The Music Theory Behind "Million Dollar Baby" Piano Chords

You've most likely heard Tommy Richman’s evocative song Million Dollar Baby — but now, we're going to dive into the music theory behind its emotional resonance and show you how to play its captivating chords.

“Million Dollar Baby” Chords

Chords used:

The chord progression of "Million Dollar Baby" is i v i in F♯ minor. It uses 7th chords to add more spice, making the harmony more fitting for the genre. The progression of the chords uses smooth voice leading, meaning that the individual notes of the chords move by small intervals, creating a seamless transition from one chord to the next.

The chords follow a rhythmic pattern that repeats throughout. If you use the '1 e & a, 2 e & a...' counting system, the chords are played as 1, 1-a, 2-&, 3-&, 4-e.

Let's go deeper into the chords:

  1. Start with F♯ min7 (i) F♯-A-C♯-E, inverted once to A-C♯-E-F♯.
  2. The second chord is F♯ min7 without the root (A-C♯-E), known as rootless voicing, since the bass covers the root.
  3. Move to B minor (vi) - B-D-F♯.
  4. Add the minor 7th to make it B min7 - B-D-F♯-A.
  5. Finally, return to F♯ min7 1st inversion.

The chords of “Million Dollar Baby” by Tommy Richman, despite their simple i-iv-i chord progression, showcase harmonic richness through various extensions, inversions, and voicings. The use of minor 7th chords and smooth voice leading creates a rich, textured sound that captivates listeners without complex finger movements. Exploring these chords and their variations can enhance a musician’s harmonic knowledge while maintaining the song’s simplicity.

How to recreate the "Million Dollar Baby" Drums & Bassline

If you're interested in the broader composition of this popular tune, watch this video which breaks down the beat and the bassline.

'Million Dollar Baby' Drums

To play the drums of "Million Dollar Baby," start by focusing on the kick and snare. Each pattern is a bar long and both of them are based on having kick on beat 1, and snare on beat 2 and 4. From there, they diverge into unique syncopated rhythms, highlighting different offbeats. It’s helpful to isolate the kick and snare, tapping along to internalize the pattern before playing it with your pad controller.

Once you're comfortable, add the 1/16 note hi-hats, and your beat is complete.

'Million Dollar Baby' Bassline

Start with an ascending bassline based on the F♯ minor scale. The rhythm of the first three F♯s (tresillo) should sync up with the chords. Repeat this in the next bar. In the third bar, shift to a new pattern outlining B minor scale. Finally, in the fourth bar, return to F♯ minor, using more ornaments and octave leaps for added complexity.

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