied any English ever,can see that these guys are in bad need of help,lol

7-Jan-09 11:20


actually that manual is very informative,the examples are very good and I love the fact that you can click on the examples and hear them right away

There is an immediate understanding that is not lost into the  physical activity of learning the example on keyboards. That's the way books now should be written!

If it's true that a picture says 1000 words, then in music a sound  says a lot of pictures. The only drawback of that manual is  it's English

'lamb'  and 'choree' ?

oh God.... :(

but I have seen few programs where the manual starts right away with detailed music concepts without calling them 'advanced'

Too often we see material that's labelled as 'advanced' ,when,in fact, it's very basic,and aimed at the beginner.  The problem is that ,say,Songtrix music lessons theory could be 'advanced' in a pop-rock context,but in traditional music education,it's very basic.

In that respect,the guys at Palette deserve top marks for kicking off with a lesson aimed at people who are learning to compose music,rather
than just getting a vague idea. We want all the details,eh eh

7-Jan-09 18:16

Eric Davis

Hi Lou

Ah but there in lies the rub, What is the right order, It's such a diverse subject with so many areas ie melody, rhythm, harmony each subject inter related and each capable of complexities in it's own right.

Unfortunately I'm a very one track minded person and have one approach to everything which is head down and charge, This is fine untill i collide head on with a particularly dense subject in a book that i can't fathom and thats where the internet usually helps.

I suppose thats why i'm stubornly working through the website, I think there's something there regarding melody structure and harmony and i'm determined to winkle it out.

Thanks for the recomendations i have located them on amazon, "melody and harmony" books I-III was quite cheap the other was a little more expensive.
I don't use palette much but i appreciate it's worth and if i ever get a grasp of how to write a melody with harmony i'll start using it, I know what you mean about the "Iamb" and "Choree" the programme seems to work around the motive rather than the measure.
I look forward to your articles as it would be nice to see this forum used for what it was intended. :-)

8-Jan-09 01:08


Hi Eric

'Ah but there in lies the rub, What is the right order, It's such a diverse subject with so many areas ie melody, rhythm, harmony each subject inter related'

I know what you mean,but from my personal experience,there isn't a particular order.  I think that one outlines a more  precise order as he develop in experience.

If I could go back ,change my past,and lay down an order, I would have
gone through this order:

1. Harmony. I think this is the most foundamental musical concept....a good melody could be easier to create,but a good chord progression requires more focus, skill,and knowledge,I think.
For example,almost anyone can create a melody with the five notes of the pentatonic scale.
But what if we want to add a modulation and change key? That's a more specific skill

2. ear training. VERY important. I would have investigated relative and perfect pitch,and ,generally,I would have tried to sing anything I could sing.

3. Melodic development ,the use of motives,how to build phrases,etc. It makes sense to start from the smallest units,and then to progress to larger units,such as

4. song structure. (By 'song' I mean anything.....from a tune to a symphony!) This is really a macrocosm of the motive. The most important skill to grasp is how unity and variety can be obtained in everything we play,and to try to learn to sense how MUCH we need to vary it or preserve it.  This to me is now the hardest skill to develop.
This is called by some as  'the sense of form'.  It seems to me that it's a very intuitive skill,like a painter that has very good sense for perspective,for example. But ,of course, one needs to be educated about it,as well. If you listen to the compositions that Mozart composed when he was 9, they obviously are a lot more naive and simplistic from the ones that composed 10 years later.

And now I can go hide myself for describing Mozart's early compositions as 'naive'.....   :)

9-Jan-09 10:57

Eric Davis

I must admit i have dificulty with the structure as in motive's, phrase's, cadence etc which is why i'm working through website.
Basically what he's saying is that music is like a language and has syntax and punctuation which i find better than books which expect you to memorise  lot of stuff you don't understand.
I was thinking about what you said earlier about how you find it easier just to know that the strongest root progression is a fourth up etc.
That is what the alpha, beta, gamma was about. It was a table of every possible root progression organised into groups to aid memory ie.

alpha beta gamma
I-IV I-vi I-ii
ii-V ii-vii ii-iii
iii-vi iii-I iii-IV
IV-vii IV-ii IV-V
V-I V-iii V-vi
vi-ii vi-IV vi-vii
vii-iii vii-V vii-I

alpha ascending 4th descending 5th or the reverse ie I-V which would be ascending 5th descending 4th
beta ascending 6th descending 3rd or the reverse ie vi-I I-vi which would be ascending 3rd descending 6th
gamma ascending 2nd descending 7th or the reverse ie ii-I which would be ascending 7th descending 2nd

I think the trick is(& this is the difficult part) knowing which notes move where to give same chord but different inversion or register.

GBD V-I ascending G stays B and D both rise one to C and E

FAC V-I descending G falls two to E, B falls two to G, D falls one to C

I can't say i fully understand the system because it's difficult to work it in your head with everything being relative to where your coming from and going to but it's a start and i find it better than trying to memorise chord tables i don't understand.

Talking of Mozart i don't know if you saw film "Mozart" but i would be quite happy to play the part of "saliari", he was the fellow musician who had enough hard learned musical knowledge to appreciate mozart's intuitive genius but didn't possess a spark of genius himself, I'll forego his fate though as it drove him mad.

9-Jan-09 11:02

Eric Davis

alpha  beta   gamma
I-IV     I-vi     I-ii
ii-V      ii-vii    ii-iii
iii-vi     iii-I     iii-IV
IV-vii   IV-ii    IV-V
V-I      V -iii    V-vi
vi-ii     vi-IV    vi-vii
vii-iii    vii-V    vii-I

Sorry forgot to check layout earlier

15-Jan-09 01:44


I am very impressed with The Palette !
True,the manual is written in very confusing english,but I still understand everything the author is talking about,the examples are very direct and clear.

That program it's worth it's price tag for these lessons only,I think! I am certainly going to buy it and I wish that there were more programs like these, i.e. stemming from the classical system.

As regard the system that you are checking out,sure it's useful,but I understand the root progressions in a far simpler way....once you understand the harmonic series,you'll see even why the strongest progression is a fourth up,etc

Don't worry if you find it all confusing at first,this stuff takes time to get digested. I took years just to understand solidly all the basics ,and I really took too long,for various reasons,but now it's all coming togheter for me.

The best thing I did,is comparing the same topics,from various books and sources. That really helps you to understand everything better. So by all mean study the website you mention, don't give up. Then I'd advise to study the root progressions from other sources too,you'll see how much clearer it all becomes.

As long as you stay within the traditional,classical system,it's ok. I say that because,generally,I find that theory as explained in jazz methods,etc, it's really lacking. To me the best source will always be the traditional classical system. I listen to all music,not just classical,but for learning,nothing beats it. For example,I have never found  any jazz source that explains how to develop motives in as through way as the classical way.

Then you get a program like The Palette where the author clearly has a classical background. I don't know,I just understand everything a lot better,even though the english is confusing and even wrong.

I am going to check better too,I am sure I can learn something there too

As far as what you said about the Mozart movie,yes of course I saw it,a brilliant movie. But know also that it's a romanticized version of the facts,for example this story of Salieri  poisoning Mozart has no real grounds.

On the contrary,he admired Mozart ,and he was a very talented composer and was  the most renowed music teacher in Vienna and taught many famous composers....  and even taught  Mozart's offspring.

You have to bear in mind that many people in Vienna were aristocrats with nothing better to do than spreading rumours. They did the same thing to Paganini,said many horrible stories about him, for which Paganini at first was amused,but then all these horrible stories about him making pacts with the Devil and being an amazing virtuoso because he killed rivals for women he was in love with,all that  affected him very badly.

We love these guys.....they are the real rockstars :)

17-Jan-09 09:27

Eric Davis

Hi Lou

I'm not really into jazz though I Imagine It's more of an inspirational thing with jazz and though a solid understanding of music theory can't hurt I don't suppose It's required.

Funny you mentioning the harmonic series as I was blissfully ignorant of such a thing unill recently, then I got stuck on appogiatura's on so flew around different websites for info and ended up reading about the harmonic series.
Not sure really if i would prefer to have remained ignorant on the subject, I assume the value is in voice leading etc but it sort of takes music to the sub atomic level.

I think that's one of the hardest things about learning music; not knowing in which order to learn things and you may concentrate on one aspect only to find later that it's forgotten because you could'nt fit it into the larger picture at the time.

My understanding of the use of the harmonic series is that it explains why some intervals are more consonant than others, This is usefull background information but i can't quite lock down the practical application of this knowledge.

I'm pleased you like palette software as i said i like it myself but lack the understanding to use it effectively and can't get to grips with the tutorials (such as they are), I'm not quite comfortable with the way the software uses measures ie it seems to concentrate on half measures with "iamb", "Choree" etc I allso don't understand the voice leading
theory attatched to the chords as voice leading is totally alien to me at the moment, I think some DECENT walkthrough's would have helped enormously with this software ie build a song (melody and harmony) and explain step by step what was done and why. (Though i do realise that's asking a helluva lot)

I asked chord wizard if they would include some melody development tools as the software would be ideally suited to it and it would be nice to be able to concentrate on one piece of sowtware in place of many, They kindly said they would look at this option.

P.S Lou; you may like to check out It seems to be what wickpedia pretends to be, there's a good in depth article on music theory on there site and links to other sites with free use of programs like "ear training" or "interval naming" etc.

19-Jan-09 22:23


Hey Eric

check this out,a free program to practice traditional classical harmony with:

thanks for the link you mention,I'll check it out.

As regard about what you say about which order to learn things,you are worrying too much about it. There ISN'T an exact order,you just have to absorb as much stuff as you can,and yes,you won't understand all of it right away;you will be doing well if you even understand one fifth of it,at this point in time!

What are you starting investigating,it's a VERY big topic! Harmony,motivic development,harmonic series,counterpoint,voice leading.....this is not a joke and is not something that you'll understand in the first 5 months,it will take you YEARS, so don't worry,I perfectly know how you feel,I was like you or worse, I could not understand much of it,but don't worry. You have to approach all this as if you were a child and find a shell by the seaside: you pick it up,shake it,play with it.

That's all you can do,and that's the right way,don't worry.  I have quite a bit of  experience,and although I am pretty modest about it, I have studied music theory seriously for at least 8 years full time,now. I go slower because of the self-teaching.

By the way,if you self-teach yourself you will take at least twice the time,depending on your attitude.

Self-teaching is very possible,
I remember when I bought Schoenberg's book 'Theory of Harmony' (highly recommended....if you are into philosophy as well ,that book is an institution)

The book starts by explaining the harmonic series. Did I understand anything about it,at first? NO, but from then on I have learned all the foundation of solid harmony: correct voice leading,how to prepare and resolve dissonances,correct progressions,etc

We say 'correct' because in classical music,as you are realizing,for learning at least,nothing is left to chance....they made the rules not to make things more difficult,but to narrow-down and minimize all kind of useless or strange progressions.

Now,do you think that the things I did not understand,were forgotten? Not at all,you will see that when you don't understand something, in 5 months time you will,and you will remember EXACTLY when you did not understand it,how,and why. You will just go 'eureka!'

You are like me,I always try to fit things into a precise order. This is a bit of an illusion,though.....of course you have to be as ordered as possible,but you -cannot-  always fit your learning rate into a stable,precise diagram.

Believe me,I have been there.....I remember that I would try to understand the appoggiatura and I would rip the page off in a fit of rage.
I could not understand anything. But now it's very powerful,it all comes togheter,everything. 'The palette' has a very lacking manual and yes,this program is very good,but you know what? I was studying the lessons just by following the demo scripts. My understanding now is so much stronger that even if you try to confuse me with backward terms,I still know exactly what the author there is trying to teach.

Yes,the 'palette' is really pretty advanced,I mean, motivic developments isn't exactly taught at high school,not that I know,and the fact that the English is confusing,makes things difficult for people who are starting. But don't worry it will all become clear.

A couple of suggestions: never think 'maybe if I learn the harmonic series it will hurt my current progress'.....never refuse any information,if it comes from reputable sources (I am not talking about myself,but the harmonic series really is standard curriculum in all classical music colleges). Just see what you can make of it,and keep it in the back of your mind. You'll see that everything relates to it. Seriously,the harmonic series is too important to miss,but you won't understand all of it right away....even so,don't worry

yes don't do too many things at once,I recommend to starting studying a system and completing it,then you can tackle another one.

I am pretty sure you'll be allright,just give yourself lots of time,work and dedication.....this is really the science of composing music,in a way.....only learned students and composers know what the heck ' a 6/4 '  is or what on Earth 'a two chord'   is (it's an inverted chord with a seventh in the bass that requires the bass to resolve on a contiguous degree)

you are studying a system that is the oldest,most evolved and wide ranging theory system,I mean jazz is good,but really all theory comes from the classical system.

I don't even like to call it 'theory' ,because you will see that all the notions presented in the classical system,have a precise and useful purpouse,no matter how 'theoretical' something might seem.

For example,one might play the notes C -G#  on the piano ,and one could think 'ok ,it looks like a minor sixth'. No it's not,it's an augmented fifth,and that makes a difference and allows for clear understanding of other things.

Music theory is a huge topic.....roll up your sleeves and smile,don't worry. Give yourself credit for what you do understand at this point,the rest will become clear if you keep going.

If you keep in mind my personal 'order list' described earlier,I'd say it's pretty good. I am no musical authority but I can say that it's worked best for me,and it still does :)

23-Jan-09 09:05

Eric Davis

I was just thinking lou, One of the things I've not done yet is learned all the scales so was thinking of making up WAV files to use with mp3 player to name then play through the scales, Then being essentially a lazy bugger the thought occurred I wonder if anyone's allready done it, So I'll look on the web or if you or anyone else reading this know of such a setup it would save me a lot of searching.

I downloaded "HarmonyPractice" but can not install due to "invalid windows installer package", Something to do with Microsoft .Net FRAMEWORK Version 2.0 which i downloaded and installed but still no joy.
Either my computer's to old(Pentium 4 3.0 ghz) or that software is to old, Shame as It looked interesting!.

I'm still working on the harmonic series and harmonic function using "" If you look at this site and you have the time tell me your thoughts on unit 13.

24-Jan-09 13:41

Eric Davis

Hi Lou, with some help from the author I fanally managed to install HarmonyPractise and will have a look at some time next week.

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