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10) Two Chords Circle Progressions - Major Mode

[Post #10] We have studied until now only one chord progressions and we have seen how it is possible for example to build the verse of a song simply changing a part of the only chord we have. Now let's make another step and explore the possibilities we have if we begin to work with two chords. However, what if we do not know precisely where to start? From where and how we choose two chords? The first thing to do is to analyse the scales. We take here the C major scale, but what we say is true for all major keys. Here is the C major scale which consists of the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B:

Each sound of the scale is called "degree". We build now on each degree of this scale a triad (three sounds chord) by adding at the starting note (first degree, tonic or ground note) the third and fifth. Please note that in the seven chords that we build on the seven degrees of the major scale, we just use the seven tones of the scale, we do not add accidentals to hold the original intervals (for example, the third of D will be F instead of F#). In C major we have following triads (over the chord there is its name and under the chord the Roman numerals indicate the degree of the scale):

The triads thus generated are of 3 types:
  1. major triads or perfect major chords - you find them on the I, IV and V degree. (C, F and G)
  2. minor triads or perfect minor chords - you find them on the II, III and VI degree (Dm, Em, Am)
  3. diminished triad or diminished fifth chord - you find it only the seventh grade (Bdim).
At this point our initial problem, not knowing where to start, is practically solved. In fact, we make harmonic sequences based on the previous triads, leaving only the seventh degree. We deal first with the two major triads and build circular progressions:
  1. C - F (progression I-IV, tonic-subdominant)
  2. C - G (IV progression, tonic-dominant)
I call these progressions "circular" because, as we shall see from the following audio samples, we can almost endlessly alternate the two chords of each progression. Without going into technical details, the explanation of this lies entirely in the theory of harmony: C is the dominant (grade V) of F and G is the dominant of C, and the dominant is the note that, in a sequence of chords, most "naturally" leads to the tonic.

Let's listen to some examples with little melodies for piano: 

Even easy listening music, instrumental music, pop, rock etc use these two circular progressions. The first examples that come to mind are in fact very famous and successful songs:
Bryan Adams - Summer of '69 (verse: D - A, progression I-V)
John Lennon - Imagine (verse: C - C7+ - F, progression I-IV)
REM - Everybody Hurts (verse and chorus: D - G, progression I-IV)

Moving on to minor triads we can make the following progressions:
  1. C - Dm (progression I - II)
  2. C - Em (progression I - III)
  3. C - Am (progression I - VI)
Once again we can create circular progressions, although as shown in the following audio examples the effect is not equal to that of progressions based on major chords, i.e. rather than return to the tonic (first degree, C) this minor chords often suggests to our ears the transition to another chord

Here comes the last important step. We said that "rather than return to the tonic (first degree, C) this minor chords often suggests to our ears the transition to another chord". So we can choose just after the minor chord, for example, one of the major chords of the first circular progressions (F or G) to have a third chord that strongly brings us to the first degree of the scale and then at the end of the chord sequence.
Instead of returning to C, the sequence C - Dm could for example be followed by G (which is also the fourth degree of D) and then go from G to C chord creating the following progression:
C - Dm - G - C
Same thing we do with the sequence C - Am. Instead of returning to C, we could play F, and then close the sequence with C. We would therefore have the following chord progression:
C - Am - F - C
Obviously there are so many combinations that is impossible and useless to list all the chord sequences that we can create starting from major triads. You should now practice creating melodies on all previous progressions. A good method could be:

  1. start to play all circular progressions.
  2. After you feel familiar with them, instead of always returning to C after the second chord, add 1 or 2 chord, so that you create progressions that start from the tonic (first degree) and to come back to the tonic, passing over more chords, as in the examples given above.
The following table will help you to transport scales and chords in all keys: 

So, starting from the above table we can now build the same triads (1-3-5) on the scale of D:
D - F# - LA
E - G# - B
F# - A - C#
G - B - D

Let's remember one last very important thing: to rely on these progressions is not the secret to success. You should use these progressions to get familiar with the chords and to find your own original musical solutions. 

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Learn To Compose And Notate Music - Beginning LevelLook InsideLearn To Compose And Notate Music - Beginning Level (By Lee Evans and Martha Baker). Evans Piano Education. 24 pages. Published by Hal Leonard (HL.9072)
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10) Two Chords Circle Progressions - Major Mode Reviewed by Satin Beaus on Saturday, February 18, 2012 Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. Chords have always been awesome. I remember my first chords tutorial on a piano website and I absolutely loved it..


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