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Progressions by root motion

The root of the chord is simply the note that names the chord. So the root of a C major chord is C, the root of an E minor chord is E, etc.

A lot of people think that the root is the same as the bass. It’s often found in the bass, but there are plenty of exceptions. The D/F# chord is a common example. D is the root of that chord; F# is in the bass.


Common root movement in chord progressions

Every standard chord progression uses root movement down a fifth. Here are the main examples of this type of movement:

  • I – IV (C – F)
  • V – I (G – C)
  • ii – V (Dmin – G)


Of course, this isn’t the only type of root movement in a standard progression, but it’s always there somewhere. If you’re trying to get away from standard sounding progressions, see if you can avoid it.

By the way, I – IV and V – I are the same thing if they’re used outside of an actual progression. In a larger progression, they become different things. Like, say…

I – IV – vi – ii – V – I (C – F – Amin – Dmin – G – C)


Every possible root movement

Here are all the possible root movements down:

  • minor 2nd (Amin – Bb)
  • major 2nd (C – Dmin – Emin)
  • minor 3rd (Amin – C; Emin – G)
  • major third (C – E)
  • perfect 4th (C – F)
  • augmented 4th (C – F#)
  • perfect 5th (F – C)
  • minor 6th (E – C)
  • major 6th (C – Amin; G – Emin)
  • minor 7th (Emin – Dmin – C)
  • major 7th (Bb – Amin)


You probably noticed that the last five moves (perfect 5th to major 7th) reverse the first five. And just to be clear: the bracketed chords are just examples; use whatever chords you want.



Experiment by inventing progressions that use a particular root movement. Try making something with only major second root movements. How long can you make it before you feel the need to introduce another type of root movement?

Or you could decide to make an entire progression using a combination of minor third and perfect fourth root movements.

Or maybe something like this:


Dmin     –           F         –       Eb       –       Cmin       –         B         –           D

Counting up the scale from one root to the next: Dmin to F is a min 3rd; F to Eb is a min 7th; Eb to Cmin is a maj 6th; Cmin to B is a maj 7th; and B to D is a min 3rd.


You might want it to sound more conventional. If you do, then add some root movements that go up or down a fifth.


Dmin       –         F         –       Eb          –           Abmin         –       C       –        Bb         –         F


The Eb to Abmin progression goes down a fifth, and the Bb to F progression goes up a fifth.


All of these examples use chords with the root in the bass. In the next post, I’ll talk about using other notes in the bass.

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Implied key areas

An implied key area is one where there’s no resolution to the I chord. Resolution to the I chord is standard in every pop or folk song, and takes a few different forms:


  • IV – V – I (F – G – C)
  • ii – V – I (Dmin – G – C)
  • IV – I (F – C)


My posts on chord patterns and cadential patterns talk about this in more detail.



You can avoid the obvious by going to the vi chord instead of I. Or you could try going to the iii chord. These are standard moves, but they can be effective.

Avoid the I chord by taking a chord pattern and adding new chords to that pattern.

Here are some techniques that work…


  • Go up a half step from a minor chord to a major chord (i.e. Amin – Bb)
  • Go up a third from major chord to major chord (B – D)
  • Go down a third from major chord to major chord (C – A)


…and here’s a standard chord pattern:


I – vi – ii – V – I (C – A minor – D minor – G – C)


A new progression made by applying the above techniques to the chord pattern could look like this:


I – vi – bVII – ii – V – III – I (C – Amin – Bb – Dmin – G – E – C)


Barre chords are helpful for playing this type of progression. Here are a couple of useful links if you’re not familiar with these.


Making changes

I wrote the above progression away from the guitar. When I played it, I noticed a couple of ways to make it better. The ii – V – III – I (Dmin – G – E – C) part of the progression seemed awkward.

I played it a few times, and realized the move from Dmin to G bothered me. I changed the G to Gmin and that seemed to work better. Then, instead of going to the I chord (C) after the E chord, I went to Amin.

The final progression became:


I – vi – bVII – ii – v – III – vi (C – Amin – Bb – Dmin – Gmin – E – Amin)


Of course, these are just personal preference. The original works. I just didn’t like it as much.


 Changing habits

The point of making chord progressions away from the guitar is to avoid having your habits and limitations at the guitar dictate what you write. Working this way gives you a greater chance of coming up with stuff you probably wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.


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