Play Along with Chord Progressions

 

Most of the music we hear uses chord progressions that produce satisfying “full music” — by combining two harmonies we enjoy, simultaneous harmony (in a chord) and sequential harmony (during a melody) — because most musicians think this is the best way to make music that is interesting and enjoyable.

 

You can “play along” with a chord progression in a jam session or a recording, including a video.

When you're playing along with a video in YouTube, you can...

    increase the video-length (right-click and then click "Loop"),

    change the video-tempo (with speeds from .25 thru 1.00 to 2.00, not changing the pitch) by clicking the “gear” icon,

    change your keyboard-key by using its Transposing Feature (why and how?) that lets you “play in C Major” but “hear in any major key” to match the key of a non-C video).

 


LINKS go to my Main Page or Big Page or to another part of this page (if italicized) or YouTube (if non-italicized) or another external page.

 

Five common chord progressions are simple & blues (with only major chords) and (with a minor chord) 50's1564jazz.

 

Some youtube videos have backing tracks — that provide harmony (usually with chords plus basslines) and rhythm, but no melody — so you can “play along” by improvising new melodies, instead of playing an old melody (or improvising variations of the old melody).

 

Musicians use a wide variety of chord progressions (CP's).  Probably you should begin by using...

 

chord progressions

with only Major Chords,

like “simple” or 12-Bar Blues:

 

When you're beginning to play along with videos (before you move onward), using a simple chord progression — like red-blue-green-red that is C-F-G-C in Key of C, and generally is I-IV-V-I , aka 1451 — is easier because it has only major chords, with a simple 4-bar structure.   /   You can use a video with CFGC (from Lily or Garret or AppliedTheory) and make it longer with "Loop".   When you begin, just listen and watch the chord that's playing so you can learn the progression.  After awhile, play melodies that match the chords.   /   Other videos with 1451 are Garret's – AppliedTheoryChuanMusicsimple-keyboardsimple-piano.

You also can play melodies during another simple progression — red-blue-red-green (e.g. C-F-C-G), generally I-IV-I-V, 1415 — using videos from Garret's & SoundYourVoice.    /    Or combine the two CP's to make an 8-chord progression, C-F-C-G-C-F-G-CBut you can only do this with free playing (or with DIY chord-playing by a friend) because I can't find any videos with this 8-chord combination of the 4-chord CP's.

 

These two simple CP's are a useful starting point, and while “playing along” you can improvise beautiful melodies.  But they are not a satisfactory ending point, and I suggest moving onward to other CP's – first Blues, and then 50's, 1564, Jazz – that are more popular (they're used in many songs) because they're more musically interesting.

 

12-Bar Blues

This is a popular chord progression, used in jazz, rock, R&B,...   The basic form is (CCCCFFCCGFCC).  But usually it's done with variations, mainly a turnaround ending (the most common is CG in CCCCFFCCGFCG) that avoids CCCCCC when repeating the 12 bars,* but also a quick-change beginning that is CFCCFFCCGFCG when it ends with the common turnaround.   /   * Musicians can clarify the separation between two 12-bar phrases by using harmony (as in a “...CG” turnaround) plus melody & rhythm, and in other ways.

some personal history:  Early in my experiences with music improvising I was excited-and-motivated by "recognizing that by using music theory [in 12-Bar Blues] we could coordinate our improvised melodies, cooperating to make interesting music, and it was fun."

 

  Although you can begin with

• the basic 12-bar form, as in AUsher's Rock n Roll,

  I recommend quickly moving on to...

• ending with a Turnaround (by changing ...CC to ...CG to get CCCCFFCCGFCG) because this is more common, due to the musical benefitsAlthough in an important way it's simple (using only the three main major chords), compared with CFGC (a simple 4-bar structure) its 12-bar structure is complex.  To learn this structure and “internalize it” so you know it well and can play along fluently, for awhile just listen to a video (from Paul Collins or A Vos Grattes) and watch the chords change (within a 3-row table that shows the 12-bar structure) to combine “seeing the progression” with “hearing the progression” so you'll learn how to know (without the visual information) the chord that is being played in each measure, and you'll intuitively anticipate the chord changes.  You can adjust the tempo so you'll hear the chord-changes at different speeds while you're listening, and (more important) while you're playing;  begin slow and then increase the speed as you become more comfortable with improvising creatively while making your melody match each chord-harmony.   /   other backing tracks:  play along with Freddie Edwards (but there is no table) or (but you cannot see the chord that's now being played) with Cliff Smith (RockinBlues - Blues) — Marc Guitar (Shuffle - ) — TCDG GuitarGarret's

• ending with a modified Turnaround (using the standard ...CG with small variations that are mostly insignificant) in AUsher's (RockinShuffle - ClassicBlues - Rock n Roll - RockinBluesShuffle).

 

• beginning with a Quick Change (when CCCC... is replaced by CFCC... so the chord quickly changes from C to F) is less common, but it sounds good Now You Shred shows the changing of chords — A Usher (smooth & slow with a turnaround-variation) —

 

  You also can play...

• Minor Blues in A Minor AUsher — [[ and soon I'll link to more ]] -- [[ and maybe also find videos with C Minor? ]]

 

and 12-Bar Blues in other keys, so you can practice using the transposing feature of your keyboard.  Why?  This is necessary when a backing track (or song) you like isn't in C, or during a jam session with other musicians because they often will want to play in keys other than C.

 


 

I think it will be easier to improve your improvising skills if you begin with the progressions above (simple and 12-Bar Blues) that have only major chords, before moving on to...

 

chord progressions

with a Minor Chord:

 

a 50s Progression (it's I-vi-IV-V, aka 1645, as in C-Am-F-G) requires skillfully improvising melodies using the chord-notes of Am (A Minor) that are the two upper rows of red bars on my colorized keyboard.  How?  Probably you don't yet have much experience doing this.  An effective way to improve your skill is to use a strategy of Whole-Parts-Whole with a single-chord video in A Minor.   /   How?  Also, with all CP's (including this one) you can sing without words to inspire intuitive melody-making skills that you then can transfer to playing keyboard, or another instrument.   /   What?  Videos that show the chords — it's helpful while you're learning the progression so you intuitively “hear the changes” – are NorthvilleGuitarReinhold Musician'sGuideMyBackingTrackPierGonellaChusssMusicTGuitar.   Two of my favorites – because they have a “sound and feeling” of 50s Music – are by John Alexthey don't show the chords, but after awhile this won't matter because you already know the progression.

 

a popular progression that is related to the 50s Progression – because it has the same chords, but in a different sequence – is...

1564 (it's I-V-vi-IV, aka 1564, e.g. C-G-Am-F).  In videos with graphics to show the chords, and sometimes “animation” to show the chord that now is playing,  GuitarJamRockFactoryChussMusic Pier Gonella (ballad & pop rock) – TGuitarGuitarphile

 

a common jazz progression (ii-V-I, aka 251, e.g. Dm-G-C-C), from Etienne de LoriolAlbertScaranoMusicaJonMacLennanQuistBackingTracksChannel – plus many more in C and other keys including A Minor.

 

In his brilliant videos about chord progressions, David Bennett explains – using principles of functional harmony – why five popular chord progressions (and variations) “work well” for making music that's interesting-and-enjoyable;  and you can hear short samples (usually 4 bars) of songs that use each progression.   /   iou – in late-July I'll make links to his video-sections about some chord progressions: blues, 50's, 1564, jazz, plus variations, and CP's that supplement I,IV,V with other major chords (like bVII, bVI).  Currently a lot of raw information (not yet developed) is in another page.

 


reminders:  You can change a video's length & tempo, and change your keyboard's key.

 

To improve your skill when playing along with chord progressions, a useful strategy for learning is using...
 

single-chord videos  (with no chord progression)

These are useful when you're using a strategy of Whole-Parts-Whole.  How?  You first improve your melody-improvising skills while you play along with each single chord (in the Parts) and then (in the Whole) during a chord progression you'll have improved skills when you're playing along with each chord.  But even though these videos are mainly a way to reach “the destination” of playing more skillfully with a chord progression, “the journey” also can be fun because the simplicity lets you improvise long “single-chord melodies” and focus on playing creatively with quality.

single-chord vamps, with harmony (in a constant chord) and with rhythm:  Now I'm making links to only Jack's Guitar Trax – the ones I like best* – for chords of...  red-C majorblue-F majorgreen-G major  —  red-A minor blue-D minorgreen-E Minorand also C Minor - [plus F Minor - G Minor]?   But I have found other videos, and later will link to them.    /    * But I also like other videos for each chord, and (iou) will link to them in July.  And of course it's difficult to be “musically interesting” while playing only one chord instead of a chord progression,  but you can be creative in making interesting melodies.     {also, with 7th Chords for E7-A7-B7 you can “play” in C, but “hear” in E with +4 transposing.}

 

single-chord drones, with harmony (in a constant chord) but without rhythm:  Here are two videos for each chord, for... red-C Majorblue-F Majorgreen-G Majorred-A Minorblue-D Minor green-E Minor — and by searching you can find other chord-drones, including some for 7th chords; 

 

Why?  Single-Chord Backing Tracks are valuable when you're using a learning strategy of Whole-Parts-Whole (WpW) by either playing free (without rhythm) or playing along (with external rhythm).  For free playing WpW, single-chord drones are especially useful because even though you're “playing along” you're getting only harmony-feedback;  there is no rhythmic feedback so you're “playing free” with no external rhythm to “push you along” so you'll feel more free to use extra time and try new ideas.  For playing along WpW, single-chord vamps are especially useful because the rhythmic feedback will help you improve rhythmic skills;  and generally it's more fun, is a full “playing along” with both harmony & rhythm.  Each kind of experience is valuable in different ways so I encourage you to do both, to sometimes “play free” (without external rhythm, using a drone) and sometimes “play along” (with external rhythm, using a vamp) because each way-to-play produces a distinctive kind of experience.   /   a summary:  a drone is useful for stimulating melodic creativity in your choosing-of-notes;  a vamp is useful for improving your skills with playing-of-rhythm, including practical “real time” faster choosing-of-notes.

 

Although you probably will find single-chord vamps or single-chord drones more generally useful for doing the Parts of Whole-Parts-Whole, you also can try...

a single-note vamp {C Blues} and other One-Note Backing Tracks – for every note (C,F,G,A,D,E,...) – with rhythms of Blues & Latin & Hip-Hop,

and single-note drones for C - F - G - etc.    { But instead of being drones without rhythm, some videos are vamps with rhythm. }

 


 

also:

 

chord progressions in popular songs

iou – during late July, I'll begin finding videos of song-recordings that use each chord progression – simple, blues, 50s, popular, jazz – with the help of resources that include wikipedia's lists of popular songs for some common progressions,*  or HookTheory & ChordGenome & others.  Maybe I'll sometimes find the key of a song when necessary (if the video doesn't provide it) so you can “play in C” but “hear in the song's key” (which usually it won't be C) by using the transposing feature of your keyboard.  And if necessary (if the song isn't tuned to the standard A=440) you can use the keyboard's tuning feature.   /   e.g. songs with I-vi-IV-V (or I-vi-ii-V) and I-V-vi-IV.

 

backing tracks with only rhythm

      (without harmony or melody)

You can use a metronome track and (iou) in July I'll link to some drum tracks.   /   pros & cons of using a metronome

 


 

backing tracks for performing (live or recorded):  [[ iou – I've seen these, and later (maybe August) some will be linked-to, although this isn't a personal interest – I'm more interested in teaching how to make music. ]]

 

TRANSPOSING – When, Why, How

 

When?  A keyboard's auto-transposing feature is useful whenever you want to play along in any key that isn't the C Major (or A Minor) that's best for a keyboard with red-blue-green colorizing.  Most makers of backing tracks have videos in C (although if you also want to “sing with it” another key might be better for your vocal range), but most song-recordings are in other keys.  And if you want to jam with musicians, some will play an instrument that cannot auto-transpose, and they will want to play in other keys.  For example, with my trombone the keys of F & Bb are easier, and I can play better;  but for valve trombone (similar to trumpet) I like Eb.  Guitar players usually prefer keys-with-sharps, like G, D, A, and E.  For a vocal instrument each singer has a favorite low-to-high range, and this affects their preferred keys, which can change for different songs.  Other instruments (and musicians who play them) will have their own favorite keys.   In any of these situations with non-C music, auto-transposing lets you “play in C” (with your actions) and “hear in another key” (with the keyboard's sound).

 

Why?  Transposing is beneficial in two ways, for using time and for music.  It allows “specializing” in one key – this is especially useful when using a colorized keyboard – with valuable time (and life) benefits.  You also get musical benefits by using your music-playing time for creatively doing a wide range of diverse experimenting in one key so you can explore it more widely & deeply.

 

How?  When you want to transpose — for example, when jamming with other musicians, or playing a video that isn't “in C” — by having your keyboard automatically transpose to another key, doing this is easy.  If a video is “in E” just continue pressing the transpose-button until it's +4 (the difference in semitones from C up to E), and every note you play will sound 4 semitones higher, so when you “play in C” (easy for you) it “sounds like E” (the video's key) and you're playing in-tune with the video.     {a keyboard feature that sometimes would make key-matching easier}

 

This table shows the transposing-number when you know the key, like when it's in the title of a youtube video.  The color-coding shows rarely-used keys, and keys that are commonly used by wind instruments (trumpet, saxophone,...) and guitar players.

 Key of Video
  C  
Db
D
 Eb 
E
F
 Gb 
G
 Ab 
A
Bb
B
  C  
 transposing #  
0
+1
+2
+3
 +4 
 +5 
+6
 +7 
+8
 +9 
 +10 
 +11 
 +12  
 transposing #
 -12  
 -11 
 -10 
-9
-8
-7
-6
-5
-4
-3
-2
-1
 0
 

If you don't know the key, you can find it with a program (sometimes) or (always) by using an old-fashioned strategy.  How?  If you're “playing in C” and you notice that you must play B-flat (instead of B) and E-flat (instead of E), you know the key probably has two flats;  it's "2b" in the table below, so its transposing-number is +10 or –2.  Or if you must use F-sharp (instead of F) and also C-sharp and G-sharp, you know the key has "3#" so its transposing-number is +9 or –3.  When using this strategy, it's useful to understand The Circle of Fifths.   /   Or just listen carefully and you may notice a "home note" that is the song's key;  then you can check this by assuming it's the key when you set the transposing, and – if you're correct – you will never (or rarely) have to use any flats or sharps.

 the key
 Gb 
 Db 
 Ab 
 Eb 
 Bb 
F
C
G
D
A
E
B
 F# 
 flats or sharps 
 6b 
 5b 
 4b 
 3b 
 2b 
 1b 
 none 
 1# 
 2# 
 3# 
 4# 
 5# 
 6# 
 transposing #  
+6 
+1 
+8 
+3 
+10 
+5 
0,+12
+7 
+2 
+9 
+4 
+11 
+6 
 transposing #
-6 
-11 
-4 
-9 
-2 
-7 
-12,0
-5 
-10 
-3 
-8 
-1 
-6 

 


 

  You can Play Free & Play Along by
  using Backing Tracks with different
  combinations of harmony & rhythm:
 
 without external rhythm 
 with external rhythm 
 without external harmony 
free playing
 (with no BackingTrack) 
 metronome
drum loop BT
 with one external chord
 single-note drone BT 
 single-chord drone BT 
single-note vamp BT
 single-chord vamp BT 
 w multiple external chords 
( this is impossible )
 chord progression BT 

 


 

four simple Chord Progressions:

Earlier I describe the simple CP of I-IV-V-I (aka 1451, e.g. CFGC);  and four simple CP's are in my Big Page.  The CP-Videos of David Bennett include three simple CP'sI-IV-I-V (1415, CFCG),  I-IV-V-IV (1454, CFGF),  I-V-IV-V (1545, CGFG) — but not I-IV-V-I.  All four CPs are similar because all have the same three chords (I,IV,V) in a CP-sequence with four chords;  but these three chords have different four-chord sequences.

Very few videos are available for any of these CPs.  And most of the videos that are available don't have high musical quality.  I'll be finding other videos during July 2024, then will revise this paragraph and add links.   /   Here is a beginning:  I've found several videos for 1451 plus others — 1415 (CFCG) from Garret's & vocals1545 (CGFG) from GuitarImprov — and later I'll find others.