When The RETROGRADE Chord Progression Is Not SATISFYING

When The RETROGRADE Chord Progression Is Not SATISFYING

Tommaso Zillio

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retrograde chord progressions

Retrograde is a technique where you play something backward, kind of like the Beatles or these backward-masked messages in heavy metal songs… except you are not reversing the audio tape (*), but you are actually playing it from end to beginning.

(*) Pardon, the “audio file”. Who uses tape anymore?

Why does such a simple concept require such a sophisticated-sounding term? No one knows!

More importantly, why would we do something like that? I admit it sounds quite silly at first, after all.

We do it simply because it’s a way to come up with new music that - surprisingly - works! You can reverse melodies or chord progressions (or both at the same time!), and you obtain new music without having to resort to either hard work, genius, or trial+error.

… or at least that’s what I would like to tell you!

The reality is that there is one liiitle teeeeny teeeeensy issue with writing (say) chord progressions with this technique: sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t!

When it works, it sounds awesome.

When it doesn’t work, it sounds like the opposite of awesome. (“Awe-none”? “Awe-not a lot”? “Awe-seldom”? People keep telling me that English is a “modular language” and then give me a hard time when I take them seriously…)

We musicians, however, are a resourceful bunch and are not discouraged by these trifling difficulties, so we found ways around that. We can make retrograde work pretty much every single time!

But how?

Well, that is what I want to share with you in the video below, check it out!

While this will help you write new chord progressions, playing those chord progressions everywhere on your guitar, and in any way you want, will be way easier if you know where to find all of the notes on your fretboard. Check out my free eBook on learning the notes on your fretboard, and with 5 minutes a day, for a few weeks, you will know every single note on your guitar.

Video Transcription

Hello internet so nice to see you! Retrograde is a trick where you take a piece of music, whether a melody or a chord progression or the whole thing, and you play it from the end to the beginning you can do this with just a single section or even the whole song right there great tend to works fantastically well when it works. So for instance, take a chord progression like C F, A minor, G, C.

And if you play the retrograde that will be C, G, A minor F C. Both the chord progression sound excellent, there is no problem. And so you can totally take a chord progression of a song, take the retrograde and create a new interesting chord progression from that, try that it works when it works, it works great.

But when it does not work, it does not work spectacularly. So for instance, in a previous video where I explain a Baroque chord progression, somebody tried to play the retrograde and it sounded horrible, the Baroque chord progression, it’s this one, it is C, F major seven with a base of A, B, diminish.

G, C, E minor sound with a base of G, A minor, D minor seven with a base of F, G and C if you play the retrograde It just sounds wrong, okay, it doesn’t flow, it doesn’t flow at all. Okay. And so what do we do in this case? Can we still make something interesting? From there?

Well, then we have to go out and see how people in the Baroque era were thinking about this chord progression for them, those were not chord progression, because chords were simply not invented yet. Okay? For them. Those were basslines to which you put harmony on top, okay, to which you put other stuff on top.

But they were thinking mostly in terms of the bassline, okay, and what you’ve heard the original chord progression and explain, which is the again they were seeing these as a chord progression when the bass goes down a third up a second. So the bass is C, start from C goes down a third to a up a second to be down a third to G up a second to a down a third to f up a second to G. And then from there, I’m just going back to C because I want to finish the chord progression.

Okay, so down a third up a second. But what happens if we do the opposite? What if rather than going down a third and upper second, the bass of the progression was going up a third and down a second? Now, the more pickier among you we go like tomorrow, that’s not the retrograde that’s the inverse. That’s the inversion. But honestly, in this case, inversion and retrograde are exactly the same. So this is also the retrograde of the chord progression. If you take it from beginning to the end, the base is still going up a third down a second.

So it’s the same thing in this case. That’s the interesting thing, though, when you go and see the Baroque monuments of music on what they do, in this case, they play a completely different chord progression, the sounds much, much, much better than the lame, straight retrograde I played before.

Okay, so what do they do, we have to go first with a simple version. And then with a more complex version, the simple version is this, let’s put everything in C major. And let’s start from the C note E from see I go up a third down a second, I have this sequence of notes, C, E, D, F, E, G, F, A, and G. And I’m gonna stop there.

And then from G if you want to go back to C, you can or you can do something else on the C note. So before the jump over third, they play a chord in root position, so on the C notes and playing a C major chord. Okay, really not that hard. And indeed, to make it easy to make easier later to transition to the more complex version, I’m going to play an incomplete secret. I’m gonna I’m just gonna play the notes C and E, and I’m gonna double up the notes.

See, okay. Then my bass goes up a third to the E note. And on that I still play a C chord but in first inversion, so I’m playing the E or the bass and the G and C note on top of that, and they keep doing that. So whenever I’m going down a second I’m gonna play a root position chords on the employing a D minor because we’re in C major and the correct chord is D minor.

When not going to upper third to the F and playing a D minor chord in first inversion, so with the base of F, and then down to E minor to the E minor in first inversion, down to F, up to F in first inversion, down to G. That’s the simple version sounds this way.

Then finishing it, and I say, just to give it an ending, that’s a simple version, but then they do something way more interesting. And that’s what the fascinating thing happened. Okay. So follow me because the practical thing is very easy, the theory behind it can become complex. Okay, for the complex version on the first chord, I’m still planning my C chord. On the next, I’m still thinking something like the C chord in first inversion.

But I am raising the C note to a C sharp, because I know that the next chord is D minor. So I have these lines C, C sharp, D with the note. Okay, so it sounds this way I have the C chord is seen first inversion with a raised root, which is not really that bad, follow me here. And then the D minor. Cool, that’s sweet again. Okay, you’re gonna see later exactly what this is. Then I’m going to I’m on D minor.

And when I go up to the D minor, in first inversion, I’m raising that D to A D sharp so that it gets in I get this chromatic line D, D sharp E with the next chord that is an E minor. So I have the D minor is D chord. And then the E minor. When you do the minor in first inversion, I keep the mounting first inversion as it is because the E note is are ready close as already a half step away from the next note that is F.

So I cannot really push it up, because it’s already there. But then I did the F position and do the F in first inversion. And then I can push the F two and F sharp to get the chromatic line to the G note. At the end, it sounds this way.

So what are those mystery chords? Okay? I mean, it’s very easy to classify than a simple simply first inversion chord with a raise root, but the modern theories will tell you no, that’s exactly what it is. And indeed, even a Baroque theorists will tell you, that’s not exactly how it is Baroque theories, were calling those chord arrays the sixth, which is a strange way for us to think about it. But if you think about for instance, the C chord, the bass is E.

And the C note with respect to the bass is the minor 6. And so they were thinking of these as phrasing the 62, a major 60. Okay, so they were calling them res six chord, a modern theory is that we call these C sharp diminished triad, in first inversion, okay, because the notes are C sharp, E and G, which is also a C sharp diminished triad, or they will call it an incomplete a seven chord, if you think about it, the A seven chord as the notes, a C sharp, E, G, if I take away the A, I’m left with c sharp, E and G.

Those two explanation are perfectly correct. Okay, no problem is just a different way of seeing the same notes. Everything will work on these chord with the bass of e, on the chord here with the base of f the thing become a little bit more complex, because my notes are the Sharpen will f or the bass, D sharp and E, these looks a lot like an F seven chord, they’re like because they have the F the A and the D sharp, which is equivalent to an E flat, which would be the seventh of an F chord.

And these going to D minor would be exactly what a modern just play a we’ll call a tritone substitution, okay. That will be the tritone substitution of A B seven, which is F seven, going down to an E minor chord. So surprisingly, in Baroque music, we have the same thing as a tritone substitution.

In jazz this thing is much, much much older than we thought okay. And they were using that only they were calling it an augmented sixth chord, okay, and indeed, no matter is augmented sixth chord in classical theory are literally tritone substitution chords in jazz theory, interesting how those things get back in time much, much, much more than we think.

Point is these new chord progression, it’s a very cool chord progression on his own term and you can use it whenever you want however you want. This just sounds great, okay, and again, I’m doing this here in three voices, but you can do it in four voices that there are many more possible variations of this is just the basic one. Okay?

So have fun with that. Now, when you are studying these things on your guitar, it really pays off if you know where all the notes are on your guitar so that you don’t spend half an hour every time you need to find a new chord voice or a new chord inversion okay, if you need to play at the no a chord made by the notes A, C sharp and G if you know where your notes are, you can find it very fast I mean, but you need to know your notes so that you know you know them what they are instantly you have instant recall over it notes are you cannot just count from the open string and go like okay, that’s the G string G A, B, etc, etc.

Because otherwise again, it takes forever. How do you get instant recall on the notes on your fretboard? Well, I have an free eBook for you that gives you the complete training system you invest five minutes a day, five minutes a day guys for a few weeks. And we know all your notes cold like you wake up in the morning you look at your guitar, you know what the notes are, you don’t need to think about it. It’s like somebody wrote the notes on top of the fretboard and you’re just reading them completely effortless, okay, and it’s completely free.

So you find the link on the top right? Get this free ebook, download it, learn all your notes and then doing those things that I’m doing on the guitar will become super easy for you too. And with this I close communication. Thank you guys. This is Tommaso Zillio for MusicTheoryForGuitar.com, and until next time, enjoy.

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