• Using the Circle of Fifths To Learn Your Primary Chords

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano,Theory

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    Every key has primary chords and secondary chords.

    In fact, without even knowing they are called “primary chords,” you’ve probably realized certain chords appear in certain keys more than others.

    Yup, those chords are the ones built off the 1st, 4th, and 5th degrees of the scale.

    Consider the C major scale:
    primary chords c major

    If you numbered this scale, you’d get the following:

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

    The 1st tone is obviously C, the fourth tone is F, and the fifth tone is G.

    These are all major chords (for reasons discussed here).


    C major


    F major


    G major

    If you’ve ever played in the key of C, you’ll be hard pressed not to play these three chords numerous times.

    But what if I told you there was an easy way to learn the primary chords of ALL 12 keys?

    While C major is a primary chord in the keys of F and G, no one key has the same combination of primary chords.

    For example, in the key of F, the primary chords are:

    F major


    Bb major


    C major

    In the key of G, the primary chords are:

    G major


    C major


    D major

    Primary Chords and the Circle of Fifths

    primary chords and circle of fifths

    Here’s how to find the primary chords of any key in literally 2 seconds.

    Step 1: Circle any three neighboring notes on the circle
    primary chords neighboring notes circle of fifths

    Step 2: Those 3 keys are the primary chords of the one in the middle
    using circle of fifths to determine primary chords

    If you circle C, F, and Bb, those are the primary chords of F (because F is the key in the middle).

    It’s that simple!

    Here are the primary chords of every key:

    C major: C major, F major, G major
    F major: F major, Bb major, C major
    Bb major: Bb major, Eb major, F major
    Eb major: Eb major, Ab major, Bb major
    Ab major: Ab major, Db major, Eb major
    Db major: Db major, Gb major, Ab major
    F# major: F# major, B major, C# major
    B major: B major, E major, F# major
    E major: E major, A major, B major
    A major: A major, D major, E major
    D major: D major, G major, A major
    G major: G major, C major, D major

    Reference: More information on primary chords

    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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