Why Does This BAROQUE Chord Progression Sound SO GOOD On Guitar?

Why Does This BAROQUE Chord Progression Sound SO GOOD On Guitar?

Tommaso Zillio

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killer baroque sequence

The other day, I was perusing an 18th-century manuscript (*) of a less-famous Italian composer (**), and I stumbled on a fantastically beautiful chord progression.

(*) Digital scan, of course. They don’t let us electric guitarists close to the originals because they are afraid we are going to … shred them. (ba-bump pssshhh!)

(**) We all have our hobbies ok? In my spare time, I read old music theory books. I also collect slide rules. Judge me all you want.

Anyway... I grabbed my guitar, and I confess, it took a little bit to adapt the “keyboard chords” in the manuscript to a guitar-friendly arrangement…

… but then I was hooked.

I played that progression in all ways I could think about: in major, in minor, in close and late disposition, straight, syncopated, with suspensions…

… I probably spent the whole afternoon on that …

… it worked great in all possible variations. Magic, I tell you.

Are you beginning to feel curious about it?

Now, this chord progression works by using a straightforward repeating pattern in the bass (the lowest note of each chord), which makes this progression easy to remember, easy to write songs with, and easy to play…

… with some knowledge of harmony, of course! But I provide that in the video.

Now I’m sure you are just itching to know what this chord progression is and why it works so well, but - as you may be noticing right now - words do a poor job of explaining how a chord progression sounds!

If you want to hear this chord progression, see how it works, how you can play it on guitar, and how you can use it in your music, click on the video below where I explain all this and more:

This video touches a lot on harmony and chords, and if you want to expand your knowledge on this topic, you should check out my video course Complete Chord Mastery guitar course, which takes you from the ground up with chords, so you can understand your fretboard inside and out.

Video Transcription

Hello internet; so nice to see you! I want to talk about a fantastic chord sequence that I found by studying Baroque music. And this sequence has been used by all this time. I mean, it’s been invented in the Baroque times, but you probably have heard what I just played. And you may have recognized a song, or two, or a dozen.

And here’s the thing, this chord sequence is under no copyright. So, if you want to steal this for your songs, no problem. Now in a minute, I’m gonna show you exactly what I’m playing, how I’m playing it, and different ways to make this sequence work for you. Because what you’ve heard is one of the possible versions, and there are others.

But first, let me tell you where I found it because it’s interesting. So, I first found this sequence described in a manual by Fedele Fenaroli, who was a music teacher in one of the Naples conservatories in the 1700s. And as you can see here, that’s the page of the manual. And that’s it, meaning there isn’t a score. The sequence is described in words, the title of the section is “Quando il partimento scende di terza e sale di grado”… Which means when the bass of the exercise goes down by a third, and then goes up by a step and keeps doing that.

And this is the base of the sequence. Indeed, that goes down by a third and up by a step and keeps doing it in the sequence I played before I was playing in A minor and the base goes A, then F, then G, then E, then F, then D, then E. So again, every time down a third up a step, this sequence is shown in a slightly more explicit way, in a manuscript by a student of the teacher of Fenaroli.

So, let’s go back. Fenaroli is the guy that found this sequence first. His teacher was Francesco Durante. And then some student of Francesco Durante was copying part of the exercises for their own exercise for private practice. And we have this manuscript here.

As you can see here, right there, okay, there is just the bass of the exercise with a few indications on top. And if you don’t know your Basso Continuo, or ThoroughBass notation, it doesn’t make any sense. But if you do know that notation, then this sequence is pretty easy to play. So that’s the history of it. Let’s see what it is.

Okay, so the sequence is this, we start with a bass, okay, that goes down by third and up by step and keeps doing that, okay. So, if you’re in A minor, for instance, we can start from A, then down a third, again, it’s F, up a step it’s G, down a third is E, and so on, and so forth. Okay. And we can go on as much as we want.

Right now, I’m just doing these starting from the A and ending on an E so that I can have a chord progression that goes from the A minor at the beginning and ending on the E, dominant at the end, then, on the first note, A, I’m just gonna put a simple triad. So, in a triad built on A is just an A minor triad, easy as that. On the second note, so when I go down by a third, I’m gonna put a 65 chord, I’ve already made a video on the 65 chord, and I’m linking it here. So, if you want to know exactly what this is, and how it works, go there.

Right now, I’m just limiting myself to tell you that this is a chord that contains the fifth and the sixth of the chord. But the third is optional. And indeed, in this case, I’m not even gonna play that third and playing only the fifth and the sixth over the bass. Okay. So, when I go down by a third there, I put the 65 chord. And in F, the 65 chord contains the notes, C, and D. And I’m arranging it this way. When I go up by step, now, I put again, a triad, the note is G, so it’s just a G major triad.

And then I keep doing that when I go down by third, I put a six five chord, and in this case, I add the E 65 chord and the notes on top are B, and C, and so on and so forth. And just keep going until the end of the sequence. Once I hit the E note, I’m first putting in an Esus4, just because I like it. Okay. And then later, I just have this go to an E major and I end the sequence there.

So, this is the sequence as it is right now. Notice though, that this is not the only possible way of playing this because I could have done something different, I could have, without changing the chords or anything, put the notes on top in a different order. When I started the first sequence for A minor, I use the notes A, E, and C with the C at the top, but I could have played the E at the top instead.

So, the notes would have been a C and E with an E at the top, the notes are the same, I’m just changing the order of those notes and just changing how high they are in the octave if you want, okay, so really not much. And then I’m doing this, I’m changing this for all the following chords so that the chord progression stays connected and the voice leading is correct. Okay. So, what happens is now I have this slightly different chord progression, which is more dissonant, because every time I play one of those wonderful 65 chords, I have the fifth and the sixth in the same octave, so they clash together, and they give me this interesting sound.

Now, if this sequence sounds too sad to you, we can always do this in major. And these will soften up the absolute despair that you can feel from this. So, for instance, in C major, and in this case, I’m going to go through the whole octave, I can do this; I’m starting from C major, and then I’m going through, down a third, up a step, always putting a triad whenever I go up, and I’m always putting a 65 chord whenever I go down. So, here’s a possible arrangement of that:

Now if I rearrange the top voices so that I get more dissonance whenever I hit a 65 chord, I get this:

Notice that when I’m playing the sequence in C major, the third chord I play is B diminished triad. And it sounds perfectly good. It fits perfectly in the sequence. And you don’t even notice it’s a diminished triad because it just fits in. Everything magically sounds good. All the dissonance is magically resolved. And everything just flows perfectly. It’s a great sequence.

Now, the idea here is that nobody will take the whole sequence for the whole octave, it’s too long. But you could take any part of the sequence. And then you can use this to compose your own song, or you can take the sequence, break it apart and use it as raw materials to create your own chord progression.

Personally, I think the sequence sounds fantastically great. It’s one of my favorite ones. It’s just great. Okay, and it will work well on every instrument piano, guitar, orchestra, whatever. It will not work as great as it is with distortion unless you use three guitars or two guitars and the bass, and then every guitar plays at most one note at a time. And then you just do the harmony with distorted guitar and then it will sound wonderful when you are playing these kinds of sequences and you want to use them in your composition.

Of course, it goes way, way faster if you know your fretboard, know where the notes are, and know what are the notes in every chord and all these kinds of things. So, I would recommend if you guys want to have complete command of your fretboard that you give a look at my course Complete Chord Mastery.

Complete Chord Mastery is not a book. It’s a complete video course that takes you from the basics up. We do everything you need to know about harmony and chords on your guitar. All the theory is done straight on the fretboard. There is no theory for the sake of theory here. Everything is immediately practical. And everything is developed through exercises, so you know how to apply this immediately on your guitar. If you have just a minute, click on the link on the top right to check out Complete Chord Mastery.

If you liked this video, smash that like button and don’t forget to subscribe and click on notifications, otherwise, YouTube will not let you know when I put up a new video. And if you have any comments, feedback, or suggestions, write them down in the comments. I enjoy reading from you and I make videos from your suggestions. This is Tommaso Zillio of MusicTheoryForGuitar.com And until next time, enjoy.

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