Learn to improvise. 2003-2004. Lesson 04: minor key, chords Am, Dm, E7, chord progression.

It is the accompaniment which determines the key, not the melody. In the beginning we will strike the chords with the left hand to make the accompaniment and will add melodies to it with the right one. The notes of the chords will have to belong to the scale, those of the melody can be free. In the key of C the notes not belonging to the key are black. This is not the case in all keys. E.g. in A-minor the g# belongs to the key but yet is black.
Originally a minor key consisted of three minor chords a fifth apart (analogous to major). The key of Am consisted of the chords Em, Am, Dm. Those are exclusively white keys, just like the key of C.
That's why C and Am are called relative keys.
The scale of C = c d e f g a b, of Am = a b c d e f g.
Nowadays E7 is used in stead of Em making the scale of Am = a b c d e f g#. To distinguish between the two the old one is called natural minor scale and the new one the harmonic minor scale. With 'minor scale' we always mean the harmonic minor scale unless otherwise specified. As you can see g# belongs to this scale, so here you have an example of a black key yet belonging to the scale.
Practical positions for the chords of Am could be:
Am = a-c-e, Dm = a-d-f, E7 = e-g#-b-d, or E7 = g#-b-d-e
A seventh chord prepares for a root chord of a key. Since the minor key has a dominant seventh chord, it now can be followed by two possible root chords: a major or a minor. So E7 can dissolve in Am or A. This offers harmonically extra possibilities.
Click here to hear an example.
As the keys of C and Am differ in one tone only they are so related to each other that easily can be changed (modulated) from one key to another. This is the reason we can use the 6 principal chords of these keys (C, F, G7, Am, Dm, E7) in practically any order for a 'chord progression'.
A chord progression indicates which chords have to be played on every measure. As an example we give the song 'Autumn Leaves'. The bars are indicated by slashes. This method is compact, but may lead to mistakes:
-/ Dm/ G7/ C/ F/ Dm/ E7/ Am/
-/ Dm/ G7/ C/ F/ Dm/ E7/ Am/
-/ E7/ Am/ G7/ C/
-/ Dm/ E7/ Am/ C/ Dm/ E7/ Am/ -/

If there is always exact one chord per measure the slashes may be left out, which is even still more compact:
Am Dm G7 C F Dm E7 Am
Am Dm G7 C F Dm E7 Am
Am E7 Am G7 C
C Dm E7 Am C Dm E7 Am Am

Most plain however is to put the chords between the words:

The falling [Dm] leaves
[G7] drift by the [C] window
[F] The autumn [Dm] leaves
[E7] of red and [Am] gold

I see your [Dm] lips
[G7] the summer [C] kisses
[F] The sunburned [Dm] hands
[E7] I used to [Am] hold

Since you [E7] went away
the days grow [Am] long
And soon I'll [G7] hear
old winter's [C] song

But I [Dm] miss you most of
[E7] all my [Am] darling
[C] When [Dm] autumn
[E7] leaves start to [Am] fall.
Click here to hear an example. HOMEWORK:
  1. Learn the chords Am, Dm en E7
  2. Play in the key of Am (harmonic of course).
    Click here to hear an example.
  3. Play in the key of C and Am
    (so use the 6 chords C, F, G7, Am, Dm and E7 in one piece of music)
    Click here to hear an example.
    Click here to hear another example.
  4. Improvise on the following chord progression:
    C Am Dm G7 C Am Dm E7 F F C Am Dm G7 C C
    Measure, rhythm, melody, etc are free, but...
    the number of measures per chord has to be taken into account!
    Click here to hear an example.
  5. Improvise on the chord progression of Autumn Leaves.
    Click here to hear an example.

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