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chord progression in classical music


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  • chord progression in classical music

    OK, I don't even know how to clearly explain what I'm here for.
    I'm a guitar player, I play chords, I can reduce most pop/rock to chords only and bonfire folk guitar music (I hope this image is clear enough). I would love to be able to do that with classical music.

    not especially because I want to play Wagner's overtures and preludes or the entire Four seasons on a beach with a half-decent aocustic guitar but because I think it will help me extend my music vocabulary (especially in terms of harmony). it will also help me better understand, amongst other things, why people say Wagner is not resolving music but prefers to put a lot of tension and keep his music "tense" and unresolved for instance.

    I can't read music so does anyone know a website or even a scorebook of famous classical pieces with chords on it ?

  • #2
    The problem is that classical music chord progressions is far more than just about chord progressions, it's about voice leading as well. And that is especially true in the case of Wagner; as the ambiguity of his chords often have to do with context and how each notes of the chord transition from one to another...

    FYI voice leading means how each note of the chord transitions into the next... before wagner, voice leading was often very clear and there were no doubts about the nature of the chords. Traditional harmony as we know it, started to be broken down with Wagner, he pretty much paved the way for "unpredictable" harmonies. Interestingly enough there were having their own "internet style war" back then, it was basically Wagner vs Brahms; one accusing another of blasphemy and the other of being unoriginal hahaha

    If you study chord progressions before Wagner, it's usually fairly simple chord progressions... I'd suggest you take a chopin piece like one of his waltzes or mazurkas and figure out the chords by ear; they're mainly simple chords... Off the top of my head, the Waltz no.2 in Bm (op.69) is Bm F#7 F#7 Bm Bm F#7 F#7 Bm Bdim7 Em, etc....

    In fact I highly recommend training your ears to hear these chord progressions, it's the one real way you'll get better and begin to hear new colors...


    • #3
      Well, there's two issues here.

      1. Wagner was the culmination of centuries of development in harmony. You can't begin to understand his music without a good grounding in what came before.

      2. In order to study any classical theory worth its salt (or any classical scores), you will need to learn to read music. It's not hard, and will be worthwhile (maybe even more worthwhile than any classical study you do). You don't have to be able to sight-read (ie fast), just understand which note is which.
      There may well be scores somewhere with chord symbols added (for the benefit of illiterate guitarists like yourself, no offence!), but I've not even seen that on classical guitar music.

      The basics of classical harmony are not actually that complicated - you can get a long way just understanding I IV and V and how they work. That's like a common thread running through maybe 600 years of western music. (Atonality and other 20thC experiments came and went, but we still like the old I-IV-V.)
      What happened around the time of Wagner was that the old major-minor key system was becoming exhausted. He took conventional harmony further than anyone else had, and probably as far as it could go. He wanted to express big ideas, tragedies and myths, and he basically squeezed every last available dissonance out of the key system, in order to subvert expectations about key and harmonic progression - in order to disorient the listener, to take them on deep journeys.

      I don't know enough to say how much (or even if) he he wanted to "keep" his music "tense and unresolved". He certainly used dissonance in unorthodox ways. Unorthodox for the time, that is. The famous (even notorious) "Tristan chord" is now a very common sound in jazz ("half-diminished") - although its use in Tristan is very specific and still not as straightforward or generic as it is in jazz.

      One important difference in classical harmony (from pop, rock or jazz) is that precise chord voicing is crucial. In popular music of all kinds, you can usually play a chord any way you like. If it says "G7" on the chart, you know you need 4 notes (G B D F), and you can usually use whatever shape you like for it. In classical - it goes without saying! - every note is written, every harmony carefully calculated. So a row of chord symbols will barely scratch the surface of what's going on. The same "chord progression" might be used in many classical pieces, but it will sound different in all of them.

      In baroque music, there was a system known as "figured bass", which had some resemblances with modern chord symbols, in that it allowed some flexibility of voicing. You'd be given a bass note, and some shorthand numbers indicating intervals on top of that. It enabled keyboard players to improvise to some extent, within the known conventions of the time.
      (But that's obviously no good to you if you don't understand the shorthand - notation may be easier to learn!)

      At the same time - at least in older classical forms - there are clear and simple chord moves at the bottom of it, and being able to hear those is useful. I suggest checking out some famous early pieces, like Pachelbel's Canon in D (a very familiar and still popular chord sequence), and maybe some Bach pieces transcribed for guitar. You can find tab for these (hooray!), and if you play them yourself, you should start to perceive the chord sequences, just from the notes and shapes you're playing; you shouldn't need to see symbols written out. (But you can of course write them out yourself.)


      • #4
        Yes. There's a book out called "the Classical Fake Book" although it might not be of much use if you can't read.
        Thinking too much produces exactly the opposite of the intended outcome.