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This is a typical circle of fifths chord progression.

diatonic fifths progression in A minor

My question is how do we choose the chord to be major, minor, or diminished along with the progression:


A -> D -> G -> C -> F -> B -> E -> A?

Why is that:

Am -> Dm -> G -> C -> F -> Bdim -> E -> Am?

What are some golden rules to determine the major, minor, diminished along with the progression?

circle of fifths image

The image is from this video.

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  • Seriously, stop watching theory videos and start playing songs on the piano. If you had played the chords, you would have noticed that they use only the white keys of the piano. Apart from E which has a raised G. Really, just stop watching the theory hoo-ha. Spend a few months playing songs. Feb 14 at 8:28
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica - If wonderich is anything like me, s/he could play songs for years without learning a thing about music theory other than rudiments. I only became conscious of chord progressions back when I started taking Harmony 3 lessons from the Royal Conservatory of Music curriculum (read: Grade 8-9).
    – Dekkadeci
    Feb 14 at 13:44
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica - I notably started developing absolute pitch before being aware of chord progressions. My first multi-instrument arrangement, which I made in Grade 8 once I recognized Middle C and nothing else with my absolute pitch, was done with no knowledge of chord progressions and was threadbare as hell. (It was of "Sing, Sing, Sing".)
    – Dekkadeci
    Feb 14 at 13:47

3 Answers 3

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The reason it's Am Dm G C F Bo E is that they're all diatonic - their notes all belong to the same key - A minor. That way, they all sound like they 'belong' together, which, of course, they will do.

They don't have to be those minors, majors, etc. Am D G C F B E works almost as well. Obviously it's the circle of 4ths, which crops up in plenty of different music - and the ii>V>I that occurs in so many pieces is part of that sequence. The preceding chord is the V (or v) of the next, hence the 'dominant' label.

Choice of chord? Depends on the melody - the notes from that will usually need to blend with those of the accompanying chord, so one will dictate what the other could be.

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  • Thank you! +1. Other than Am D G C F B E, could you give additional examples using the same progression: A -> D -> G -> C -> F -> B -> E -> A, or variation of this (longer or shorter) progression ?
    – wonderich
    Feb 13 at 16:54
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We can tell you which flavour of each chord to use if you want to keep the sequence diatonic to one key. But there's no particular reason to do that!

The strength of the progression lies in the 'cycle of 5ths' bass line. I suggest you maintain the same harmonic density - all triads, all 7th chords etc. - otherwise it can sound a bit disjointed. Apart from that, there are no wrong answers. Musical composition involves choice, otherwise from any given starting chord there'd only be one 'correct' path. So choose!

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You can choose the chord types Am -> Dm -> G -> C -> F -> Bdim -> E -> Am for A -> D -> G -> C -> F -> B -> E -> A because all of those chords fit in A minor (with no tonicizations and no modulations). In A minor, you can interpret those chords as i -> iv -> VII -> III -> VI -> ii° -> V -> I.

You get more flexibility by allowing tonicizations and modulations (especially since circle of fifths progressions often involve both of those). For example, you can use B instead of Bdim in the above chord progression so you use V of -> V -> i instead of ii° -> V -> i.

Put accidentals on some of those chord labels in the skeleton and you can come up with some spicier chord progressions while still using exclusively common practice period harmony. For example, you can use A -> D -> G -> C -> F -> B♭ -> E -> A for I -> IV -> V of -> V of -> V of -> ♭II -> V -> I. There's also the similar Am -> D -> G -> C -> F -> B♭ -> E -> Am for i -> IV -> V of -> V of -> V of -> ♭II -> V -> i. For a different sound, there's also A -> D -> G♯ -> C♯ -> F♯ -> B -> E -> A for I -> IV -> V of -> V of -> V of -> V of -> V -> I.

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  • Thank you! +1. Could you give additional examples using the same progression: A -> D -> G -> C -> F -> B -> E -> A, or variation of this progression?
    – wonderich
    Feb 13 at 16:54
  • @wonderich - I added 2 more examples to my answer just now. Note that they involve secondary dominant chains.
    – Dekkadeci
    Feb 13 at 20:50

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