So you want to improve your Progressive House chords but are not too sure where to start, or what to practise to get those improvements.
Fear not because, in this article, we’re going to help you out with that. Firstly, let’s start of with some common Progressive House Chord progressions you can apply to your tracks, and create melodies with.
Remember: the key to making good chord progressions, is to mix these up. So, don’t just take a 8 bar chord progression and keep repeating it, add some extensions, different bass notes, maybe even some different chords from the chord scale you’re using.
Common Chord Progressions For Progressive House
Here is a list of the most common Progressive House chord progressions. Apply these to any chord scale:
- vi, IV, V, I
- vi, IV, I, V
- I, V, vi, IV
- vi, I, iv, V
- vi, ii, IV, V
- IV, iii, ii, iii
These Progressive House chord progressions can get repetitive if you don’t switch them around. So, in order to make them sound more progressive, you’ll want to mix them up. Add extensions, different bass notes, and change the order of the chords.
Don’t repeat the same order for 32bars. You want to switch it up.
Doing this will help to make your Progressive House melodies sound more professional. If you want to learn how to take these progressions and make them more professional, then read on. By the end of this article, you’ll be a chord progression pro.
How To Improve Your Progressive House Chord Progressions
We’re gonna go over how you can improve your Progressive House Chord progressions step by step below. The steps we’ll show you are going to take you from a basic triad progression, all the way to an advanced sounding, professional chord melody.
If you’re more advanced, and already know about chord scales + triads, feel free to skip to the extensions and bass note sections, using the table of contents above.
1. Choose a key & use the chord scale to create a basic progression
Chord scales are essential to use for music producers. They give you a certain set of rules (chords) that you can play, in any order, and still stay in tune with your chosen key.
It’s important to set off right, and choose a chord scale you want to use, and like the sound of.
So, let’s say you want to write in the popular key of Cmaj.
You’d simply find the chords in the key of C major, and you’d use those chords, in any order, creating a basic progression to start off with.
Create a chord progression over 8-32bars, and include a variation every 4-8bars in your chord choice. This will give it a progressive feel, and add movement to your chord melody.
You can either build this progression inside your MIDI piano roll, using MIDI chord formulas. Or, you can play on a digital piano/MIDI controller, then edit the chords later.
We personally prefer drawing in MIDI using the piano roll, because it’s a quick workflow.
At this stage, you only want a basic progression. It doesn’t matter how colourful, or professional it sounds yet – you just want the idea down on paper, so you can build on it using the methods we’re going to discuss further on.
Diminished – R, +3, +3
2. Start adding extensions to your chords for colour
Once you have a basic chord progression, and you like the rough sound of your melody, you’re ready to add extensions to your chords.
Extensions will make your chords sound much more colourful, vibey, and professional.
Adding extensions to your chords is easy, and we’ll run you through the process now. You can either use the scale method, or you can use the MIDI chord extension formulas to rapidly draw these extensions in.
To add extensions, you simply add additional notes on top of the basic 3 note chords you’ve used to create your current melody, making them 4, 5, 6 note chords and beyond.
The more notes you have in your chord, the thicker, and more powerful they’ll sound. Make sure to spread them out across multiple octaves, putting some in the bass and some in the treble! Huge 10 note chords can sound amazing, especially for genres like Progressive House.
Some great extensions to try for Progressive House are:
- Slash extension chords like Cmaj7/9
These extensions are used in tracks like: Calvin Harris – Thinking About You, Deadmau5 – Strobe, Nadia Ali – Pressure, Avicii – Dear Boy, and more!
Don’t be afraid to really experiment here. You want to try different combinations until you find something you like. Using your ear is an under-estimated tool by most, but it’s almost always the most useful.
You can know all the music theory on the planet, but still not know how to make a feel-good chord progression.
And, there are many pianists, that have been classically trained, who just don’t understand how to make a great-sounding dance music chord progression… it’s not all about the theory is what I’m trying to get at.
Using intuition, your ears, and how it makes you feel, will help you identify which chords sound best where.
Trial and error is your best friend!
How To Build An Extension Chord
You’ve got the info on what extensions to use, but how do you actually build them? In this section, we’ll show you exactly how to build extensions on your chords using 2 different methods.
So, let’s say you’ve got a Cmaj chord as the first chord in your Progressive House melody, and you want to add a 7th to it – Cmaj7.
For this, you’d want to use the C major scale to find the 7th, because:
- Root note = C
- Value = major
Then you’d count 7 notes up that scale to the B. This is your major 7th.
If you wanted to find an Amin7, although it’s still in your chosen piano chord (which we chose as C major above), you would have to use the A minor scale to find the minor 7th, count 7 notes up, and that would be your 7th note.
You repeat the same process for 6ths, 9ths, and 11ths. Just count up 6 notes, or 9 notes, and so on.
Method 2 is much easier. You can draw extensions using the MIDI chord formulas we discussed before.
Let’s take the Cmin7/9 chord as an example.
You’d use the formula: R(root note), +3, +4, +3, +4. Then you’d plug this into the chord you wanted.
So, let’s say you wanted a Dmin7/9. You would use D as your root note, and then count 3 semitones from D, 4 semitones from the note you just landed on (F), and so on.
This would give you your Dmin7/9 chord.
You can find all of the MIDI chord formulas, listed in our article about how to draw MIDI chords.
3. Invert your chords to change up the tone & vibe
By now you’ll probably have noticed that sometimes your Progressive House chords get a bit too samey, or they just don’t provide the right tone.
You might have even double, (or maybe triple) checked that you have the right chord, and it even fits when you hum it out loud, but… for some reason, it just doesn’t seem to sound right.
Inverting chords will save you here, and they’ll provide you with two things:
- Variation in melody – without actually changing the chord used, or the key you’re in.
- Change in tone & vibe – of the same chord, making it sound darker, happier, more sad etc.
Chord inversions are really simple to do inside a MIDI piano roll, because you can change the octave of your keys in a matter of seconds, using shortcuts.
You can either invert chords as their basic 3 note chords, or you can invert the extensions of your chords, using them as bass notes to thicken up the sound, and also provide colour.
There are 3 chord types you should know:
- Root position (basic, natural position triad)
- 1st inversion (root note on top)
- 2nd inversion (root note in middle)
Even doing something as simple as, using the same C minor chord 4 times in a 4 bar section, and changing the inversions around, can spice up your chord progressions massively.
A lot of Progressive House songs use chord inversions, and this technique specifically, to keep the same key and melody of the track, but to change the tone and vibe of it.
In the example of a C minor chord, you’d build your inversions like this:
4. Add bass notes for thickness
Next up in your Progressive House chord progressions, you’ll want to add bass notes to give thickness, and weight to your sound.
You’ll notice that with just basic triads, and extension chords, your melody will sound good, but it will feel like it’s lacking some energy somewhere – this is the low-end.
Bass in Progressive House, usually has a step-up kind of pattern. So, for instance, it will go from a 7th in the bass, to a 6th, maybe to a 4th, then a root note.
This creates that progression effect and makes the bassline feel like it’s being propelled forward. This effect can also be used in Progressive House the other way around, to create a descending bassline.
Here are some ways to attempt adding bass to your chord progressions.
The double octave is exactly what it sounds like, you play a double octave root note on your keyboard, or you draw it in with MIDI. For this, you would place the 1st bass note 1 octave below the root note, and the 2nd bass note, 2 octaves below the root note.
Let’s take a Cmaj triad for instance:
You’d want to pop the root note of your Cmaj chord an octave below and add an additional root note below the first.
Seeing as our root note = C, you end up with 2, C notes which are an octave below, and 2 octaves below your original Cmaj triad.
To play it on the piano, you’d use your left hand, 5 and 1 fingers.
Voila! You have your double octave in the bass. For any other chords, you simply take the root note of that chord, and you follow the same process.
So if you had an Amin chord, your root note to be doubled up in the octaves below, would be A.
Adding 7ths To Bass
To add 7ths to your bass you’re going to follow the exact same process as above, but instead, you’re going to count up 7 notes in the scale of your chord.
Let’s take a Cmaj chord for instance:
You’re going to use the Cmaj scale, since our root = C and the Value = maj.
If you count up 7 notes in the scale, you get a B – this is your 7th.
Pop this 7th 2 octaves below from your Cmaj Triad, and you’ll have an awesome sounding chord.
You can also double this up using the 5, 1 fingering technique we mentioned for double octave bass notes.
Adding 6ths To Bass
6ths in the bass can sound really good. They’re especially useful for more Deep House style chords, but they can also sound great in Progressive House.
In Deadmau5 – Strobe, for instance, 6th chords are used as passing chords to higher extensions like 7ths and 9ths. They’re also used for the same purpose in Nadia Ali – Pressure to progress down the extensions, from 7ths to 6ths (as well as sus chords).
You can use a 6th in the bass to then ride up to a chord, with a 7th in the bass, creating a progressive style sound in the chord movement, and the bass.
There’s a cool rule that you can use to play 6ths in the bass really easily which is – whatever root note your chord is on, you count 2 scale notes down, and use this as the bass.
So in the Cmaj7 case, you don’t play C as your bass.
Count 2 scale notes down, and you get A. This puts the 6th note in your bass.
If you’re doing this with a different chord, but your progression is still in the key of Cmaj, you would use the root note and value to determine the scale you use for this. Let’s take Amin (this is still in the Cmaj chord scale, so we could still be in Cmaj).
To find the 6th we’re going to use the Amin scale.
- Root note = A
- Value = minor
Then we’re going to count up to the 6th note to find the 6th, or we’re going to count 2 notes down from our root note.
Adding 5ths To Bass
Another thing you can do to your chords is add 5ths in the bass. The way you do this is you take the scale of the chord you’re playing, and find the 5th degree in that scale.
So, if you’re playing an Amin, you use the Amin scale to find your 5th. It doesn’t matter if the key of your song is Cmaj.
- Root note = A
- Value = minor
So you take your Amin scale and you count up 5 notes to find the 5th of A, which is an E.
Adding 4ths To Bass
Adding 4ths to your bass can sound really cool with your chords.
To do this, you’ll follow the exact same procedure as above.
- Find the root note of your chord
- Find the value (maj or min)
- Get the scale based on those values
- Count up 4 notes in that scale
- You have your 4th!
A cool thing you can do to add thickness when adding 4ths to the bass of your chords is to also add the root note of your chord underneath.
If you were playing a Cmaj triad for instance:
(count up 4 notes from C, including C, and you get F = 4th)
You count up 4 notes in the scale, get your 4th. Then you play your original root note (C), below the 4th.
Like this using your left hand:
(pinky = C – root note, index = F – 4th)
And you’d play your Cmaj, with your right hand, 2 octaves above the bass notes.
5. Alter the rhythm
The final step to creating better Progressive House chords is utilizing rhythm. Altering the amount of time spent on one chord, the repetition of chords in quick succession, or adding a little stalling chord before moving to the next, can change the feel of your melody completely.
Switch it up every 8-16bars.
Maybe you could change where the chord plays, how long it plays, or you could play a quick succession of different inversions of the same chord.
Whatever you do, make sure you make it different to the last section. This is what makes your melody sound progressive and add to that Progressive House feel more.
You can also make your tracks sound progressive using other techniques like builds in drum patterns etc.
If you have a great chord progression you don’t want to change, look at building the tension using other elements instead. There are many Progressive House tracks that only use a basic 4-5 chord melody, and don’t bother with inversions or extensions.
There is no real formula you can use to get this right, you just have to use trial and error, and be patient.
Try humming out the pattern you hear in your head, and then recreating that pattern. Hum it out loud, and compare it to what you have. Keep doing this, until you have the rhythm you want.
Progressive House is all about emotive chord progressions and melodies, that feel like they’re moving, and evolving. Like with anything in music, you’re going to get the best results through trial and error.
There are no simple hacks to making a great sounding progression unless you use chord tools like Scaler 2 or Captain Chords.
You just have to listen, change things around, and hum your ideas, until you get down what you want.
This article has given you some tips on how to sound more professional, and what tools you can use to make your melodies better, but the better melodies come from the input of hours you put into music and your DAW.
You can use these techniques for any genre, so go to town with it! We hope it helped you make better-sounding Progressive House chords, and we’ll see you in the next one!
With over 8 years of hands-on experience in the music industry, Harry has run successful raves, played alongside industry heavyweights such as Max Chapman, DJ EZ, DJ Zinc and more (pictured below), had music played on national radio, DJ’d on live radio, produced until he hated every song, mixed until his ears bled, created sample packs from scratch using just a Zoom H1n and some sound design skills… and pretty much anything related to music production – he’s done it, tested it, tried it.