• Who Else Is Interested In Playing Cyclical Progressions Tonight?

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano

    cyclical progressions

    In this lesson, we’ll explore playing cyclical progressions using part-over-root voicings of seventh chords.

    That’s a lot of technical jargon right? But trust me, it’s easier than it sounds.

    Pianists are able to determine what chord comes next in a chord progression because the progressions follow a predictable cycle most of the time.

    So, in this post, I’ll be showing you these chord progressions and how they relate to each other using seventh chords.

    To get started, let’s look at seventh chords.

    Review Of Seventh Chords

    What is a seventh chord?

    A seventh chord is a chord the encompasses seven degrees of the scale (when played in root position.)

    In tertian harmony where chords are built in thirds, after triads (which are chords of three notes) are seventh chords. Regularly triads like the C major triad:

    …have a root, third, and a fifth.

    C is the root

    E is the third

    G is the fifth

    However, adding another third to the fifth chord tone (G) would produce the C major seventh chord:

    …a major chord that encompasses seven scale degrees – C to B:

    Other seventh chord qualities:

    …encompass seven scale degrees as well.

    Scale Degree Seventh Chords

    The major scale has seven degrees and seventh chords can be built on every scale degree.

    Using the C major scale:

    …here’s how scale degree chords are formed…


    Chord 1 from C:

    …the first tone of the scale.

    Chord 2 from D:

    …the second tone of the scale.

    Chord 3 from E:

    …the third tone of the scale.

    Chord 4 from F:

    …the fourth tone of the scale.

    Chord 5 from G:

    …the fifth tone of the scale.

    Chord 6 from A:

    …the sixth tone of the scale

    Chord 7 from B:

    …the seventh tone of the scale.

    The Pick-Skip Technique

    The formation of scale degree seventh chords is easier with the pick skip technique.

    All you need to do is to choose the scale degree you want to form the seventh chord on, and then you pick and skip to derive the remaining notes.

    Here’s how it works…

    To form chord 4, pick F:

    …skip G and pick A:

    …skip B and pick C:

    …skip D and pick E:

    Following the same procedure would produce all scale degree seventh chords.

    Chord 1:

    …the C major seventh chord.

    Chord 2:

    …the D minor seventh chord.

    Chord 3:

    …the E minor seventh chord.

    Chord 4:

    …the F major seventh chord.

    Chord 5:

    …the G dominant seventh chord.

    Chord 6:

    …the A minor seventh chord.

    Chord 7:

    …the B half-diminished seventh chord.

    Please keep the various chord qualities of each scale degree in mind. Mind the table below:

    Scale Degree Chord

    Chord Quality

    Chord 1

    Major seventh

    Chord 2

    Minor seventh

    Chord 3

    Minor seventh

    Chord 4

    Major seventh

    Chord 5

    Dominant seventh

    Chord 6

    Minor seventh

    Chord 7

    Half-diminished seventh

    Just before we get into the cyclical progressions, let’s consider look at a unique rearrangement of the seventh chord known to music scholars as the “part over root” voicing technique.

    Part-Over-Root Voicing of Seventh Chords

    Suggested reading: Part Over Root Voicings Of Seventh Chords.

    Voicing is the consideration of the notes of a chord as voices or voice parts. Part over root voicing is a technique that helps us rearrange the notes of a chord by isolating the root of the chord from other chord tones.

    When the root is isolated, the remainder chord tones are called the part.

    The root note of the C major seventh chord:

    …is C:

    If we go ahead and isolate it from the rest of the chord, we’ll have an E minor triad:

    …which is the part, over C:

    …which is the root.

    We can have the rearrangement (aka – “voicing”) of every other scale degree seventh chord using the “part over root” voicing technique.

    The C major seventh chord:

    …is voiced as the E minor triad over C in the root:

    The D minor seventh chord:

    …is voiced as the F major triad over D in the root:

    The E minor seventh chord:

    …is voiced as the G major triad over E in the root:

    The F major seventh chord:

    …is voiced as the A minor triad over F in the root:

    The G dominant seventh chord:

    …is voiced as the B diminished triad over G in the root:

    The A minor seventh chord:

    …is voiced as the C major triad over A in the root:

    The B half-diminished seventh chord:

    …is voiced as the D minor triad over B in the root:

    Further reading: Diatonic perspectives to the “part over root” voicing technique.

    Playing Cyclical Progressions Using Seventh Chords

    Cyclical progressions are are chord movements based on a particular interval.

    Further reading: Introduction To Cyclical Progressions.

    We’ll explore playing cyclical progressions in the key of C major using the scale degree seventh chords we covered in the previous segment.

    Attention: Don’t forget to do some cyclical exercises that would prepare your left hand for this study. Else you may find it challenging to coordinate both hands way into this study.

    Background Idea

    There are two things you should know before we proceed to cyclical progressions.

    #1 – Root Movements

    Cyclical progressions move in ascents of fourths or descents of fifths.

    From chord 1:

    …the C major seventh chord, would either ascend a fourth from C to F:

    …or descend a fourth from C to F:

    Whichever way, we’ll have a root movement from C to F, which is pretty much from chord 1 to chord 4.

    Suggested reading: Mastering Perfect Fourth Intervals In All Keys.

    #1 – Right Hand Voicings

    We’ll be applying voice-leading principles on our right hand chords.

    Going into voice-leading principles will take us out of our focus in this post. However, let me give you a  voice-leading principle that is relevant to our study today.

    When one note or more is common in two chords, those notes are retained, while the rest of the notes move to the closest possible option.

    We’ll be looking out for common tones that two successive chords share and we’ll be retaining them while we move the remaining notes to the closes possible option.

    Let’s apply the voice-leading principle to a chord progression from chord 1 to chord 4 (two successive chords in the cycle of fourths/fifths.)

    This is how the C major seventh chord:

    …moves to the F major seventh chord:

    I’m doubly sure you noticed the root movement from C to F:

    …but more importantly, I want you to note that the E note:

    …was retained in both chords because its a common tone, while G and B:

    …moved to A and C:

    …which are the closest possible options respectively.

    “Do I Have To Find The Common Tone Of Two Successive Chords All The Time?”

    At this point, it is important to let you know that you can progress between two successive chords without calculating common tones.

    Here’s how it works…

    The part of the C major seventh chord is the E minor triad:

    …which consists of E, G, and B – the 3rd, 5th, and 7th tones of the C major scale.

    Progressing to the the successive chord is as easy as retaining the the lowest voice (E):

    and moving the upper voices (G and B):

    …to A and B:

    …which are the next scale tones to the right.

    Playing Cyclical Progressions Tonight!

    Here’s how cyclical progressions move…

    From Chord 1:

    …the C major seventh chord to chord 4:

    …the F major seventh chord to chord 7:

    …the B half-diminished seventh chord to chord 3:

    …the E minor seventh chord to chord 6:

    …the A minor seventh chord to chord 2:

    …the D minor seventh chord to chord 5:

    …the G dominant seventh chord back to chord 1:

    …the C major seventh chord.

    These progressions are purely based on the background principles I gave you earlier.

    The left hand moves in ascents of fourths or descents of fifths while in the right hand voicing, the lowest chord tone is retained while the two upper voices move to the next scale tones to the right.

    Final Words

    Songs are made up of chord progressions and most of the times, chord progressions move in a cyclical manner.

    Understanding cyclical progressions may not be compulsory, but trust me when I say you can hardly play gospel and jazz songs without these progressions and this underscores its importance.

    Play these chord for two counts each and see how song-like it feels for yourself.

    Instruction: Count the numbers “one-two” aloud.









    If care is not taken, you’ll eventually get to a point where you’ll get to hear songs that fit into the harmonic picture these cyclical progressions paint.

    Have fun practicing these until we get into another lesson on cyclical progressions.

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    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

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