• Now you can finally make the numbers work for you!

    in Beginners

    Yesterday, we talked about the primary chords of a scale.

    We established that the 1, 4 and 5 are the most important degrees of any scale and that you can pretty much play tons of songs with these chords.

    In fact, you can play most songs with just these chords.

    (Your songs may sound basic but the point is that you can do it!)

    But now, I want to take it a step further and show you how to get those other tones of the scale working for you.

    Let’s turn back to the C major scale…

    C major

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

    (Of course, we’ve numbered our scale because this is of no use if we don’t think universally… and numbers allow us to apply this to any key later on so get used to thinking in terms of numbers).

    As you know, the primary chords are on the 1st, 4th, and 5th degrees:

    C F G
    1 4 5

    But now, let’s take it a step further.

    Music loves to move in fourths and fifths.

    In fact, the interval between “C” and “F” is a fourth (“perfect fourth,” specifically).

    And the interval between “C” and “G” is a fifth.

    To find out what interval you’re working with, count the number of alphabet letters encompassed in the interval (that includes the starting and ending notes).

    So, between C and F, there is C – D – E – F. Four alphabet letters means this is a fourth interval.

    Note: Don’t mix up alphabet letters and notes. When you count white and black keys, there are much more than four notes in this interval. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re solely talking about alphabet letters and not even concerned with anything else.

    How many alphabet letters are in between C and G?

    Well, let’s see…

    C – D – E – F – G

    Five! That’s why this is a fifth interval. Get it?

    For this lesson, we’re only going to focus on fourths as they are much more common than fifths in popular chord progressions.

    circle of fifths

    See this circle?

    We’re going to focus on going counter-clockwise. That is, the direction from C to F to Bb and so on.

    These are fourths. Plain and simple.

    If you write them out, it’ll look like this:

    C > F > Bb > Eb > Ab > Db > Gb > B > E > A > D > G

    Memorize this! This is the direction most songs flow in.

    And this is what I want to use to help you add flavor to your primary chords.

    circle of fifths


    What are the primary chords of C?
    (This is easy. You already know the answer because it’s at the top of this page).

    Another question…

    Where do these primary chords lie on the circle?

    Bingo! They are neighbors!

    C is right in the middle. To its left is F and to the right is G.

    That means they have a very close relationship. This circle isn’t just a pretty way to organize keys… it’s a circle of close relationships and the closer notes are arranged on this circle, the stronger they pull and work with each other.

    By the way, you can find the primary chords for any key by doing this:

    1. Take the key you want to find primary chords for and circle it on the chart (of course, this will be the 1st primary chord).
    2. Then go to its left neighbor. This will be another one of the primary chords (4th).
    3. Then go to its right neighbor. That’ll be the final primary chord (5th).

    Bam! The primary chords for any key.

    But back to the lesson…

    Remember I said that music usually flows in fourths and that going counter-clockwise around the circle will give you fourths?

    Well, think about it. In yesterday’s, lesson, I told you that Gmaj has a very strong pull to Cmaj. Now, notice where G is on the circle. It’s to the right of C (as we just learned) and comes right before it, if you’re moving counter-clockwise around the circle.

    And pretty much the whole circle works that way.

    They key directly to the right side is what pulls the strongest to its neighbor on the left.

    So G pulls strong to C.

    C pulls strong to F.

    F pulls strong to Bb.

    Bb pulls strong to Eb.

    E pulls strong to A on the other side of the circle.

    D pulls strong to G.

    Hmm, D pulls strong to G…

    (And it works the other way around too. G pulls strong to D as well. But for this lesson, we’re focusing on fourths and the counter-clockwise direction of the circle because this is more common in chord progressions).

    I’ve got an idea.

    Why don’t we take a song from yesterday and see if we can pull to any of the Gmaj chords by first using some type of D chord?

    But first, let’s make sure we talk about the numbers behind this…

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

    C F G
    1 4 5

    Now, we’ve introduced “D.”

    C D F G
    1 2 4 5

    So basically, the “2” leads strongly to the “5.” (Remember that rule).

    In other words, if I’m playing a song only with primary chords and I want to start venturing outside my comfort zone, I can first try out a chord on the “2” and there is a high probability that it will work to lead to the “5.”

    If the circle says it, then it’s right! :)

    So let’s take a song from yesterday and see what happens.

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

    (Note: It sounds better to play the chord on “ma-zing” rather than on the first syllable, “A”)

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

    C major ~
    (C + E + G)

    “That saved a wretch like”
    C major ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    (C + E + G)

    G major
    (G + B + D)

    Now what we can do is slip a 2-chord before the G major.

    So that means it should come on:

    “wretch like”

    (…your ear should have told you that if there should be a new chord added, the best place would be here).

    Now, normally the 2-chord is minor. You’d have to go to past lessons to get the scoop on that because this post will be super long if I explain each tone and chord of the major scale.

    So try minor there first.

    See how it sounds to your ear.

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

    “wretch like”
    D minor ~~~
    (D + F + A)

    G major
    (G + B + D)

    Now, the D minor can surely work there but if it were me, I’d keep fishing for a closer match on this 2-chord.

    So let’s try D major…

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

    “wretch like”
    D major ~~~
    (D + F# + A)

    G major
    (G + B + D)

    Sounds much better doesn’t it!?!

    We had a similar lesson about this when I talked about secondary dominant chords. It’s when a chord acts as the “dominant chord” of any tone of the scale other than the tonic (the “1”). That’s what’s going on here. I recommend viewing that lesson when you’re done.

    I know this is a beginner post but keeping the melody on top is very important.

    And the melody on “wretch” is the note, “E.”

    But “E” isn’t in the D major chord so there are two ways you can do this to spice up your chord movement.

    1) Try to add “E” to the chord as the highest note


    2) Try to rearrange chord so that you can add “E” on top.

    Right now, adding E on top of “D + F# + A” is kinda hard.

    But that’s where possibility #2 comes in.

    What if we invert this D major chord so that D is on top? Again, I can’t really talk about inversions here or this post will be super long. Just use the search box up top to search for posts that talk about inversions and you’ll be caught up to speed!

    So inverting the D major chord to “F# + A + D” (aka – “first inversion”) allows us to put an “E” right on top:

    F# + A + D + E

    Now, I personally don’t like the sound the “D” and “E” make up top and since I’d most likely be playing “D” on my bass (in the left hand), I’m going to take it out.

    That leaves me with “F# + A + E” over “D” bass.

    You wanna know what chord you’re playing here?

    D major (add 9)
    (F# + A + E on right hand / D on bass)

    That’s not bad for a beginning lesson!

    But do you see how easy it is to naturally start playing more complex chords? One thing leads to another… one requirement leads to the next and before you know it, your ear has taken you to something totally different!

    In fact, you can add a C in there and make this a D dominant ninth chord (“D9” for short).

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

    The following is Amazing Grace with the added 2-chord and other inversions to keep the melody on top. Pay close attention to the order of notes in each chord as I’ve made some changes:

    “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)

    C major (root inversion) ~~~
    (C + E + G)

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

    “wretch like”
    D major (add 9) ~~~
    (F# + A + E / D bass)


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

    G major (first inversion) ~~~
    (B + D + G)

    (Unless otherwise noted, you can play these chords on your right hand and you can play the keynotes of the chords as the bass notes on your left. Basically, C major means “C on left” and “C+E+G on right.” Or you can play the chords on your left and pick out the melody and play it on your right hand. Try both ways and see what you like best.)

    So there you have it! Without getting too deep (because there’s always tomorrow… and the next day… and the next day), we’ve learned how to start using other tones of the scale to lead us to our primary chords.

    Until next time!

    The following two tabs change content below.
    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!

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.



    { 20 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Jermaine

    Wow, this was a long one. Didn’t realize how long I had been writing.






    3 James

    Hi, I found your blog on this new directory of WordPress Blogs at blackhatbootcamp.com/listofwordpressblogs. I dont know how your blog came up, must have been a typo, i duno. Anyways, I just clicked it and here I am. Your blog looks good. Have a nice day. James.


    4 a.k. (w/o the 47)

    wow, you never know when you’re going to learn something new… even in a beginner lesson.


    5 bigbeardale

    Jermaine….This is the kind of teaching I need. Showing the chord changes to the songs is GREAT! I know this blog is gonna make me a better player.


    6 nikon

    I second that motion Bigbeardeale


    7 Eresmas

    Cool man, i tried amazing grace yesterday when i read the post and it sounded great. Today i will try this and i can’t wait to hear how it sounds.
    Thanks man, i feel like bragging to others men.


    8 rayjohnson83

    this is some good stuff……..lol


    9 Jermaine

    cool! Since you guys like this, I’ll keep it going for a while. Today’s post will be about adding more chords to the mix.


    10 michael

    Dera sir
    sorry to ask such question, am a studend , i just develop interest on becoming a musician, but sir am starting i do not understand the the charater and aphabet that is insid the chord, pleas sir i need help on it i must understand it is interesting sir.
    from michael gabriel?


    11 Jermaine

    @michael: Not sure if I understand the question.

    When you see, C+E+G, for example, on this blog, that means to play the notes together at the same time.

    If you see just C D E F G A B C (or a bunch of notes like that), this means to play them separately, one after the other… because it’s a scale.

    Other than that, just follow the step by step instructions and you’ll be fine. Usually if I’ve started in the middle of a topic, I’ll refer you to a past topic to catch up. Always click those past links but bookmark the current topic so you can come back later.

    hope these tips help,


    12 Laketa


    You keep it up, I’m going to learn something new everyday :-) ! I like! I like!

    Thanks so much – Laketa


    13 Allora

    Jermaine, I have taught music for many years, been a pianist and vocalist for several churches. I appreciate the simplicity of your teaching and will be using in my own work. Thank you.


    14 Jermaine

    @Allora: thanks for you comments… especially coming from an instructor!

    @Laketa: thank you thank you… see you on the radio show! (You didn’t call in on tuesday)


    15 Chris Johnson

    What’s up Jermaine. Man it’s getting to the point where I don’t even know where to start anymore! One article leads me to another, then to another related artice… But that’s a good thing! There are SO many examples and tips you provide us to work with. But keep em’ coming, I’ll get to all of them eventually. :)

    As you may remember, I grabbed the Musician Transformation program over a year ago and I participated in the 6 month follow up sessions. I am one of those aspiring musicians who stilll 9 to 5’s it everyday so it has taken me longer than someone who can commit more time to pick things up. But what a difference becoming part of the Hear and Play family has made in my music production endeavors!

    I am working with bigger chords now easily. Constantly experimentating. Stacking those intervals. I still love my triads but they do sound basic to me now depending on what I’m trying to do. I was playing triads for so, so long, it literally took me almost a year to truly feel comfortable (not understanding) but playing 7th’s, 9th’s and so on. Now I”m experimenting with all kinds of stuff!

    And your right! The final judge is your ear! Once you really understand that, I think the possibilites are truly endless. I would get caught up too much in making sure I was staying in key with every single note and chord I played and now I think I understand that leaving the key when appropriate/when it sounds good is the key (no pun intended) to being original and completely freeing yourself so to speak.

    At least for me it does.

    The next level for me is working on my melodies and getting the melody to stay in sync with the harmonization. I know primary chords play a big part in that but I haven’t gotten a chance to dig into that like I want to yet.

    I like to start out with a chord progression first because they sound good and that’s kind of my comfor zone when I start making a track. it personally gives me something good to start with when I really don’t have anything in my head. Then I try to play melodies underneath the progession followed by the bass. I may already have some drums going as this point to give me a rhythmic and melodic basis, but if I don’t I can always add them later. Because I struggle with melody, I think this is why I approach music this way.

    Thanks again for all your help and good luck to everyone who wants to get better!



    16 Jermaine Griggs

    Awesome post Chris. I always appreciate hearing from you. If every student were like you, they’d experience phenomenal results. Keep up the great work and I want to copy this to our success story database as to use it one day to inspire others. Thanks again for posting, JG


    17 Chris Johnson

    Sure Jermaine no problem and thank you for the kind words. I’m really getting there. Slowly but I’m getting there. Please feel free to use anything I post as motivation for others. One day I think I may be doing the same thing you’re doing. I love to teach but you need to know your stuff A to Z. Or close to it. :)

    I actually just sent you a personal email as well with more specific details on my progress and what I still struggle with. When you have time please read it and if you have any tips or suggestions that may help accelerate my journey through “Song Solidity” hint, hint about my email…. you know I’m all ears!


    18 alphonzo

    loving the lessions, feel live am finally heading somewhere.


    19 JOHN

    Hi Jermaine,

    Thanks for the insight, however I’m confused as to you placing a Dmin…Dmaj within the I-IV-V progression i.e I-ii-IV-V. You are stating that the ii has a strong pull towards the dominant. Surely, this pull is only relevant to the chord proceeding in sequence i.e ii-IV and not V. Which as shown on the circle of fifths the ii-IV is a regression (clockwise movement) and not a progression. In my opinion, it is the IV which has a strong pull towards the ii and then in sequence the ii will be pulled towards the V. There is no doubt that the I-ii has a strong pull. Regards JH


    20 Man Delany

    Simply a smiling visitant here to share the love (:, btw great design. “Better by far you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad.” by Christina Georgina Rossetti.


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