• The Minor 2-5-1 Chord Progression vs the 7-3-6 Chord Progression

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano

    7-3-6 Chord Progression

    Today, we’ll be considering the relationship between the minor 2-5-1 progression and the 7-3-6 chord progression.

    The term “7-3-6 chord progression” is more common than the “minor 2-5-1 chord progression.”

    In this post, you’ll not only discover why this is so, but also understand why every 7-3-6 chord progression is a minor 2-5-1 chord progression but not all minor 2-5-1 chord progressions are 7-3-6 chord progressions.

    The 2-5-1 Chord Progression

    The movement of chords from one degree of the scale to another is called a chord progression.

    In a previous post, we covered two tonalities – major and minor – and how each tonality has its respective scale. Check out the scales of C major and C minor below:

    C major scale:

    C minor scale:

    The term “2-5-1 chord progression” simply refers to the movement of chords from the second tone of the scale to the fifth tone of the scale, finally resolving home to the first tone of the scale (whether major or minor).

    Usually, when the term “2-5-1 chord progression” is used, it means a movement to the first degree of the major scale (aka – “major 2-5-1 chord progression”).

    In the major scale of C:

    The second, fifth, and first degrees of the C major scale are D, G and C:

    Therefore, a 2-5-1 chord progression in the key of C will involve the following chords:
    Chord 2 (D minor seventh):

    Chord 5 (G dominant seventh):

    Chord 1 (C major seventh):

    Truth be told, much of the music we hear on the radio, in church, and all around us, is in the major tonality. Owing to this, the major 2-5-1 chord progression has almost seen as the only type of 2-5-1 chord progression.

    But there is another specie of the 2-5-1 chord progression in the minor key (aka – “minor 2-5-1 chord progression”).

    In the formation of the 2-5-1 chord progression in the key of C minor (which is the parallel minor key of C major), it’s most appropriate for us to use the harmonic minor scale instead of the pure minor scale. If you don’t know why, click here.

    In the C harmonic minor scale:

    …the second, fifth, and first tones are also D, G, and C:

    …respectively. Here’s a 2-5-1 chord progression to C minor.

    Chord 2 (D half-diminished seventh):

    Chord 5 (G dominant seventh):

    Chord 1 (C minor seventh):

    From what we covered so far, there are two types of 2-5-1 chord progressions – the major and minor 2-5-1 chord progressions. Let’s look at the relationship between the chords used in both species of 2-5-1 chord progression:

    Chord 2

    Chord 2 in both 2-5-1 chord progressions have differences and similarities alike. In the major 2-5-1 chord progression, the chord quality of the chord 2 used is the minor seventh, while in the minor 2-5-1 chord progression, the chord quality of chord 2 used is the minor seventh flat five (aka – “half-diminished seventh”).

    Chord 2 in the key of C major is D minor seventh, while chord 2 in the key of C minor is D minor seventh flat five. Both chords are related by the minor quality. However, in terms of stability, chord 2 in C major is more stable than chord 2 in C minor and this is because the “flat five” chord tone of the half-diminished seventh chord.

    Chord 5

    There’s no difference between Chord 5 in the major key and chord 5 in the minor key (note that we used “harmonic minor” instead of the “natural” minor scale).

    Both chords are dominant seventh chords. Chord 5 is what the major and minor 2-5-1 chord progressions have in common.

    Chord 1

    The final chord in a chord progression is known as the harmonic destination. This is because for all intents and purposes, it is the chord of the first degree of the scale (aka – “tonic chord”) and, as such, is the “center” to which the first two chords are attracted to.

    In each of the cases, whether in the major or minor 2-5-1 chord progression, chord 5 is always the dominant seventh chord. The strongest pull in music is between chord 5 and chord 1 (aka – “harmonic destination”).

    The harmonic destination of the major 2-5-1 chord progression is a major chord while that of the minor 2-5-1 chord progression is a minor chord.

    This is a remarkable difference between both chord progressions. Therefore, we can tell whether a chord progression is a major or minor 2-5-1 chord progression from the destination chord.

    7-3-6 chord progression

    The movement of chords from the seventh to the third and then to the sixth degree of the scale is called the “7-3-6 chord progression.”

    In the key of C major:

    …this will imply a chord movement from B (the seventh tone) to E (the third tone) and then to A (the sixth tone).

    Here’s the 7-3-6 chord progression in the key of C major.

    Chord 7 (B half-diminished seventh):

    Chord 3 (E dominant seventh):

    Chord 6 (A minor seventh):

    Let’s go ahead and analyze this chord progression.

    The harmonic destination of this progression is the A minor seventh chord.

    Even though B, E, and A are the seventh, third, and sixth tones of C major scale:

    …considering that C is not the destination, it’s more appropriate to consider this chord progression in the key of the harmonic destination.

    In the key of A minor (which is the harmonic destination), B, E, and A are the second, fifth and first scale tones of the A harmonic minor scale:

    So, it’s clear at this point that the 7-3-6 chord progression is a 2-5-1 progression.

    “So, what kind of 2-5-1 chord progression is the 7-3-6 chord progression?”

    Remember what we learned in the previous segment.

    A 2-5-1 chord progression can either be major or minor and this depends on the final chord in the chord progression (aka – “harmonic destination”).

    In the 7-3-6 chord progression, our harmonic destination is A minor seventh chord:

    Therefore, we can’t be wrong if we say that the 7-3-6 chord progression is a minor 2-5-1 chord progression. The rationale behind this conclusion is that the harmonic destination is a minor chord quality.

    7-3-6 Chord Progression vs Minor 2-5-1 Chord Progression

    There are certain schools of thought that believe that the term “7-3-6 chord progression” is inappropriate (some even consider it childish).

    Well, I understand their plight.

    Some of them will even ask questions like “Why call it a 7-3-6 chord progression when you know it’s a minor 2-5-1 chord progression?” and trust me, they have a valid point here.

    There are situations where you need to call the 7-3-6 chord progression in the key of C major a minor 2-5-1 chord progression in the key of A minor.

    Alright! Let me show you what I mean…

    We covered the harmonic function of minor triads in a previous post.

    I showed you the three functions of the minor triad, where a given triad, let’s say A minor triad can have the following functions:

    Chord 1 in the key of A minor
    Chord 4 in the key of E minor
    Chord 5 in the key of D minor

    …in the minor key. If we look at it’s function in the major key, A minor can also be:

    Chord 2 in the key of G major
    Chord 3 in the key of F major
    Chord 6 in the key of C major

    It is the change of harmonic functions that leads to the use of terms like 7-3-6 chord progression.

    The chord progression below…

    B half-diminished seventh:

    E dominant seventh:

    A minor seventh:

    …leads to one harmonic destination – A minor seventh.

    The term 7-3-6 chord progression is used to refer to this chord progression when A minor is functioning as Chord 6 in the key of C major.

    I personally believe that both terms can be used interchangeably.

    However, you must know that the term “minor 2-5-1 chord progression” is generic while the term “7-3-6 chord progression” depicts the function of the minor 2-5-1 chord progression.

    Final Words

    All 7-3-6 chord progressions are minor 2-5-1 chord progression but not all minor 2-5-1 progressions are 7-3-6 chord progressions. –Jermaine Griggs

    If you forget every other thing in this post, don’t forget this quote by our president and founder. It sums up everything in this post.

    “All 7-3-6 chord progressions are minor 2-5-1 chord progressions…”

    The 7-3-6 chord progression in the key of C:

    Chord 7 (B half-diminished seventh):

    Chord 3 (E dominant seventh):

    Chord 6 (A minor seventh):

    …is a minor 2-5-1 chord progression.

    I dare not say why. We’ve already covered that. Look at the harmonic destination – minor chord quality.

    All 7-3-6 chord progressions, irrespective of the key they’re played in, are minor 2-5-1 chord progressions.

    “…not all minor 2-5-1 progressions are 7-3-6 chord progressions.”

    Owing to different harmonic functions of chords, not all minor 2-5-1 chord progressions are 7-3-6 chord progressions.

    The minor 2-5-1 chord progression to A minor:

    Chord 2 (B half-diminished seventh):

    Chord 5 (E dominant seventh):

    Chord 1 (A minor seventh):

    …is no doubt a 7-3-6 chord progression in the key of C.

    Chord 7 (B half-diminished seventh):

    Chord 3 (E dominant seventh):

    Chord 6 (A minor seventh):

    However, owing to changes in harmonic function, this same chord progression can take us to chord 2 in the key of G major (another harmonic function).

    In the key of G major…

    B is the third tone.
    E is the sixth tone.
    A is the second tone.

    Therefore, the minor 2-5-1 chord progression above can be called a 3-6-2 chord progression in the key of G major:

    Chord 3 (B half-diminished seventh):

    Chord 6 (E dominant seventh):

    Chord 2 (A minor seventh):

    This same chord progression can take us to chord 3 in the key of F major (a different harmonic function).

    In the key of F major…

    B is the sharp fourth tone.
    E is the seventh tone.
    A is the third tone.

    Therefore, the minor 2-5-1 chord progression to A minor can also imply a #4-7-3 chord progression in the key of F major:

    Chord #4 (B half-diminished seventh):

    Chord 7 (E dominant seventh):

    Chord 3 (A minor seventh):

    P.S.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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    { 7 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Peter

    Hello, my name is Peter, a beginner. you said you were going to send me a link for a free video for beginning. You’ve sent like two mails for that yet I can’t find the video. The link is not active
    please, I need the video.
    Thanks

    Reply

    2 Jermaine Griggs

    Hi Peter, please login at http://www.hearandplay.com/club with your e-mail and the password you initially received. The e-mail is titled [Hear and Play] Video Lessons & Members’ Area Link

    Reply

    3 Heywood Thompson

    First of all I appreciate these blogs. A lot of good information provided. Thanks.

    Reference: Blog,…..etc, 7-3-6 chord progression.
    However, can you give an example of how it could be applied in a popular tune, ie..”Take The A Train”, in the key of C. 2-5-1 works fine. How do you get a 7-3-6 to work?

    Reply

    4 Jermaine Griggs

    Hi Heywood,

    When you hear of these progressions, it’s not a matter of applying them in a song that doesn’t naturally feature them. It’s a matter of finding songs that naturally go to the 6th degree, which is minor. If the song naturally goes to the 6th degree, then there is an opportunity to play a 7-3-6 to arrive there, if it’s not already being played.

    It’s like someone saying, the best exit to downtown is this route and someone replying, “Can I use that route to get uptown?” No. The route is used when you’re naturally going in that direction.

    A perfect song is “Autumn Leaves.” It goes from 2 to 5 to 1 to 4 to 7 to 3 to 6.

    In G major (see chord sheet), the 7-3-6 is the F# half-dim 7 (aka – min7 b5), going to B7, and finally to E minor.

    Of course, this can be seen as a 2-5-1 in the key of E minor as well but since the context of this song is G major, we use say “7-3-6.” Hope this helps.

    Reply

    5 Heywood Thompson

    It does. Thanks so much.

    Reply

    6 Joe

    Hi, nice post. A question please. Does it mean the 5th degree in a natural minor scale is a minor chord while the 5th degree in a harmonic minor scale is a major chord? Otherwise every other chord quality is same. That is 1minor, 2diminished, 3major, 4minor etc. Thanks.

    Reply

    7 Chuku Onyemachi

    There are still obvious differences between both of them.

    Chord 3 in the natural minor scale is the major triad while chord 3 in the harmonic minor scale is the augmented triad.
    Chord 7 in the natural minor scale is the major triad while chord 7 in the harmonic minor scale is the diminished triad.

    Reply

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