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Dance music theory expert Oliver Curry explains some of the principles behind big room chord progressions.
Main room house is largely characterised by big, emotional minor chord progressions. In this edition of Passing Notes, we’re going back to basics and looking at the natural minor scale and some simple examples of minor chord progressions.
Firstly, we’ll look at the natural minor scale (which is also the Aeolian mode). We’ve used an A minor scale, simply because it just uses the white notes on our keyboard – A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A:
Using just the notes in the A minor scale, we can build the following seven chords: A minor 7 – B minor 7 flat 5 – C major 7 – D minor 7 – E minor 7 – F major 7 – G dominant 7 – A minor 7…
Which look like this:
They sound like this:
In many cases these chords are simplified into triads (three-note chords) by omitting the 7ths: A minor – B diminished – C major – D minor – E minor – F major – G major – A minor…
These chords – and their equivalents in other keys – form the basis of the vast majority of main room house tracks.
(Remember that the exact chords will change depending on what key your track’s in. If you’re working in C minor, for example, the chords will be C minor 7, D minor 7 flat 5, Eb major 7, etc.)
The observant among you will already have noticed that in the piano roll above we’ve highlighted the sixth chord of the scale (in this case F major 7). As we’ll see, the use of the sixth chord of a minor scale plays a huge part in generating that emotion and anticipation so frequently found in main room house tracks.
For a great example of a main room chord progression in a natural minor key, listen to David Guetta and Nicky Romero’s collaboration ‘Metropolis’:
The track uses an ostinato, a technique we covered in a previous Passing Notes, but this time we’ll concentrate on the chords underneath it:
Here, we can see the 16-bar chord progression in A minor used throughout the piece, starting at 1:18:
As mentioned earlier, it is the use of the sixth chord of the scale that so often provides the anticipation and ‘lifting’ feel to main room house progressions.
In this case, the F major is used to open each 4-bar progression. In the context of the key of A minor, this chord hints that the progression will resolve to A minor, as it’s built largely using an A minor chord. The 3rd and 5th – the A and C – are the root note and minor 3rd in an A minor chord. (‘Metropolis’ uses a straight F major chord rather than F major 7, but note that if the F major 7 had been used then the 7th – an E – would also be the 5th of the A minor chord.)
In the case of ‘Metropolis’, the F major chord – in conjunction with the use of the ostinato – helps give the track its ‘lift’ and defines the feel of the chord progression.
Next, let’s check out a couple of different examples of the same technique…
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