8

A very common chord progression in jazz is one where the next root note is at an interval of 4th (perfect or diminished, as the scale suggests) relatively to current root note:

Am7 Dm7 G7 CΔ FΔ Bø Em7 Am7 ... (continue as much as desired)

Does it have a name?

  • Now that I know the answer, I found this related question – anatolyg Mar 26 '18 at 14:37
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    BTW, because of the stupid fact that interval terminology fails to use the correct way of numbering things, jumping by fourths actually means it always jumps 3 scale degrees, not 4. – leftaroundabout Mar 26 '18 at 16:01
  • @leftaroundabout - unlike a stopwatch or a ruler, which start from zero, we have to call the first note note one, but, point taken. Bit late to change now... – Tim Mar 26 '18 at 16:20
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    @Tim the terminology is mathematically acceptable (though still silly) for scale degrees, but it's objectively wrong for intervals. 4+5=8, WTH? – leftaroundabout Mar 26 '18 at 16:26
  • @Tim It's the distinction between inclusive and exclusive counting. – Richard Mar 26 '18 at 17:59
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This is called a circle progression, named for the circle of fifths (or fourths, if you like). The circle progression in C Major uses the chords diatonic to C Major, so the roots don't match exactly with the circle of fifths.

The example in the question is a circle progression in A Minor, but in jazz it would be much more common to use an E7 instead of an E-7 as the penultimate chord, since this provides a stronger push to the tonic. The circle progression would in that case no longer be diatonic, though. This circle progression might make more sense as:

I IV vii° iii vi ii V I

or, in C Major:

CΔ FΔ B E-7 A-7 D-7 G7 CΔ

since this progression contains a ii - V leading back to the I at the end. It is worth pointing out that the last 5 chords in this sequence are a version of the infamous Rhythm changes played so frequently in jazz: iii7 - vi7 - ii7 - V7 - I7.

  • A much simpler, but not diatonic, thus not within a proper answer, would be 'Sweet Georgia Brown'. – Tim Mar 26 '18 at 16:24
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It's called a cycle of fourths (or fifths) depending on direction.

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    Exactly right. Especially important is that this progression mimics the dominant--tonic progression of a descending fifth. – Richard Mar 26 '18 at 13:22
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    careful there, there is an augmented 4th in there F Maj 7 -> Bm7b5 -> this is not the circle of fourth / fifth. – gurney alex Mar 26 '18 at 13:33
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    It seems that the "cycle of fourths" (progression) is mostly the same but not identical to the "circle of fourths" (the thing with the 12 notes) - they overlap for 6 notes/chords, but then part ways. Slightly confusing. – anatolyg Mar 26 '18 at 14:41
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    The diminished fifth (or augmented fourth) in the progression distinguishes tonality (in the broad sense) from atonality. Having a single diminished fifth (or augmented fourth) causes each note to have a unique environment (neighbors and skips away.) – ttw Mar 26 '18 at 22:07
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The jazzers call it "back-cycling", because you are going around the circle of fifths ... in reverse. See, for example: http://www.jazzguitar.be/blog/practicing-back-cycling/

The ii - V - I progression is one of the cornerstones of jazz harmony as well.

1

The series of chords you posted...

Am7 Dm7 G7 CΔ FΔ Bø Em7 Am7

is a type of sequence known as "descending fifths." This particular sequence is tonal because it honors the diatonic scale. The opposite would be real, which can leave the scale:

Am7 Dm7 Gm7 Cm7 Fm7 Bbm7

For an example of a real descending fifths sequence, try listening to Barber's Adagio for Strings, which runs around the circle of fifths using major 7 chords (with tritone suspensions).

There is also "ascending fifths" which is the opposite, and has a very different effect. An example of this can be found in Mozart's string quarter in G major K. 387, first movement.

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