Deceptive Resolution: When Chords Misbehave | Hub Guitar

Deceptive Resolution: When Chords Misbehave

To understand deceptive resolution, we need to know the meaning of cadence. A cadence is a resolution from a harmony that moves from a dominant chord to a tonic chord. The power of this resolution is related to the dissonance and consonance in diatonic harmony: the unstable half steps in the scale tend to resolve to their stable neighbor.

Note: all examples given here are resolutions in the key of C major! Do not be confused by the many chords which are foreign to C major. The ii-V (D-7 to G7) is expected to resolve to Cmaj7, but instead it goes somewhere else.

The cadence in a major key often follows a pattern: “4” resolves down to “3”; “7” resolves up to “1” and “5” in the bass resolves to “1”. This is the sound of the V7 chord resolving to the I chord. This cadence is so common that we expect it when we hear a V7 chord.

What happens when some of that expectation is fulfilled but the rest of it is not? The result can be interesting.

Don’t just read the text. Look at every example. Name the notes in each chord, and observe which note is next. See if you can play some examples on your guitar.

Deceptive Resolutions, Diatonic

Deceptive resolutions resolving to other chords within the same key.

Resolving to VI-

The most common case deceptive resolution is the substitution of the vi- chord for the I chord. In the I chord of C major, we have the tones C E G; in the vi- chord we have A C E. There is still a chance for “4” to resolve to “3” and for “7” to resolve to “8”; but instead of the tonic, the bass moves to A, and so the resolution lands on a minor chord, which creates a surprise.

Resolving to III-

Another common deceptive resolution is the substitution of the iii- chord for the I chord. The expected chord is “C E G” but instead we hear “E G B”. This resolution is more tense than the vi- resolution because the B—“7”—does not resolve up to the root.

Subdominant Minor Deceptive Resolutions

These resolutions introduce pitches from the parallel minor key, and sound “unstable,” as if they will finally resolve to the I chord.

Resolves to ♭IIImaj7

“4” of the key of C resolves to “♭3”; the chord also has “5”, the fifth of the I chord.

Resolves to IV-

“7” of the key of C resolves to the root, but “4” stays in place.

Resolves to ♭VImaj7

“7” resolves to the root; “4” resolves to “♭3”.

Resolves to ♭VII7

“7” resolves down to “♭7”; “4” stays in place.

Modal Interchange Deceptive Resolutions

Borrowing pitches from parallel modes, these resolutions are somewhat exotic.

Resolves to ♭IImaj7 (Phrygian)

“7” resolves to the root, but in a subdominant minor chord. “4” does not resolve; it stays in place. Because of that, this chord wants to resolve down to I.

Resolves to ♭VIImaj7 (Mixolydian)

A bit more peaceful than ♭VII7. 7 resolves down to “♭7” and “4” remains in place.

Resolves to ♯IV-7♭5 (Lydian)

“7” resolves to the root; “4” resolves up to “♯4” creating a very tense, unstable structure.

Key Tasks

  1. Memorize all of these deceptive resolutions: VI-, ♭IIImaj7, IV-7 ♭VImaj7, ♭VII7, ♭IImaj7, ♯IV-7♭5, ♭VIImaj7.
  2. Play through all deceptive resolution examples on the guitar. Try to sing the note “C” during each resolution. It will fit well in almost all of the chords. In cases where it doesn’t, usually “G” will. This is a classic melody note to tie deceptive resolutions together and make them sound coherent.
As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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