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G is the ____ tone of the scale.
A is the ____ tone of the scale.
F is the ____ tone of the scale.
In C major:
C is the 1st tone of the scale.
G is the 5th tone of the scale.
A is the 6th tone of the scale.
F is the 4th tone of the scale.
From there, I can use the chart to figure out which chords should be my first options to try.
Since the first tone of the scale usually creates a major chord, I’m going to try C major for that one.
Since the fifth tone of the scale also creates a major chord (or a dominant chord, which we also talk about in the first report), I’m going to try G major with that one.
For the “A” bass note, I’m going to put a minor chord there since “A” is the 6th tone of C major and the 6th tone will usually be minor.
And lastly, for the “F”, I’m going to play F major since it’s the 4th tone of the scale and will usually be major.
What happens if one or more of these chords doesn’t sound right?
Answer: This is a game of trial and error in the beginning (until the ear can naturally hear the
qualities of the chords) so you’ll go down your list of chords:
If using a major chord doesn’t sound right, try a:
Minor chord Dominant chord (7th, 9th, 11th, 13th) Diminished chord (or Diminished 7th)
If using a minor chord doesn’t sound right, try a:
Major chord Dominant chord (7th, 9th, 11th, 13th) So yes, it ain’t written in black and white but using these rules will save you a lot of time!
There are predictable movements that happen over and over again in music.
What that means is if you’re in Ab major but you happen to be on the 6th tone of the scale (which is “F”), there are only so many places to go from F.
Of course, song writers can do what they want but experience shows the next chord after F is
usually going to be a:
By far, this is the most common movement in music.
Now, before I move any further, you can call them fourths or fifths. In fact, it depends how you look at it.
Note: Diatonic means related to the major or minor scale. So these intervals above are fourths and fifths created by notes of the C major scale (as opposed to other types like “diminished fifths,” which use a “C” and “Gb,” a note outside the C major scale).
So going from C up to F is a fourth but going from C down to F is a fifth.
But here’s the thing...
When you play by ear, we sometimes go up to F... we sometimes go down to F... we have that freedom. We aren’t reading sheet music or borrowing someone else’s homework. We’re creating out of thin air (oh the joy of playing by ear!) So because fourths and fifths are inverses of each other, it’s all in how you look at it.
For the purposes of this lesson, we will always be going UP. Got it?
So C to F is a fourth because we will assume we’re always going up from one note to the next.
(But since I’ve put you “up on game,” you know that this can be considered a fourth if you go down from C to G: C B A G). Just not today. ☺ Back to “fourths.” This is music’s favorite motion.
Majority of the songs you hear move in fourths. Yup, it’s true.
If you’re sitting around twiddling your thumbs talking about “I can’t pick up songs... they too hard,” is it because you don’t understand the power of fourths?
In the next couple of pages, I’m going to explain each of these:
a) Fourth movement
b) Fifth movement
c) Second movement (aka – “stepwise motion”)
d) Third movement
For this section, I’m going to use a chart you’ve probably seen in past lessons. It’s the famous, “Circle of Fifths (or Fourths).” Notice one arrow points to the left (counter-clockwise) and indicates “4th” while the other arrow at the top points to the right (clockwise) and indicates “5th”.
For this section, obviously we’re going to focus on the “fourths” side. We’re going to go the opposite direction of a clock... counter-clockwise.
That is, from:
These are what we call fourth movements (or fourth intervals).
Regardless of what key you’re in, this will always be your most popular movement in songs.
In other words, “C” will always flow to “F” the most. If you count up every song ever made, you will find that after any kind of “C” chord is played, the probability of an “F” chord coming next will be higher than any other note. Don’t matter what key you’re in.
Same for all the other notes, too.
Sure, they carry different “roles” in different keys.
In the key of C major, based on what we’ve learned, C is the first tone of the scale so it’s most likely to be major. F is the 4th tone of the scale so it’s most likely to be major as well. So you’re most likely to get a C major chord moving to an F major in this key.
But in the key of Ab major, C is the 3rd while F is the 6th. According to what we’ve learned, that would make both of these chords “minor” in quality. In this case, C minor would move to F minor most likely because those are the roles these tones take on in the key of Ab major.
Of course, there are exceptions. In the same key of Ab major, the C minor might be changed to C major to give a stronger connection to F minor. That happens sometimes too. That’s why the ear is the final judge and it takes all of 10 seconds to change a C minor chord to C major if it doesn’t sound right initially.
Remember: Trial and error.
What’s important is that you understand the power of FOURTHS, regardless of what key you’re in!
Here are some examples of patterns that utilize fourth movements.
A “2-5-1” is a common progression that ends a song. You’ll find it at the end of almost EVERY song you play. (It’s that popular). In the key of C major, a “2-5-1” progression will use these bass notes: D G C.
Well... circle any three notes that are neighbors on the circle chart and there’s your 2-5-1!
Go ahead! Try it!
Circle the keys of C, F, and Bb on the circle (remember... we’re going COUNTERCLOCKWISE... the opposite direction of how a clock would tick).
C, F, and Bb make up the keynotes of a “2-5-1” in the key of Bb major (see illustration on next page)...
Those three notes make up a “2-5-1” chord pattern in the key of Db major. I mean, isn’t “Eb” the 2nd tone of the Db major scale? Isn’t “Ab” the 5th tone? Isn’t “Db” the 1st tone?
The circle of fifths simply does the work FOR YOU.
For example, when I circled Eb, Ab, and Db, that gave me a “2-5-1” in the key of Db major.
Eb __________ chord Ab ___________ chord Db _____________ chord
Using the information you just learned, ask yourself:
What chord is most likely to occur on the 2nd tone of the scale? According to what we just learned, a “minor” chord.
Ask the same question for the 5th tone. Answer = major or dominant 7 chord.
And ask the same question for the 1st tone of the scale (which is really easy because those are mostly ALWAYS major chords).
And the cool part is... if these chords don’t work, you can always change them around until you find the right chords that do.
If the Eb minor chord doesn’t sound right, I would probably try an Eb dominant 7 chord next as this would produce a more “bluesy” sound and sometimes you’ll find that occurring on the 2nd tone of the scale.
Here’s a bigger chord pattern. It utilizes almost every tone of the scale:
Guess what? Except for the starting note “C,” (and its movement to “E”), every tone in this pattern moves according to the circle of fourths chart --- we call this “circular movement.” Note: The C to E is a third... it’s in our pattern pyramid but not as common as fourth movement, as you can see. The ratio is 4 to 1 in this example as we have 4 movements that
Just pop out your circle and find where these notes appear.
Amazing! They are all next door neighbors!
What if I told you most songs move in this same way? Again, we’re back to the “80/20 Pareto Principle.” I can’t tell you if it’s exactly 80% of songs but I’ll estimate that majority of songs move in this SAME way --- circularly --- especially if they sound predictable and like you’ve heard them before.
In fact, I think it’s more valuable to rearrange the notes of a major scale in fourths since songs are most likely to move in that direction.
So instead of thinking of the key of C major as:
From C to D... D to E... E to F (basically the normal way of playing it: C D E F G A B C)
I know this is way different than you’re used to thinking about the scale... but basically, it’s the EXACT NOTES (nothing left out) but simply played in the same order as the circle of
When you learn every major scale this way (which isn’t hard because they all overlap), you’re already training your brain to think in this new musical direction.
And since I estimate majority of songs move “CIRCULARLY” (in the same direction shown above), you are tapped into something that few “ear” musicians know or understand.
Just for fun, in the key of C major, here are some cool chords to play over the “7-3-6-2-5-1-4” pattern (aka – My “circular scale.”)
When you’re playing this, doesn’t it feel like a circle? Even if you didn’t have all the great knowledge you’ve learned in this report, doesn’t it just “feel” like you’re going in loops or something?
Circular movement (aka – “fourths”) is music’s favorite motion! Don’t forget it!
So make me a promise:
“Jermaine, I solemnly swear to analyze all the songs I know and to be aware of all the circular “fourth” movements I’m already playing. And when learning new songs, I will remember this magical circular direction and try it first when I’m attempting to figure out which chord to play next. I now know there is a method to the madness.”
You hear a lot of fifth movements in pop and rock music.
Consider the circle of fifths again.
But this time, we’ll actually go in the same direction a clock would (as opposed to going the opposite direction when we studied fourths).
While this movement isn’t as popular as its fourth counterpart, you’ll still find it represented in many songs.
Haven’t you heard the following progression in a ton of rock songs? (Go ahead and try it)...
Come on... give these chords some styles! Imagine a rock band on stage at an MTV award show!!!! Go on! Try them out!
These are all fifth intervals too!
They’re all neighbors! We’ve simply changed our direction to clockwise as opposed to counter-clockwise (which is the direction of “fourths”).
(Note: While we’re on it, going counter-clockwise from “A” to “D” to “G” to “C” is a very popular FOURTH movement. It’s called a “6-2-5-1.” But we’re not talking about fourths right now... we’re talking about fifths... but just wanted you to know that though).
This is a very common movement in music. This is when notes move in half and whole step motions.
We also call this “stepwise motion.” Whereas circular progressions move in accordance with the circular of fifths, stepwise motion simply moves up and down the major scale, step-for-step (which ends up being either whole steps or half steps).
See how the bass notes moved in steps?
What’s more, you can actually take the chords you learned earlier and place them on these
bass notes, giving you:
“When – you’re – not – strong. I’ll – be – your – friend” Cmaj Dmin Emin Fmaj Fmaj Emin Dmin Cmaj We call these diatonic chords because they are naturally created by the scale and use only notes from the scale.
Eventually, your job is tackle all the different types of second intervals:
Focus on dissensions. Like 1-7, 7-6, 6-5, 5-4, 4-3, 3-2, 2-1.
• Then on ascensions. Like 1-2, 2-3, 3-4, 4-5, 5-6, 6-7, 7-1 • Then on combinations. Like ballads: 1-7-6-5-4-3-2-5-1 (Believe it or not, just this • string of bass notes work for “Jesus is the Answer,” “No Weapon,” “Jesus is Love,” and many more. HINT: Use diatonic chords on these tones and you’ll be able to play all these songs).
Note: The numbers come from the scale. If you’re in C major, a “1-7” is simply “C” going to “B.” A “7-6“ is “B” going to “A.” A “2-3” is “D” going to “E.” That’s why it’s so important to know your “scales as numbers” (all covered in the first two reports).
MIXING STEPWISE MOTION AND CIRCULAR PATTERNSSay you’ve picked out the bass to a song in the key of C.
Say your bass is:
CBA That means it starts on some type of chord on C... then moves to some type of chord on B...
then finally to some type of chord on A. That’s clearly stepwise motion or second intervals. C moving right next door to B... and B moving right next door to the next tone of the scale, A.