• The secret to using circular chord progressions in ballads…

    by Jermaine Griggs · 14 comments

    in Playing songs

    For the past couple of days, we’ve been talking about slow ballads. If you’re just now tuning in, I recommend you check out both Tuesday and Wednesday’s lesson.

    Today, I’m going to show you how to take it even further! Right now, you know how to play a very popular ballad movement from the past two lessons — and the best part is that you’ve only used TWO chords!

    So, how do we venture outside of these two chords? I’m glad you asked…

    The key is understanding “circular” movements.


    I always talk about this so I won’t go into detail but here’s the main idea…

    Learn this circle going counter-clockwise and you’ll never have a problem adding interesting movements to your chord progression again!

    Let’s start from where we left off yesterday with these chords:

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    [Set 1]
    1-chord = C major (add 9) (C + D + E + G) *** Bass: C
    5-chord = G major (add 9) (A + B + D + G) *** Bass: B

    [Set 2]
    1-chord = C major (add 9) (C + D + E + G) *** Bass: A
    5-chord = G major (add 9) (A + B + D + G) *** Bass: G

    [Set 3]
    1-chord = C major (add 9) (C + D + E + G) *** Bass: F
    5-chord = G major (add 9) (A + B + D + G) *** Bass: E

    [Set 4]
    1-chord = C major (add 9) (C + D + E + G) *** Bass: D
    5-chord = G major (add 9) (A + B + D + G) *** Bass: G

    Right now, we’re just moving in a stepwise motion downward.

    But I want things to be more interesting so let’s add some circular movements to the mix. That is, I want to start taking advantage of the strong pulls certain chords have towards others. The circle of fifths above gives you all the strong pulls (I prefer going counter-clockwise because that’s how most music works). In other words, the pull between C and F is huge! Same with F and Bb — heck, combine them together (C >>> F >>> Bb) and you get one of the most popular chord progressions there is!

    The good news is you have many options. I want to focus on one of them.

    It’s what you call a 6-2-5-1 turnaround.”

    Don’t let the numbers scare you! They come straight from the scale.

    C major
    C D E F G A B C
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7

    What is the 6th tone of C major?
    Answer: A

    What is the 2nd tone of C major?
    Answer: D

    What is the 5th tone of C major?
    Answer: G

    What is a the 1st tone of C major?
    Answer: Duh, C!

    So what is a “6-2-5-1” chord progression?

    Answer: A >>> D >>> G >>> C

    Note: Of course, each of those tones will get a chord but I just wanted you to get the concept. Whenever you see numbers like “2-5-1” or “6-2-5-1” or “3-6-2-5-1” or “1-4,” usually they’re just referring to chord progressions built on certain tones of the scale. Simple!

    If you also take a good look at this “6-2-5-1 turnaround,” you’ll notice that it is “circular” in the sense that these notes are neighbors on the chart. Scroll above and look at the chart again. Where’s “A” — then “D” — then “G” — then “C?” Right next to each other!

    So here’s what I want to do…

    I want to replace some chords in my ballad so that I can use this 6-2-5-1 progression to take me to that chord on “F.”

    Why F?

    Because that is the chord most likely to come after C. After all, if you keep going on the circle, you’ll see A, then D, then G, then C — then F.

    So this “6-2-5-1” should lead us to our 4th tone (or F in this case) brilliantly!

    Here it is:

    “6” chord = A minor 7 (G + C + E) *** Bass: A
    “2” chord = D9 (F# + C + E) *** Bass: D

    “5” chord = G minor 7 (F + Bb + D) *** Bass: G
    “1” chord = C9 (E + Bb + D) *** Bass: C

    See what I see? Basically the “2” chord is almost identical to the chord before it. You just lower your thumb and change your bass!

    Same goes for the “1” chord. It’s just like the “5” chord except for the lowered thumb and new bass note!

    This will take you perfectly to an F major chord:

    “6” chord = A minor 7 (G + C + E) *** Bass: A
    “2” chord = D9 (F# + C + E) *** Bass: D

    “5” chord = G minor 7 (F + Bb + D) *** Bass: G
    “1” chord = C9 (E + Bb + D) *** Bass: C

    “4” chord = F major (F + A + C) *** Bass: F

    Some things you must keep in mind…

    We aren’t deviating from the original chord progression. We’ve just added a few chords, that’s all. In fact, the “A,” “G,” and “F” chords still fall where they would normally be played in the original progression. We’ve just added some other little chords in between them.

    One thing you have to do, however, is speed up the chords because now you have double the chords to play in the same amount of time. So you have to play them double the speed.

    Once you get used to it, you’ll be fine!

    Here’s the progression altogether:

    C major (add 9) (C + D + E + G) *** Bass: C
    G major (add 9) (A + B + D + G) *** Bass: B

    A minor 7 (G + C + E) *** Bass: A
    D9 (F# + C + E) *** Bass: D

    G minor 7 (F + Bb + D) *** Bass: G
    C9 (E + Bb + D) *** Bass: C

    F major (F + A + C) *** Bass: F

    G major (add 9) (A + B + D + G) *** Bass: E

    C major (add 9) (C + D + E + G) *** Bass: D

    G major (add 9) (A + B + D + G) *** Bass: G

    (Yes, I know when you play a different bass note under a C or G major chord, it changes the total name of the chord. I’ve been using “C major” and “G major” for the last few posts to emphasize that all it takes is TWO chords to play a full ballad. So for now, we will refer to them as C major over whatever bass note we’re playing. Let’s keep it simple for now.)

    *There’s some more changes I’d make to the original “C” and “G” chords but you’ll have to wait til’ tomorrow to get those! :-)

    Until next time —

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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

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    { 14 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Bill

    I’ve been following this lesson since Tuesday. This ballad is getting better and better doc! Keep it coming. I love the turnaround idea today.



    oh such a professional teaser…oops teacher!!! :D :D ;D love it. smooth transitions



    caught up on my lessons now…




    4 Jermaine

    Sure thing Tru… will keep you and the fam in my prayers. Matt 7:7-8


    5 Roland

    That will sound good when getting enough flow to it…takes a bit of practise,for me anyway


    6 Sam

    You’re doing an outstanding job teaching and instructing this new generation of musicians. Keep of the good work and God bless your endeavors.



    Jermaine, Thanks for these three lessons about ballads. I would like you to make a video about ballads that we can buy it. I have learned a lot with the Gospel Keys 101 and I think that a video like that one, will help beginners to learn ballads. If you tell me yes, please write my name on the list to pay for it as soon as you have it ready.


    8 Avi Lugassi

    Your website and music learning is excelnt. Well done. Unfurtuntly I have very limited time to read and learn from you. But I hope ine day I will send more time with you.

    Kindly regards



    9 Eresmas

    I gotta go and try this first.

    Brian, I’ll remember you guys in my prayers too.


    10 Nicki

    I love the ‘circular’ movements diagram. Makes turnarounds so much easier! By the way Jermaine…just thought I’d let you know that I’ve moved our Yamaha Clavinova to a new position in our home…next to the computer :) So that I can immediately practise what I learn in each blog you post! Thanks for all you do and God bless!!


    11 Laketa

    Hi Jermaine,

    Yet another great lesson! I’m somewhat just catching up on the daily blogs. It’s so good to know that I have a place to learn and reference things when I need to. I love Hear and Play….. By the way…I’ve had your 202 for about a year and for the past month I have been working on playing As the Deer in all keys. ( I don’t know if thats good or not, finally right!) Anyways, I see that this progression is almost Identical. I’m really understanding now. It feels good to know what your talking about. I’m learning that for me “If I can see it I can play It” :-).

    Thanks Again!

    Oh Yeah just FYI…..Seems like most of the radio show listeners are East Coasters…. The Polling Booths closes on this side of the world at 8pm so just in case you haven’t decided about having the show or not. This might be a thought when deciding.


    12 ben

    does it follow that when adding the 6-2-5-1 progressions it all starts with 1st and 5th tone chords.then the 2nd set will therefore be the 6adn 2.followed by 5and 1.then 4th.if so why was the g a minor 7th not a majorwhy is the 6th a minor seventh and yet 2nd is a D9 why is it not a d7 is it always like this


    13 graham

    hi graham here from belfast hi i really loved ur chord progressions on

    6251 progression the first one its sounds really great on my paino
    really funky keep up the good work


    14 Tidjo Davilmar

    Hi Germaine
    Do you have anything for Bass Players.I want to order from you because i’m impressed so far by what ‘,m reading


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