If you’re curious about medieval chord progressions, you’ve come to the right post.
Of course, some speculation is involved in discussing medieval music since we don’t have any audio recordings from that era.
But I’ll do my best to share in this post how to think about medieval chord progressions.
Before we Begin…
There are a few things we need to set straight first before we begin. Firstly, back in medieval times, music theory was completely different. In fact, it would take forever to explain how it all worked. Musicians even relied on different tuning practices.
There was no such thing as a 12-tone equal temperament. And, there wasn’t even such a concept as chord progressions. At least they didn’t have a proper way to define it.
However, since we live in the 21st century, we can look at old music through the lens of modern theory. And if you’re interested in sounding medieval, you can try certain chord progressions.
One more thing to add is that a lot of music fans these days put medieval and renaissance music into the same category. There are some obvious similarities, although they’re not the same. Nonetheless, the chord progressions that I’ll show might also belong to the Renaissance category as well.
With this out of the way, let’s tackle the way we’ll read chords here. I’ll show some examples in the key of A minor. Additionally, I’ll show these examples through the Roman numeral analysis.
To those not familiar with the concept, you’re just using the scale degree numbers instead of chords. And the chord is built using that scale degree as the root note. Also, lowercase Roman numerals show a minor chord while uppercase shows a major chord.
Additionally, these progressions can be played in different ways. I won’t get too much into how many beats or measures you should play each chord. I’ll leave that part to your creativity.
Anyway, here are some chord progressions that can make you sound medieval.
i-IV-i-IV-i-IV-v-i or i-IV-i-IV-i-IV-V-i
If you’ve been playing guitar for a while, you’ve probably heard of the I-IV-V progression. Of course, it comes in many forms. It’s mostly popular in the 12-bar-blues form. But there are plenty of other genres where it appears.
You can also find the progression in medieval, or medieval-inspired, music. After all, it’s a very simple yet effective movement of chords. Let’s check out a modified version of it.
The progression in question goes i-IV-i-IV-i-IV-v-i. The other very similar version is i-IV-i-IV-i-IV-V-i. The second variant comes with a major chord starting with the fifth degree in the scale. It gives more resolution and usually sounds more appealing. You can also use a dominant chord instead of a major one for extra tension.
As you can see, the fourth chord here is a major instead of a minor one. This means that it would be best to use Dorian mode over it. And we have a major 6th instead of a minor 6th interval.
This is what the chord progression looks like in the key of A minor:
Have you ever heard of Greensleeves? Well, this traditional tune has a pretty simple and catchy chord progression. In fact, it’s appealing even today. And we could even use it in some modern popular music.
As you can see, the progression goes i-III-VII-i-V-i. You should play it in 6/8 time signature. The i-III is one measure, VII is one measure, i-V is one measure, and then you end with one measure back on the root minor chord.
This is how it goes in the key of A minor:
Also, try to play E7 instead of the E major chord and see how that works for you.
This one looks pretty similar to the Greensleeves progression. However, you have the VI major chord instead of the root minor one. You can also play around with it and use different measures. Just make sure to have an even number of measures.
This is what it looks like in the key of A minor:
Again, you can use the E dominant instead of an E major chord.
At the first glance, this one also looks like the Greensleeves progression. However, you completely omit one chord. From the VII chord, you go to the V, or the dominant. After that, you’re back to the root minor chord.
The feel of the progression is almost the same as with the previous two examples. But you can also play it in a total of four measures. Once again, use the 6/8 time signature. The VII-V part is one measure, each chord being three beats. The rest of the chords are one full measure.
Here’s this progression in the key of A minor:
If you want a simple one, then check out this chord progression. Use the good old 6/8 time signature and play each chord for one measure. In A minor, it would look like this:
You can also use it for a slightly up-tempo song. It can also come in handy for a medieval-inspired jam session.
If you like classic metal, you’ll recognize this one. In fact, this chord progression is present in many Iron Maiden songs. But it’s also super useful for medieval-style stuff. The main difference, however, is that you play it in 6/8. And you play each chord for one measure.
Of course, you can also try and play around with measures. Just keep it even.
As you can see, this one is very similar to the previous example. But instead of the VI chord, you have the V. Another thing to bear in mind is that the V chord should never be a dominant one. Just play the good old major chord.
What also makes it different is how you spread it in different measures. You can play each chord for one measure. However, it would work better if you played the root chord for two measures, the V for one measure, and the last two in one measure.
Here’s what it looks like in A minor:
And, finally, we have the simplest one. Just alternate between the VII major chord and the root minor chord. If it’s the key of A minor, then just play G major and A minor. Play each for one or two measures.
Not Everything Is in the Chord Progression
If you want to write a medieval-style piece, it takes more than a chord progression to turn it into that style. Firstly, use 6/8 or 12/8 time signatures.
Additionally, try and listen to the melodies of medieval tunes. For instance, you can use a Dorian mode. But you shouldn’t play the Dorian mode the way you would in a blues piece.
There are also many other things that I could mention. But let me know in the comments if there’s something specific I can address, and I’ll do my best to help!
Medieval Chord Progressions: Conclusion
I hope this article has clarified how you might use some medieval chord progressions in your own music.
And as usual, feel free to message me in the comments below if you have any questions about this or another guitar subject!
Lastly, if you’re interested in spicing up your music with more diversity, check out my death metal scales post!