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Lesson 7 - Clichés

Tonic chord clichés
The progression I-IΔ-I7-I6 is often found on the tonic chord (and quite often on the subdominant chord as well). This progression usually leads to the IV chord but can become a cyclical progression like I-IΔ-I7-IΔ, IΔ-I7-I6-I7, or I-IΔ-I6-IΔ. This cyclical form can be repeated as an introduction or a form for soloing.

All the chords in the proceeding progressions are tonic function chords except the I7 which is V7/IV and should be improvised upon with the major scale of the IV chord. For example, in the progression G-GΔ-G7-G6 all chords except G7 take the G major scale when improvising. The G7 should be improvised upon with the C major scale (the major scale of the IV chord in the key of G).

Minor chord clichés
Minor chord clichés usually show up on the VIm chord in a major key or on the Im chord of a minor key. However, there is no reason to exclude them from another position where a minor chord usually appears as in the II and III chords of a major key. There are two primary minor chord clichés. They are:

  1. minor → minor(Δ) → minor seventh → minor sixth
  2. minor → minor(#5) → minor sixth
Explanation of minor(Δ) and minor(#5)
chord tones intervals
C minor(Δ) c-eb-g-b 1-b3-5-7
C minor(#5) c-eb-g# 1-b3-#

The first cliché is generally used on the VI chord in a major key. For example:

|CΔ		|Dm7	G7	|BØ	E7	|Am	Am(Δ)	|
 IΔ		 IIm7	V7	 VIIØ	V7/VI	 VIm	VIm(Δ)

|Am7		|Am6		|Dm7	G9	|CΔ		|
 VIm7		 VIm6		 IIm7	V9	 IΔ

As you can see in the example, the cliché is often preceeded by the V7/VI and very often preceeded by VIIØ and V7/VI. This occurs because the VIIØ-V7/VI-VI progression is equivalent to II-V-I in the key of the relative minor (BØ-E7-Am is II-V-I in Am).

This minor cliché also appears in the following form:

|Am		|Am(Δ)	|Am7		|D9		|
 VIm		 VIm(Δ)	 VIm7		 V9/V

This occurs because the VIm6 chord is a rootless V9/V chord (Am6 = D9 without a D note).

The basic structure of this minor cliché should become evident when playing. Basically, you hold a minor triad and descend the octave by a half step in each chord.

Cliché with descending octave
chord intervals
Am 1-b3-5-8
Am(Δ) 1-b3-5-7
Am7 1-b3-5-b7
Am6 1-b3-5-6

Notice the descending line 8-7-b7-6 and the constant triad. The Am and Am7 chords use the C major scale (A natural minor) for improvisation. The Am(Δ) requires an A harmonic minor and the Am6 requires an A melodic minor (ascending form). However, this progression is often played at a fast pace (two beats on each chord or less) and, in such a case, an A natural minor can function fairly well throughout the entire cliché. If enough emphasis is put on each chord individually to form strong new key centers, then the chords must be treated as outlined above.

The second cliché shown above usually appears on the Im chord in a minor key. It very often becomes a cyclical progression by repeating the second chord (Im-Im(#5)-Im6-Im(#5)) . This cliché has become the standard background for spy movies and detective shows. Notice that the Im(#5) (Am#5 = a-c-e#) is an enharmonic spelling of an F chord in the first inversion. Again. as in the other minor cliché, we have constant tones against a moving line:

Cliché with ascending fifth
chord intervals
Am 1-b3-5
Am(#5) 1-b3-#5
Am6 1-b3-(5)-6

Often, the fifth of the minor sixth chord is omitted to obtain a triadic quality. Use an A natural minor against the Am and Am(#5). The Am6 requires an A melodic minor (ascending form only).

Dominant clichés

The most common motion on the dominant chord is from the suspended fourth to the major third. The following progressions have evolved as clichés on the dominant chord:

  1. V7sus4 → V7 → V9 → V7
  2. V11 → V7 → V9 → V7

In each of the progressions you have a constant V7 chord with a melodic line (P4-M3-M2-M3) running through the progression. All of the chords are diatonic and therefore no new key centers are established.

Another normal motion on dominant chords can occur with a sharp or flatted fifth resolving to the perfect fifth:

  1. V7(#5) → V7
  2. V7(b5) → V7

Both of these progressions resolve to I.


  1. Play the following progressions.
  2. Analyze each progression and determine key centers.
  3. Practice soloing ever these chord sequences by using a tape recorder to make a rhythm track or have a friend play the progression while you solo.

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