Playing Around with Cyclical Chord Progessions
Using songs which have one cyclical chord progression throughout is a fantastic way to give students confidence. They learn a few chords, learn to change between these chords and then they’re away; playing and singing a whole song. Easily making proper music right from the start. To learn any instrument you have to practise the same movements over and over, and with these songs you do this without knowing it, and it’s fun.
Some songs which are great for this –
(with their entire chords in harmonic writing and what they would be were they all in C)
Dance the Night Away (The Mavericks) |I |V |I |V | |C |G |C |G |
Stand By Me |I |vi |IV,V |I | |C |Am |F, G |C |
The Lion Sleeps Tonight |I |IV |I |V | |C |F |C |G |
I’m Yours (Jason Mraz) |I |V |vi |IV | |C |G |Am |F |
Louis Louis |I |IV |V |IV | |C |F |G |F |
The Littlest Birds (Jolie Holland) |IV |I |V |I | |F |C |G |C |
Don’t Worry Be Happy (Bobby McPherin) |I |ii |IV | I | |C |Dm |F |C |
Marry You (Bruno Mars) |I |ii |IV | I | |C |Dm |F |C |
(More on writing harmony here).
I recently discovered ‘Marry You’ and used it in a ukulele class for a hen party, along with ‘Going to the Chapel’ and ‘Que Sera Sera’. I was slightly worried that the words weren’t terribly appropriate to sing with someone who really is getting married soon. E.g. ‘If you wake up and you wanna break up that’s cool’ and ‘who cares if we’re trashed’, not to mention the whole song describing getting married as ‘something dumb to do’! But actually it was the favourite of the bunch because it’s just great fun to sing and play.
When adding ‘Marry You’ into a ukulele class for absolute beginners which I taught with the splendid Tricity Vogue the other evening, we discovered that it has exactly the same chord progression as ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’. As we were playing everything in the key of C, it was a dream for the students to go from learning one song to the other.
After the class was over, we couldn’t resist seeing what it would sound like if it was sung at the same time. It sounds like this –