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Mandolin and Tenor Banjo Chord Progressions

Guitar Chord Progressions

Ukulele Chord Progressions

R

L

Intervals -- number names explained

Scales: Major and 3 minor

Inversion of Intervals

Letter spellings and spelling system

Chord construction

Chord Progressions

The four Triads

Minor scale chord progressions

Chord Progressions for Mandolin and Tenor Banjo

 

 

 

 

This is the conclusion of our ”Once around the track with Cipher System” which began at the Music Theory Elements page. This section was meant to demonstrate that The Cipher System is indeed capable of transmitting (quickly and painlessly) both the fundamentals of music theory and it’s application to all common fretboard string instruments — and without having to learn to read staff notation first, nor have to study the piano keyboard first. Furthermore, we only have to give minimal attention to letter spellings, focusing instead on numbers only and good numbers in particular. What’s most important is to understand the terminology (interval number-names specifically) and to understand what’s going on in any one scale or key or chord. You only have to know and understand one instance of a given pattern of music to know all incarnations (all keys or spellings) of that pattern. And you most certainly needn’t to be forced to learn to read music before being “permitted” to learn such things.


Triads of Major and some basic progressions

Here we’ll explore some elementary chord progressions. We’ll begin at the beginning with some basic terminology first, and then some root position triads in progression.

We’ll combine everything we’ve learned so far: everything about the Cipher formula and the Cipher System’s fretboard components, and everything about intervals, scales and root-position triads. With our knowledge of those elements we’ll be able to identify the greater pallet of triads that occur naturally on the scale degrees of the Major scale.

Finally, from that greater pallet of natural triads of Major, we’ll isolate some simple chord progressions and play them on the mandolin.


Triads and seventh chords that occur naturally (i.e. in thirds) above the degrees of the Major and minor scales are the primary building blocks of composition. They’re the stock formula, the raw material, the pallets, and the jumping off point for artistic modification. Chord progressions are short strings of these naturally occurring chords.  Common chord progressions, then, are the next larger building blocks of composition. So this is where we really begin to see what Western music theory and composition is all about.

Scale degree names and Roman numeral designates

Formal scale degree names

The seven tones or degrees of the Western scale are often referred to by their technical or formal names, e.g. Tonic and Supertonic for the first and second degrees of the scale. Figure 1 and Figure 2 list those formal scale degree names. [Note, these are the names of the Major scale’s degrees specifically. When you get to minor scales there will be a couple of name changes to account for the b6 and b7 degrees of minor.]

Memory aids

The following memory aids will help you remember the names of the scale degrees. See the patterns and relationships highlighted in Figure 1 and read the following.

  • First, the prefixes super (meaning above) and sub (meaning below) are easy clues. The Supertonic lies just above the Tonic and the Subdominant is just below the Dominant.
  • Mediant means middle. The Mediant is midway between the Tonic and  Dominant (moving from Tonic up a P-5th). Similarly the Sub-Medient is midway between the Tonic and Sub-Dominant (but moving from the Tonic down a P-5th.) So Sub-Medient means middle-below.
  • The Dominant (the fifth or V) is the perfect-fifth interval of the scale. The fifth, in relation to the Tonic of the scale, is literally considered to be a dominant force in Western music. So the scale degree’s name has definite meaning. You’ll hear much about the Dominant degree, and the importance of the perfect-fifth interval generally, as you go.
  • The Leading tone of Major, a Major-seventh interval [or 11°] above the tonic, can also be seen as residing one half-step or semitone below the tonic. Because it’s so close to the tonic it has a definite pull. It wants to resolve, move, or lead directly to the tonic, thereby relieving melodic tension. So the Leading tone leads to the tone(ic).

 

 

Figure 1

 

 

 

 

 

Roman numeral scale degree names

Roman numerals are often used to refer to the seven scale degrees or/and their naturally occurring chords. You’ll find Roman numerals used in at least two different conventional (standard and acceptable) ways:

First, as in the top op Figure 2, uniform upper case Roman numerals are used to name the scale degrees or/and the roots of chords — regardless of the particular chord, size or type, to be played.

A second more descriptive method of using Roman numerals indicates exactly what chord to play on the given scale degree by using a combination of upper and lower case Roman numerals plus two extra symbols to indicate diminished and Augmented (° and + respectively). This method, see bottom of Figure 2, is commonly used to symbolize triads and seventh-chords in particular.

 Figure 2 (bottom) shows the method used to indicate triads only. When we get to seventh chords (in the book) we’ll cover their Roman numeral symbology as well — hint, just add an Arabic numeral seven, qualified as needed, to indicate the particular type of seventh interval above the triad; Major, minor or diminished, i.e. 7, b7, or °7 respectively.

 

 

Figure 2

 

 

 

 

 

Triad progression materials;
The greater pallet of triads for the Major scale (on Mandolin

Here we can finally put everything together. In the next chart the triads of the Major scale degrees, being the triad progression materials of the Major scale, are illustrated on the mandolin fretboard.

There are two versions of this chart: a small view encompassing the entire sequence, and a two page large view dividing the sequence into two halves (slightly larger than half) ”I through V” and “ IV through I”.

Again, these are the triads that occur naturally in thirds above the respective scale degrees. This sequence of chords constitutes the greater pallet of triads of Major. This scale/triad pallet then is considered to be the most important stock formula and raw material of Western music composition. Of course, eventually you will enlarge the Major pallet to include the larger natural chord constructions of Major, the seventh chords in particular and the Dominant seventh chord (on the Fifth degree of Major) most important of all. The triads of Major are nevertheless where you begin.

Note, when you add the minor scales and their natural triads you essentially complete the picture (the pallets and flavors) and have available the resources of what is called the Major/minor system, or the grand pallet.
Also note, the natural minor scale can be shown to be contained within the Major scale itself — starting from the sixth degree of Major and moving up through seven tones of otherwise Major scale degrees. [We saw this earlier when we reviewed relative Major and Minor scales and spellings.] Among other things this is often seen as being proof, support, or validation of the existence or the Major/minor system. It also means that if you learn the Major scale’s materials, inside and out, you’ll almost automatically know the minor scale materials as well.

Play those triads

Three things before you play the triads

Before you attempt to play this entire sequence of triads of C Major, first make yourself very familiar with the C Major scale mandolin fingering we saw earlier. I mean pick up your mandolin and play it slowly a bunch of times really paying attention to the locations of every note. Play it ascending and descending. I’ve isolated, enlarged, and reproduced it here so you can focus on it now in preparation for playing the C Major triads (built on each tone of this Major scale).

 

 

C L I C K   TO   E N L A R G E

 

 

One last thing before you play all the C Major triads. Get yourself a piece of masking tape or some kind of removable paper label sticker and mark the bass side of your mandolin’s neck with it between the 4th and 5th frets for the 5th fret C note on your low G string. This is to help you keep track of where the tonic of the C Major scale is while your hand is moving all around the local area grabbing the triads. Also make note of the location of the higher octave note C, the last note of the C Major scale.

 

 

C L I C K   TO   E N L A R G E

 

 

Make sure to muffle (or do not sound) any strings but those three in use for each triad. Strings not to be played are marked with X’s at the nut.

Now play the triads in this chart scales-wise, exactly as they’re shown (left to right), tonic triad through tonic triad. Once you get comfortable with playing it in the ascending direction, play the whole sequence in the descending direction, that is, from the last triad to the first (the higher pitched C Major triad to the lower pitched C Major triad.)

These triads are constructed or rooted on the degrees of the C Major scale. Meaning, if you play just the root tones (the first or lowest tones) of the triads shown for C Major you’ll be playing an C Major scale.

The triad fingerings (shapes or voicings) used here are the simplest and most basic forms that occur naturally on the mandolin fretboard (and practical to finger). They are all in root-position with no doubled tones or inversions. They are however a little out of ideal arrangement. That is, the ideal stock order of root-position triad tones would be low to high, R, 3rd, 5th. All of these triads however are ordered R, 5th, 3rd. This is due to the mandolins tuning (or any fifths tuned instrument). To build a proper root position triad (R, 3, 5 order) on three adjacent strings on the mandolin or tenor banjo requires an eight fret span and stretch. So creating chord voicings on 5ths tuned four-string instruments is a challenge (even more so than guitar). At any rate, in all of these triad voicings, the the 3rd is dropped from it’s normal position and moved one octave higher (a Major 3rd interval in the second octave is 16°, minor 3rd is 15°). This gives you R, 5th, 3rd tone order. Such triads are still classified as Root position triads however, because their Roots are still lowest. When studying four-part harmony, triads are often played using inverted voicings (where the third or fifth of the chord is lowest or in the bass, rather than the root) and with one of their tones doubled, e.g. an additional (or doubled) root will be played an octave higher than the original root, giving you a total of four tones (facilitating four-part vocal harmony). I’ve included a few inverted triad voicings in the upcoming set of triad progression materials illustrations. The fretboard scale-fingering patterns and triad fingerings used here are the same used in the preceding pages under Scales and Triads. We’re just putting everything together here.

It’s really quite amazing to hear how beautiful this chord sequence sounds simply when played scale-wise. As discussed briefly on a previous page titled chord construction fundamentals, this sequence of chords (indeed all stock harmonies including those of the minor scales as well) is obtained in a very mechanical almost random way — by methodically stacking naturally occurring successive third intervals of a given scale, in turn, upon each degree of the scale. For reference, see the Data page for C Major natural triads.

 

 

C L I C K   TO   E N L A R G E

 

 

Simple chord progressions

From the greater pallets of triads (that are natural to the Major or minor scales) smaller chord progression sequences are isolated, e.g. the ubiquitous I-VI-V, and ii-V-I, progressions. Also see the mandolin root movement patterns for these two progressions. Note the optional grayed tones in each triad voicing shown. Some of the resulting chords will be inverted voicings — either the 3rd or the 5th of the chords will be lowest in pitch rather than the root (R).

 

 

C L I C K   TO   E N L A R G E

 

 

From here we could go on in many different directions (not that we’ve exhausted the Major scale triads and they’re progressions by any means). The next logical things to explore are the minor scale triad pallets, inverted triad voicings, (and on guitar: larger 4, 5, and 6 string voicings and triad barre-chords), seventh chords, seventh chords in progression, inverted seventh chords and beyond. And that’s indeed what I’ve done in the (upcoming) book Blumberg’s Music Theory Cipher (800 pages and counting).

The point is, it doesn’t get any harder than this. We’ll just take it methodically step by step, and without any frustration or intimidation. There needn’t be any loathing or pain associated with learning about music. It’s all fundamentally simple stuff — if you can remove it from staff notation and music reading generally, use numbers that communicate well, and include lots of illustrations (picture drawings). And there’s really no skimping here either. You’ll gain a thorough and solid foundation but in an easy to comprehend fashion. You’ll be familiarized with all of the vocabulary and common formula of Western music theory. And, not least of all, you’ll also be accumulating a thorough working knowledge of the fretboard. You’ll know precisely how your fretboard  works (in and of itself), and you’ll also know how to apply your knowledge of music theory’s elements and fundamentals to it. For people who can’t read music, it really doesn’t get any better than The Cipher.


 

 


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© Copyright 2002   Roger Edward Blumberg

 


All  text, images, system components, devices, key terminology* and logos, on this web site are copyrighted [physically at the U.S. Library of Congress]. Reproduction in any form without written permission from the author and creator is prohibited.

[*including but not limited to: The Cipher System, The Cipher, Music Theory Cipher, The Guitarist’s Music Theory Cipher, Blumberg’s Music Theory Cipher for Guitar, Cipher Formula, The Five Degree Calculation Line, Perfect-fourth Calculation Line, The Seven Degree Calculation Line, Perfect-fifth Calculation Line, Fretboard Navigator, Counting Grids, The Pattern of Unisons and Octaves, Rooting-Center, The Fifth String Pattern Shift, The Third String Pattern Shift, Commonsense String Numbering Order.]

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© Copyright 2002   Roger E. Blumberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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