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Wow, what can I say…
I think I’ve started something here…
The last few weeks, I’ve been trying out a new format by taking really good questions from students and not only answering them personally, but sending them to our entire mailing list.
This has resulted in a lot of love — and even MORE questions from dedicated students all around the world. I’ve received at least a good couple hundred questions that could easily keep me busy sending responses like this for years…
But here’s one that made the top of the list. I think you’ll really be helped by my reply to Tyler. It’s long but packed with details. About 5 lessons in one.
PRINT THIS OUT because it really is *that* important.
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***Comment From Tyler N***
Dude, you are incredible. Your knowledge of theory is on another planet. Thanks for what you do man, for real.
I’m trying to learn all 12 keys and I happen to be a member of the Gospel Music Training Center where you talked about using the circle of fifths to learn every key.
I do know the circle of fifths but I don’t think I totally understand how to use it to learn every key. Do you mind shedding some light on this in the next Q&A teleclass?
Again, thanks man. Tell JP and all the staff they are doing an awesome job.
>>> My Comments and explanations to Tyler (Lots of good info… read carefully)
Thanks for the e-mail! Glad to hear you’re enjoying the material!
I believe you’re referring to our last Gospel Music Training Call that just past, where Jon and I talked about the circle of fifths and how it can help you to learn any song in all 12 keys…
I can definitely help you with that.
But before we delve in, let’s back up a bit and talk about the ‘circle of fifths’ concept itself.
The circle of fifths is a very powerful discovery in music because it pretty much describes HOW MUSIC WORKS in one simple chart.
If you want to see an example of the circle, here’s an example: http://www.musiccirclechart.com
You see, music moves in fifths and fourths. And if you really think about it, there’s a fine line between “fifths” and “fourths.” (that’s why you hear some people calling it the “circle of fifths” and other folks calling it the “circle of fourths.” Let me demystify this first.
Both names are correct. Here’s why:
If I ask you to go up a fourth interval, that essentially means to move up 5 half steps from whatever note you’re on. (There are many ways to think about it but this is the most straightforward…)
And for folks that don’t know what half steps are, remember this poem:
“Half steps are from key to key with no keys in between, Whole steps always skip a key with one key in between.”
So basically, if you’re going from one key directly up or down to the key directly next door, that’s a half step. Doesn’t matter if it’s a white key, a black key, a purple key, a broken key (some of you haven’t fixed your piano in years)… if it goes from one key right next door, it’s a half step. [C to C#], [E to F], [G to Ab], [Bb to B]… all of these pairs are half steps. [C to D], [E to F#], [Ab to Bb]… these are whole steps because they are skipping one key. Easy.
Back to fourths. So if I start on C and want to go up a fourth, I simply count 5 half steps up…
C to Db is 1 half step… Db to D is another… D to Eb is the 3rd half step, Eb to E is 4, and finally E to F. So “C” to “F” is a fourth.
Now, on the other hand, a fifth uses 7 half steps. So if you do the same thing starting at C — except, this time using 7 half steps — you’ll arrive at G.
So “C” to “G” is a fifth.
“C” UP to “F” is a fourth. “C” UP to “G” is a fifth.
Here’s the tricky part. Notice I used the word “UP” because if you count the same number of half steps down, you’ll get different answers.
If you count 5 half steps DOWN from C, you’ll get G. And if you count 7 half steps DOWN from the same C, you’ll get F.
In other words, C up to F is a fourth. C down to F is a fifth.
And in the same way, C up to G is a fifth but C down to G is a fourth.
Basically, they are ‘inverses’ of each other. Opposites. One does one thing going up and another going down. The other does the exact opposite.
Any time you take a fourth interval and “flip” it, you’ll get a fifth. If you do the same to a fifth, you’ll get a fourth.
Try it. Hold down C and the higher G together. That’s a fifth. C is the lowest note and there are 7 half steps between C and G. But if you take the C off the bottom and put it on the top (and now “G” on the bottom), now you’ve got yourself a fourth interval. Just that easy.
Oh and I should add… these are called “PERFECT 4ths” and “PERFECT 5ths.” Sometimes, for short, folks leave off the “perfect” part but if you want to be very specific, add that.
Why did I choose to tell you all this?
Because, there are two ways to look at the circle of fifths chart. Go to http://www.musiccirclechart.com and print it out…
If you thought of this circle as a clock, “C” would be at 12 o’ clock.
G is at 1 o’ clock. D is at 2 o’ clock.
That means on the other side, F is at 11 o’ clock, Bb is at 10 o’ clock, Eb is at 9 o’ clock and so forth…
And like I said, there are 2 ways to look at this circle. You can look at it going clockwise from C to G to D to A… and so forth.
Or you can look at this chart going counter-clockwise, from C to F to Bb to Eb… and so forth.
Some people say when you go counter-clockwise from C to F to Bb to Eb… that you’re going in “fourths.” But, of course, now you know better. You’re going in fourths only if you’re looking at this as going UP from C to F. And UP from F to Bb… and UP from Bb to Eb.
But as you just learned, going from C down to F is a fifth too! That’s why some people still choose to look at this WHOLE circle as a relationship of fifths because if you go clockwise, C up to G is a fifth. And if you go counter-clockwise, C down to F is also a fifth.
Put another way, “G” is the fifth of C. And “C” is the fifth of “F” — and so on.
But either way, here’s the golden nugget.
Go counter-clockwise! This is the flow of music. This is how 80% of songs move.
What do I mean?
THAT’S WHAT I MEAN!
If you analyze the chord patterns of songs, you’ll find them moving like this:
Some kinda “C” chord to some kinda “F” chord to some kinda “Bb” chord to some kinda “Eb” chord, depending on the key you’re in.
If you’re in a key like “G” major, you’ll find the same counter-clockwise movement at work — just at the other end of the circle with chords moving from some kind of “A” chord to some kind of “D” chord to some kind of “G” chord to some kind of “C” chord (just to give an example).
I say “some kind of chord” because depending on your key, some chords will be major, some minor, some dominant, some diminished, etc… and we really don’t have time to talk about that right here. Easily another 5 pages if I go there.
So the circle really explains the flow of music.
Ever heard of a “2-5-1” progression? Guess what? Highlight any 3 notes on the circle that are neighbors and there are the keynotes of your “2-5-1” progression! BAM!
Don’t believe me? What’s a 2-5-1 progression in the key of C? Well, the 2 is “D”… the 5 is “G” and the 1 is “C.” Where do those notes just “happen” to appear on the circle of fifths chart?
D is at 2 o clock. G is at 1 o clock. C is at 12 o clock. Counter-clockwise! Neighbors too!
Like pulling back time (ever wish you could pull back time, counter-clockwise???) Lol, get out of the past!!!!!!!!!!!! Except in music, that is! Cuz moving against the clock, when it comes to the circle, is how you will find most of your songs arranged. Counter-clockwise…
EXERCISE: Take songs you already know and compare them to the circle of fifths. For example, if the song you know goes from C major to A minor to D minor to G major to C major, then compare where those notes C, A, D, G, C appear on the circle and the type of movement you notice.
So, here’s the entire circle but in a counter-clockwise arrangement:
C > F > Bb > Eb > Ab > Db > Gb > B > E > A > D > G (repeat)
WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO DO TO LEARN THIS, DO IT!
Memorize it, chunk it, tape it to your dashboard. If you can say this in one breath really fast, you won’t believe how helpful it can be to you.
Why? Because all songs move in this direction. You can literally highlight any 3 or 4 notes straight off this circle and find many chord progressions that use those same exact notes in the same exact order. You can find entire songs using this order of notes… and just repeating over and over. Wash, rinse, repeat.
And since chords and patterns move like this, it makes sense to learn and practice chords in this same order. When you learn chords in this order, you further reinforce the circle.
Plus, when it comes time to play real songs that move in fourths anyway, you’ve already done it so much in your own practicing so it’s not that hard to apply it when needed.
(Oh, by the way, I’ve been saying ‘circle of fifths’ AND ‘circle of fourths’ up until this point. But now, I’m going to choose to call this “fourths” since most people consider C to F a fourth, unless you tell them C “DOWN” to F. But from now on, to keep things consistent, I will mainly say FOURTHS to represent the counter-clockwise direction of the circle.)
I realize this could still be over some folks’ head so let me break it down. (My fingers are getting tired but I’ll keep going, as long as you’ll keep reading)…
You can either learn chords by fourths like I’m advocating, or you can learn them chromatically in half steps.
Let’s talk about the latter method first.
To learn chords chromatically means to master chords one half-step at a time. In other words, you learn a “C” major chord first, then you take every note up a half step to learn the “C#” or “Db” major chord. Then once you learn that chord, you take every note of your chord up another half step to learn the “D” major chord. And so on…
In real life, this looks like this:
CHORD = G + B + C + E (which is a C major 7 chord in 2nd inversion by the way).
Say I wanted to learn this chord chromatically. All I gotta do is take every finger up a half step and that will give me the SAME chord in the next key up.
A half step up from C is Db so by taking EVERY tone of the chord up a half step, I’m essentially learning that SAME chord in the key a half step up. Looks like a duck, quacks like a duck… it’s a duck.
So let’s do it…
G + B + C + E.
Move G up a half step to Ab.
Move B up a half step to C.
Move C up a half step up to Db.
Move E a half step up to F.
The new chord is Ab + C + Db + F. And since the old chord was a “major 7” chord in 2nd inversion, that means THIS IS ALSO A MAJOR 7 CHORD IN 2ND INVERSION.
Nothing changes about the quality or quantity of the chord. If it’s major, the quality will be the same. If it’s a seventh, the quantity will also be the same. So, if the first chord was a C major 7, this new chord up a half step is simply a Db major 7. Got it?
So you could essentially learn every chord this way. It’s the easiest because it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to move every finger up one note. But it’s limiting because music doesn’t move chromatically like that. I mean it CAN, but it isn’t commonplace like fourths and fifths.
FOURTHS and FIFTHS are everywhere. They are the most common movement.
So remember the circle of fifths order I told you to memorize?
C > F > Bb > Eb > Ab > Db > Gb > B > E > A > D > G (repeat)
If you want to really get the “flow of music,” learn chords in fourths and also practice them in fourths.
Let’s take this same example:
G + B + C + E.
This is a C major 7 chord in 2nd inversion. If I were taking my own advice and learning this same chord in fourths, I would seek to learn an “F major 7” chord next…
Why? Because it’s a fourth up from C when using the circle order above.
So it’s simple… let’s take each of these notes and determine what’s a fourth up from each one.
G + B + C + E.
This is easy because a fourth up is whatever note is “NEXT” in the circle. Just do this with EACH note.
A fourth up from “G” is “C” A fourth up from “B” is “E” A fourth up from “C” is “F” A fourth up from “E” is “A”
We’ve just learned the F major 7 chord by taking each note up a fourth.
So essentially, the same circle we use to play chord patterns is the same circle we use to learn CHORDS. That’s why I said to do whatever it takes to memorize the circle. These shortcuts are everywhere.
C + E + F + A is an F major 7 chord in 2nd inversion.
(for my beginners, yes, I know C is on the bottom but when you invert a chord, you basically change the order of notes.)
This same chord is F + A + C + E in the normal “root” inversion. If you take the “F” off the bottom and put it on the top, you get “A + C + E + F,” which is 1st inversion. If you then take the “A” off the bottom and put it on the top, you get “C + E + F + A,” which is 2nd inversion — the one we just learned.
So here’s your homework.
Take these chords below and learn them in fourths using the same steps I took above. You can also start all over and learn them chromatically too but the real “connection” comes in learning them in fourths.
C major = C + E + G
C major 7 = C + E + G + B
C minor = C + Eb + G
C minor 7 = C + Eb + G + Bb
EXTRA CREDIT: Invert the chords by taking the current note off the bottom and putting it on the top. Do this again to get the next inversion. If the chord has 4 notes, do this AGAIN to get the final inversion.
Post your answers below as a comment.
Again, you’re taking all 4 chords above and learning each one in all 12 keys USING the circle I talked about above. If you can’t do this, you need to print out this lesson and re-read it. This will result in you knowing 48 chords by the end of this exercise. If you’re serious, you’ll do it. If you get this one concept, you’ll skip at least 6-8 months worth of lessons… and that’s only if your teacher knows how important the circle is to playing BY EAR. Sight readers use this to figure out key signatures and ‘sharps & flats’ but all that stuff is NOTHING compared to the real value of the circle. The real value of the circle involves patterns, song movement, and stuff like that, if you’re an “ear” player.
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P.S. – Got questions? Comment below and I’ll answer right away:
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