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Creating tension and resolution—the V7 to I chord change April 17, 2007

Posted by rgordon83 in Chords, Guitar Lessons, Harmony, Intervals, Music Theory.

(Before you read this lesson you should make sure you understand Diatonic Harmony and Buliding 7th chords)
Good composition is about creating music that has movement. Music that has peaks and valleys. If your chord progressions don’t go anywhere, they are just boring. The best way to create music with strong movement is to create tension and resolution in your compositions. How do you do that? Well the easiest and most common way is with V to I (“Five to One”) chord changes.

The V I change is great b/c the V chord create tension and the notes in the V chord push your ear to the I chord. So when you play the I chord your ear hears resolution. But you can even increase that tension and resolution if you play a V7 to I chord change. The V7 is also called the dominant 7 chord. Lets see why this change creates such great tension and resolution.

Lets start by taking a look at the notes of the I chord in the key of C major:
C major has the notes C, E, and G.
C major guitar chord

Now lets take a look at the V7 chord in the key of C, which is G7. G7 has the notes G, B, D, and F

G7 guitar chord
Lets compare the notes of those 2 chords to each other:
V7 to I guitar chord resolution

The blue lines indicate that the notes G to C and D to G are a perfect 4th or a perfect 5th apart (see the lesson on intervals if you don’t know what this means). And the strongest sense of movement occurs when two notes are a perfect 4th or perfect with apart. So G to C is a perfect forth as is D to G. C to G is a perfect 5th apart as is G to D.

The red line indicates that B and C are a half Step apart and E and F are a half step apart. Notes that are a half step apart lead your ear to the note a half step up or a half step down. The fact that the B note in the G chord is a half step away from the C note in the C chord, the F note in the G chord is a half-step away from the E note in the C chord, and the fact that there are two perfect fourth intervals (the G note of the G chord to the C of the C chord and the D of the G chord to the G of the C chord) all make for a wonderful sense of movement, contrast, and resolution.

Try playing G to C slowly and hear how nicely it resolves. Then they playing G7 to C and notice how there is a little more tension. You can apply this V7 to I chord change to any key. Add it to your compositions to give them come character!

As usual, if you have any questions please post them to the comments!



1. Tyler - April 29, 2007

Great article! I really like the site and am looking forward to reading more!

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