Tag Archives: chords

What’s the deal with the Circle of Fifths?

Posted on August 21, 2020 by songtive

Circle of Fiths

The circle of fifths is a visual tool that demonstrates the geometric relationships between the twelve distinct pitches used in western music culture. These pitches can also be classified as members of the chromatic scale.

A circle is an amazing tool to teach and to conceptualize musical ideas that would otherwise be terribly complicated. Before delving into the deeper truths about music that the circle keeps, let’s familiarize ourselves with its inner workings.

First of all, at its core, the circle of fifths is just that. A circle. In the same way, as an analogic clock does with numbers that represent time, the circle of fifths possesses 12 equally distributed pitches ordered by the interval of the perfect fifth, thus cycling through the twelve distinct pitches of the chromatic scale in twelve steps. Each of these notes carries a lot of information within it. Not only do they represent a particular note in the projection of fifths, but they represent different keys.

A musical key is essentially a definite system of relationships between musical sounds that dwells around a particular key center which is always represented by a single note, in a similar way to how the solar system works, with several different planets orbiting around the sun. Every key possesses a unique key signature which, as the name indicates, is its own individual or signature collection of notes. For example, C major contains no accidentals or altered notes, meaning it contains the seven distinct syllables used to name pitches or the total content of the diatonic system, C D E F G A B, thus its key signature contains no sharps or flats, putting on the top part of the circle. Every time we move up or down (clockwise or counterclockwise respectively) the circle, we change the tonal or key center to a new tonic and thus change the key signature. By going up, we add sharps, by going down, flats. Furthermore, each successive fifth adds a single sharp or flat to the previous collection, meaning that the first note to either side of C will contain either one sharp or one flat, the second, two, and so on.

The circle of fifths is also a great resource to explain some of the properties that arise between key centers. Namely the two main relationships, that of relative and parallel keys.

The relative relationship arises between two keys of opposite mode that share the same collection of sounds but poses a different key center or tonic. For example, C major and A minor. To represent this relationship in the circle we produce a second smaller one within the first one.

Parallel keys are those who share the same key center or tonic but poses different collections, for example, C major and C minor. This relationship has a distance of three accidentals and it is represented by using the same color.

Last but definitively not least, the circle of fifths is by far, the best method to picture the distance between keys. These distances refer to the total amount of common tones between two given key centers. The larger the number of fifths that separate two given key centers, the less common notes between them. Yet, when we cycle through the circle in any direction, we eventually return to the original key center, therefore, there must be a turning point somewhere along the circle, a point of furthest detachment from the original key in which the least possible amount of notes are shared. Curiously enough, that point seems to be the exact opposite side of the circle, the bottom key, F# major or its enharmonic equivalent G flat major, a pair of tritone-related keys which have six sharps and flats respectively. Nevertheless, since there are only twelve distinct pitches and each key should have seven, there is no way to have more than 5 different pitches between any two given keys, this is due to the enharmonic principle which declares the idea that musical sounds with a distinct name can sound the same due to the nature of sharps and flats and how they alter the seven basic syllables. For example, the equivalency between C# and D flat, or between E# and F. Therefore, although C# major has seven sharps in its key signature and C major has none, two of the notes in C# major (E# and B#) are enharmonically equivalent to some notes in C major (F and C respectively). Furthermore, both C# major (7 sharps) and C flat major (7 flats) can be simplified to key signatures which are enharmonically equivalent that contains fewer accidentals, namely, D flat major and B major, both containing five accidentals respectively.

In summary, the circle of fifths is a central pedagogical resource for music education. It can be extremely useful to understand the tonal distance between different sections of a piece, to figure out the key signature, and even to learn a thing or two about the enharmonic principle. Yet, it is not limited to the instruction of harmony and basic theory, but it can serve as a starting point for deeper and more complex dwellings into the wonderful and mysterious set of properties and characteristics of the tonal system.

If you are looking for an interactive Circle of Fifths, feel free to check out our Piano Companion for iOS, Android, macOS. Additionally, if you want to learn notes, chords, theory then you can check ChordIQ for iOS, Android.

The Chord Progressions of Christmas Music

Posted on November 29, 2019 by songtive

The Chord Progressions of Christmas Music

Chord progressions provide for the basis of every song. First is a look at the chord progressions of the choruses of four popular Christmas songs from different eras. After that, you will find how to replicate the chords of these choruses using the Piano Companion app on your phone, tablet, or computer.

Mariah Carey’s Christmas song “All I Want For Christmas Is You” was first released in 1994 and has turned into a modern-day classic. In fact, there are estimates that the song will hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time in 2019, a full 25 years after the initial release. Written and produced by Carey alongside Walter Afanasieff, the chord progression and chords in the chorus are much more complicated than one may think for an instantly catchy song.

“Jingle Bells” dates back to 1857, when it was performed by James Lord Pierpont and titled “One Horse Open Sleigh”. There is no doubt that this has become a well-known classic, and it has been covered by countless singers ever since it was originally released. Its chorus does not follow a simple sequence with its chord progression and chords; rather, it utilizes multiple of them that combine to make this previously seemingly simple song into a classic.

“Last Christmas” was released by Wham in 1984. It topped the Billboard charts in many countries, mostly throughout Europe, and peaked at #5 on the US Holiday 100. It’s been a mainstay on holiday playlists ever since it was released, with countless covers and reissues. The chorus of “Last Christmas” follows a four-chord progression and utilizes four chords, as noted above. The chord progression is used in many other songs, particularly in the beginning stages of jazz music. With that in mind, it is impressive that Wham pulled this chord progression off as a holiday pop song.

Like “Jingle Bells”, “Frosty The Snowman” is a classic holiday song that seems to have been a mainstay in holiday music for a long time. The song was written in 1950 by Walter “Jack” Rollins and Steve Nelson, the former of which sang (but did not write) “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. “Frosty The Snowman” went as high as #7 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart, a now-defunct chart that preceded its flagship Hot 100. It also went to #4 on the now-defunct Billboard Country Singles chart. Despite being in the simple key of C Major, the chorus has a rather complicated chord progression. While most of the chord progressions are I and IV, and most of the chords are C and F, the sequence of them does not follow prolonged patterns and is occasionally interrupted by other chord progressions and chords.

If you are looking for a way to play these melodies yourself, download Songtive’s Piano Companion app on your phone, tablet, or computer. Upon opening the app, navigate to the Chords Dictionary tab to get a visual glance at how to play each cord. Then, find your way to the Piano tab and you can try it for yourself. The default sound is Grand Piano, and there is a setting to change the sound of something such as a guitar or synth by tapping on the upward arrow in the top right corner. Even better, you can record while you play so that you have a chance to listen back.

If it takes you some time to find the chords in the Chords Dictionary tab, there is no need to worry; once you find the chords, you can add them to your Chords Dictionary to make it quick and convenient to re-find the chords.

The Chord Progressions of Hit Songs in 2019

Posted on October 14, 2019 by songtive

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Chord progressions provide for the basis of every song. First is a look at the chord progressions of the choruses of four of the most popular songs in 2019, according to their chart placements on the Billboard Hot 100. After that, you will find how to replicate the chords of these choruses using the Piano Companion app on your phone, tablet, or computer.

This list would not be complete without Lil Nas X’s debut song Old Town Road, which spent a record-breaking 19 consecutive weeks leading the Hot 100, with a remix with Billy Ray Cyrus impacting radio stations everywhere. Lil Nas X originally went viral with this song on social media before it turned into a mainstream hit. The key of G# Dorian is not one of the most popular ones, nor is the overall chord progression. Despite the massive success of this song, the instrumental melody of the chorus isn’t exactly seen as one that would make for guaranteed success.

Lizzo’s song Truth Hurts has an interesting backstory when it comes to chart success. It’s spent more time at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 than any other song in 2019 except for Old Town Road, despite originally being released on September 2017. Nevertheless, the song became a big hit eventually and musically has a relatively basic chorus. It only has two chords, and the key of C Major is one of the most-used in music. Clearly, it did not take a complex chorus melodically to turn this into something people want to hear.

Shallow is the only ballad on this list, as well as the only one to top the Billboard Hot 100 in 2019 through mid-October. It is also the only song on this list to have more than four chords in its chord progression. With those outliers in mind, it is worth noting that the song is set in the key of G Major, the single most popular key in music. This may allow listeners to hear a very familiar sound, which could explain why it is so radio-friendly. Through radio play well past its initial release, one could argue that it is a modern-day classic.

Perhaps one of the toughest songs to learn how to play on this list is a straight-up pop song. Halsey’s song Without Me spent two non-consecutive weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 and had a lengthy run on many Billboard charts. Its chorus features a four-chord progression, which isn’t unusually long, but the key of D# Minor isn’t particularly common.

Sunflower spent one week at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is the song that interrupted Without Me’s two-week run. Like Without Me, Sunflower’s success was and still is long-lived. While both artists performing the song are best classified as rappers, Sunflower plays more like a basic pop song. It’s in a popular key and has a pretty basic chord progression. The first four chords of the chorus are all D Major, followed by four G Major, followed by four E Minor, and then back to G Major for the final four chords. It is the only song on this list where the chord progression features chords repeating themselves consecutively.

As you may have noticed, none of these five songs share the same chord progressions or keys, making for a diverse group of music. From that, it can be argued that people are willing to listen to many different chord progressions in many different keys, just as long as the music fits with the vocal melody.

If you are looking for a way to play these melodies yourself, download Songtive’s Piano Companion app on your phone, tablet, or computer. Upon opening the app, navigate to the Chords Dictionary tab to get a visual glance at how to play each cord. Then, find your way to the Piano tab and you can try it for yourself. The default sound is Grand Piano, and there is a setting to change the sound of something such as a guitar or synth by tapping on the upward arrow in the top right corner. Even better, you can record while you play so that you have a chance to listen back.

If it takes you some time to find the chords in the Chords Dictionary tab, there is no need to worry; once you find the chords, you can add them to your Chords Dictionary to make it quick and convenient to re-find the chords.