• # It’s a numbers game! Discover how to crack the code…

(If you haven’t read Wednesday’s and Thursday’s post, it’d be a good idea to start there as this lesson continues with what we’ve already learned…)

Today, we’re going to keep exploring the number system and circle of fifths and see what else we can do to spice up the primary chords we already know.

Yesterday, we took it a step further and added the 2-chord.

C major

1-chord
(C major)

2-chord
(D minor)
(D major, when needed)

4-chord
(F major)

5-chord
(G major)

Now, let’s see what else we can add to spice up our progressions.

Let’s bring up my little friend…

You’re already familiar with the counter-clockwise motion of the circle and how chord progressions work. We covered that yesterday. In fact, that’s where we got the idea to introduce the “D” chord right before the G chord (because before that, we were only working with primary chords: C major, F major, and G major).

But it goes even further…

If you want to make things more interesting, you can actually lead to the chord that leads to your primary chord. Yes!

Let me repeat…

If you want to start playing longer progressions, you’ll have to start thinking not only of the chords that lead to your primary chords, but even the chords that lead to THOSE chords!

Like I said before, composers could easily write most songs with just primary chords, the 1, 4 and 5. But that would mean really basic songs.

In fact, songs like “Hallelujah,” “Lord I Lift Your Name on High,” and (I’ll go left field with this one), “Wild Thing” simply use primary chords. And in the regular 1-4-5 order at that!

But as we learned yesterday, you can use other tones of the scale to lead to your primary chords. So rather than having C major (1-chord) go straight to a G major (5-chord), you can slip a D minor or D major (2-chord) to make things more interesting.

But now, I’m going to show you how to take it a step further and determine what to play before the 2-chord, if you wanted to add even more variety:

Observe the circle.

Where’s D?

G, right?

Bingo!

That’s the chord you’re going to try to slip in… some type of “A” chord (usually it will be minor, but there are times when it’ll be major or dominant).

Let’s see if we can make this work for “Amazing Grace.”

Here’s how far we got yesterday…

“A-ma-zing grace* how”
C major (1st inversion) ~~~
(E + G + C)

*On “grace,” the melody changes to “E” so you can actually invert your chord from “E+G+C” to “G+C+E” (which is 2nd inversion).

“Sweet the”
F major (root inversion) ~~~
(F + A + C)

“Sound.”
C major (root inversion) ~~~
(C + E + G)

“That saved a”
C major (1st inversion) ~~~
(E + G + C)

“wretch like”
(F# + A + E / D bass)

-OR-

D9
(F# + A + C + E / D bass)

“Me”
G major (first inversion) ~~~
(B + D + G)

Now, if you had to add this “A chord” somewhere, where would you put it?

On what word of this song would you hit this chord? (Remember, it needs to come before the 2-chord on D).

I’d put it on “saved.”

“Sound.”
C major (root inversion) ~~~
(C + E + G)

“That”
(I wouldn’t really play a chord here since this word is like a pickup. Just let the previous chord take care of it).

“saved a”
A minor (2nd inversion) ~~~
(E + A + C)

“wretch like”
(F# + A + E / D bass)

-OR-

D9
(F# + A + C + E / D bass)

“Me”
G major (first inversion) ~~~
(B + D + G)

Notice, I used “A minor” before the 2-chord. Using a major chord there doesn’t work (but always try it in other situations to make sure it’s not the better fit… but like I said, the minor chord is standard on the 6th degree).

There are two reasons the “A minor” works there.

1) “A” leads strongly to “D” as we know from the circle of fifths.

2) “A minor” is actually the relative minor of “C major.” They share the same key signature. They basically live in the same house. They are very close as well. In fact, their triads almost share the same notes:

A minor
A + C + E

C major
C + E + G

2 out of 3 notes are the same.

But something even better happens when you change “A minor” to an “A minor 7” chord.

“A minor 7”
A + C + E + G

Wow! It’s basically a C major chord, except for “A” is on the bottom.

Yup yup! To form the relative minor seventh chord, you just play the same chord on your right but change your bass to “A” (or the 6-tone).

So any time you have a song that comes back to the 1-chord, try the 6-bass (that is, “A”) on your left hand with the same 1-chord on your right hand and not only do you totally change the feel to a minor seventh chord that easily, but it provides the variety you need!

(The technical term is called the “tonic substitution.” It’s when you substitute chords for the 1 that sound very similar. “A minor 7” and “E minor 7,” for example, are common tonic substitutions. “A minor” has A + C + E + G (3 notes in common with C major 7) and “E minor” has E + G + B + D (also 3 notes in common with C major 7). So regardless of what key you’re in, try substituting the 6-chord or 3-chord in place of the 1-chord to see what you come up with.

So let’s try the addition of the A minor 7 (which is no change in the right hand, just a new bass note):

“A-ma-zing grace* how”
C major (1st inversion) ~~~
(E + G + C)

*On “grace,” the melody changes to “E” so you can actually invert your chord from “E+G+C” to “G+C+E” (which is 2nd inversion).

“Sweet the”
F major (root inversion) ~~~
(F + A + C)

“Sound.”
C major (root inversion) ~~~
(C + E + G)

“That”
(I wouldn’t really play either of these chords here since this word is like a pickup. Just let the previous chord linger. In a future post, I’ll introduce the “3-chord.” If anything, I’d put it here but we’ll talk about that later).

“saved a”
A minor 7 ~~~
(E + A + C / A bass)

“wretch like”
(F# + A + E / D bass)

-OR-

D9
(F# + A + C + E / D bass)

“Me”
G major (first inversion) ~~~
(B + D + G)

So there you have it!

You started with just primary chords:

C major
F major
G major

C major
D minor (substitute major)
F major
G major

And today, you added the 6-chord to the mix:

C major
D minor (substitute major)
F major
G major
A minor

Practice these and tell me how you like em!

Until next time

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#### Jermaine Griggs

Founder at HearandPlay.com
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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