Why the tonic chord (I) is essential

the magic of chord patternsAfter playing through each major scale progression, you might have noticed something cool. For some crazy reason, Mother Nature totally loves us. Instead of throwing us some curveball, she decided to make things easy. When it comes to chord progressions, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Because they’re really just based on the same, old scale patterns we already know by heart.

 In fact, we can even chop up and rearrange the chords in a progression to create new and interesting patterns … just like we did with the notes in a melody. As long as we favor the tonic chord (I), everything will sound nice. And that’s because the tonic chord (I) in a progression is like the tonic note (1) of a scale. It plays a central function in any particular key. The other chords simply play supporting roles in between.

You might even think of the tonic chord (I) as a strong and constant center of gravity. Like the center of its own little solar system, it creates a pull between the other chords … giving any progression a real sense of movement and direction. As we move away from and then back toward the tonic, we create a feeling of tension and release. And this back-and-forth motion between activity and relaxation brings our music to life.

In almost any song we play, the goal is to get back to our home—the tonic chord (I). All of the other chords in the progression exist as part of a roadmap to deliver us to our destination. The route can be simple (through just a chord or two) … or it can be complex (involving lots and lots of chords). But in the end, we always want to return to the tonic (I). Our “home sweet home.”

To see what I mean, let’s play a few simple chord progressions, shall we? Starting with the basic “I–V” pattern….

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