Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/Chromatic Substitution


Hi, Dr Colin.

I'm glad to find this site. I'm not a music college student but I bought a harmony theory book and took a time on it for months, but somehow I had a hard time to understand this subject.

My question is: If I have this progression in C major (C - Bb - G - C) Does Bb means to be the substitute chord while G major become a passing chord, in other words, G major is not structural? Maybe I have a wrong perception on chromatic voice leading, but I also found a case in Jobim's composition when bII follows iidim before going to V. I'm still confused to differ which one is structural or just for embellishing.

Thank you.

Hi Hafiz,

It's a few years since I was last in Indonesia so it's nice to hear from you. Thanks for getting in touch.

I am not really clear about your question and it is difficult to know what you are trying to find out. The chord progression that you describe C - B flat - G - C is certainly not a classical one although it appears in many modern popular songs. I presume you are referring to the Brazilian composer Jobim who wrote many popular songs. I am wondering whether you have misunderstood the terms "substitute chord". Check the definition on Wikipedia here:

I would say that neither the B flat or the G are substitute chords. Neither are they passing chords. A passing chord is simply a chord that helps you get smoothly from one chord to another. The problem is that it's very easy to get bogged down in analytical matters like this when the composer probably couldn't care less. I don't think any composer is concerned with whether a particular chord is passing or structural: it's the sound that matters.

Now I know this doesn't actually answer your question very well, because I think you've become a bit tangled up in the theory and this could get in the way of enjoying the music. I'd suggest that you check on the web for "passing" and "substitute" chords but you might find that the explanations are difficult to follow.

By all means get back to me if you think I can explain further but honestly, don't get too worried about these highly technical issues which are of interest only to musical analysts, not composers and performers.

Best wishes


Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting

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Dr Colin


I can answer questions from students of "classical" composing, arranging, notation problems and music theory, writing for instruments and voice and writing music for education. I can answer questions about orchestration but I do not cover questions about pop or rock music, pop song writing or electronic music.

I taught for many years in UK up to "A" level theory and composition. I have spent many years in music education, initially (like everyone else) as a teacher. Then I moved on to advisory work (teaching teachers!) and also lectured, giving many workshops for teachers in developing music education skills and techniques. For a time I worked as a teacher-lecturer at London University's Institute of Education and eventually worked full-time as a Music Education Adviser to schools in part of London, offering advice on music education and curriculum development.


I started composing music at the age 14 (it was mostly rubbish, since you asked) and now have a large number of compositions to credit as well as many publications, especially for instrumental music and choral music. I have also written several acclaimed works for large orchestra and choir. My work has been published particularly in the UK (under different names)(notably by Boosey & Hawkes, Novello, and Schott) but also in the USA and the Netherlands.

My music for elementary players (several publications) has been performed and broadcast worldwide. I am now retired from my previous job as Music Education Adviser. These days I spend most of my time composing and arranging. I am currently working on instrumental arrangements of world national anthems for my National Anthems website and also completing a suite of very easy piano solos and duets for elementary players. For many years I have used the music program "Finale" for all my music writing activities.

International Society for Music Education; Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

"The Times" Educational Supplement; "Hi-Fi News and Record Review". For several years, I used to write for many of the state music education periodicals in the US and I also wrote several influential articles on instrumental music teaching for "Music Teacher" magazine in the UK. (UK).

PhD(Hons); MA(Hons); FLCM (compositon) ARCM, LMusTCL,(music diplomas)

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