4 Common Types of Chord Root Movement

When you go to arrange a tune, such as a standard, chances are that you will need to add some harmonic interest by inserting some well chosen alternate changes. When doing so, it is important to have a firm grounding in how roots of chords move from one chord to the next.

This lesson covers the four main ways that chords move. Become familiar with these and always keep them in mind when figuring out logical and nice sounding alternate changes to a tune. As always, questions and comments are welcome.


4 thoughts on “4 Common Types of Chord Root Movement”

  1. Good lesson. The discussion of descending diatonic movement from CMaj7 to A7 where you inserted Bb13 – the Bb13 is not diatonic (assuming a tonal centre of C major)since the diatonic note would be B. The Bb13 is more similar to a 1/2 step resolution leading to the A7, or a tritone substitution achieved through a backwards cycle of 5ths.

    I enjoy you work keep it keeping on.


  2. Anthony: you are absolutely correct, that Bb13 is NOT diatonic in that particular example. I confused “stepwise” for diatonic there. Sorry about that. Thanks for catching that! It could be diatonic in some instance I guess if the key was not assumed to be C Major. It WOULD be diatonic though if the 2nd chord were a Cmaj7/B or maybe G/B, then the 3rd chord was Ami9. In that case, the VI chord would function in minor not dominant. Thanks again for catching that.

  3. Nice work Jim,

    Small quibble on diatonic – actual literal meaning is two tonics – referring to the duality of major and minor represented within the one key signature. However, I see your point in saying it means to move by step as this is the other consequence of diatonic harmony, internal; harmony in four-part writing is based on step movement where possible with leaps generally only being permitted in the bass or the melody.

    The tritone leap 1/2 step fall/resolution – this is kind of a inverted/reversed Neopolitan 6th cadence isn’t it bII-V7-I becomes V7-bII-I?

    Another thought and question – I had guitar in hand during this one – and when you said tritone leap and half-step resolution I immediately played Db-G-Gb descending and then followed it with C-Gb-F, etc. in a sequence. I then also tried G-Db-D Any reason we wouldn’t use the latter?


  4. Shane: I meant diatonic to mean “stepwise”. I’m not familiar with the literal meaning of major and minor duality, but I can see where the “dia” and “tonic” could be construed that way. I guess I was using it to mean the steps you would find in a major scale, mostly whole steps, as opposed to “chromatic” which would be half steps only.

    I am simple minded, so referring to that tritone substitution as “inverted/reversed Neopolitan 6th cadence” is to complicated for me. But I do understand what you mean. Just think of it as a tritone followed by a half step resolution.

    As far as a progression like G-Db-D, I believe that sounds a little weird because dominant 7th chords generally sound best when they resolve down by half step. Writing Db13 to DMaj7 (as opposed to Db13 to C Maj7) basically does not allow for the 3rd and 7th to resolve properly. But rules are made to be broken, and if anyone wrote the progression you referred to, it might have been Duke Ellington. I’ve seen examples of his where he wrote moving dominant 7th chords in the sax section going upwards by step. Everything has context however, so it would depend on the arrangement. Hope that helps!

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