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Listen to and analyse lots of Classical music to get a feel for how Classical harmony works. It is usually pretty simple – don’t make it too complex.

Any chord sequence based on these three types of progression usually work well:

  • Primary chords (I V I, I IV I, I IV V etc.)
  • Circle of fifths-based progressions (e.g. ii-V-I or vi-ii-V-I but also any part of the full circle)
  • Falling thirds (e.g. I-vi, vi-IV, IV-ii)

Looking for some simple opening chord sequences to start off your piece? Try some of these:

  • I  V(6)  I
  • I  VI  V
  • I  ii  V  I
  • I  VI  IV V
  • I  vii6  I (or I vii I over a tonic pedal)
  • I  IV6/4  I

Also you should look at cadential progressions, circle of fifths, parallel motion and progressions over a tonic pedal and dominant pedal. There are other handy things to do on the WCT fingerprints page as well.

DOs and DON’Ts

  • Use characteristic progressions at cadences (e.g. II6 V I and cadential 6/4s)
  • Root progressions using falling thirds (e.g. VI to IV and I to VI) are much more common than those using rising thirds.
  • I and VI are the best approach chords to II in the run up to a cadence
  • All other things being equal, it is a good idea to keep a root position I on the first strong beat of a phrase
  • Be wary of second inversions. They are rare except for the following:
    • cadential 6/4 onto V
    • second inversion chord IV alternating with chord I
  • Avoid progressions using II other than as an approach chord to V. Chord IIb can also be used as an approach to a cadential 6/4.
  • Don’t use III other than 1) as an approach to VI or 2) as part of a sequence between II and IV
  • Chord VI in usually in root position
  • Don’t use VII other than as VII6 resolving either to I or I6