To officially launch our A Toronto Symphony collaboration, I created a series of chords last month to serve as a kind of “genetic” code for the project, and also to serve as material that we could share back-and-forth to modify and to make new things. Chord progressions are great because they are both simple – a kind of musical backbone or skeleton – yet complex enough to truly tell a story. Just think of the chords in a classic piece by The Beatles like “Michelle”, or the way Bach squeezes a universe of expression out of his seemingly simple 4-part Chorales.
I have always enjoyed composing harmonic progressions, and the one I have started for A Toronto Symphony is typical of the way I work (see score above). There is a strong melody line that helps to shape how each chord moves to the next, and how the whole line together creates a story. In my music, the bass (lowest) line is equally important…and of course I care about the rest of the notes too. In addition, this chord progression starts and ends simply, but moves in waves, zigzagging from simple/familiar to complex/strange chords, from notes bunched near the center of the keyboard to those spreading from low to high, and from chords which feel restful and resolved to those that seem dense and tense. Sometimes the movement from one chord to the next feels fluid and natural, sometimes surprising. I have tweaked this all fairly carefully, so that the whole progression feels pleasing and complete but also has much variety and potential for further development.
Feel free to download the score and play around with it yourself. Try it on an instrument, add your own melodies, rhythms and variations, and share it back. I’d love to hear what you do with it!