I'm an intermediate guitar player and I'm trying to improve my music theory. When I'm sweep picking I play a pattern because it sounds right to me. Now that I'm learning how music theory works, I'm interested in finding out why that pattern sounds right. Here is an example;

Dm - F - Gm - B♭ - Cm - E♭ - Fm - A♭

I think it works for all notes as long as the pattern is the same which is;

Minor - 3 half steps higher Major - 2 half steps higher Minor

The starting point does not matter either. Could start from major etc

I'm sure this is a novice question and I'm missing technical terms but I'm trying to learn by myself.


2 Answers 2


The chords you're playing are the paired triads of what are called relative keys, which are keys that have the same key signature.

D minor, for instance, has one flat in the key signature, which is the same as F major. Thus Dm and F are the tonic triads for these two relative keys. The same relationship holds true for Gm and B♭, Cm and E♭, and Fm and A♭.

Simultaneously, you're moving around the circle of fifths: Dm goes down a fifth to Gm, which goes down a fifth to Cm, which goes down a fifth to Fm. Similarly, F goes down a fifth to B♭, B♭ down a fifth to E♭, and E♭ down a fifth to A♭.

In short, you're exploiting two of the most famous facets of tonality: root motion by descending perfect fifth and relative keys. No wonder it sounds so good!

  • 1
    I would also mention that each set of four chords can all be derived from the same key, so compared to some other circle of 5ths progressions, this progression should feel smoother. For example, Dm, F, Gm and Bb can all be derived from the Dm scale, or F, Gm, Bb, Cm can all be derived from the Gm scale. So not only are the different keys closely related but the chords used from each key are included in the surrounding keys. Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 21:09
  • In fact, I even have a book of cello exercises that has you learn the scales in the above order! Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 4:43

The minor to major is relative - Dm has a relative major of F. The major to minor is a I>ii relation - if F is I, then the ii is Gm. This works for the whole pattern and could scroll through all 12, till it gets back to the beginning. The last couple will be Am then C. It's a sort of subtle modulation, but at some point you'll have to move down the neck, possibly a couple of times, depending how well you know the different chord shapes, and their geography. Sounds like fun.

  • I am fairly certain that your analysis fully coincides with the application of Heptachord Shift, which only recently came to my knowledge, which suggests continuous modulation (major heptachord -> melodic minor heptachord on the 2nd note of the previous heptachord -> harmonic minor heptachord on the 1st note of the previous heptachord -> major heptachord on the 3rd note of the previous heptachord, etc.). Although the modulation seems "silent" at all shifts, because the changing note, when a heptachord shifts, is always missing from successive chords.
    – xnakos
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 21:53

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