Jazz Theory 13
of the Major scale

  1. Pentatonic / Major scale Relationship
  2. The Circle of Fifths Perspective
  3. Scale-tone Chord Progression
  4. Practical Application
  5. Keyboard chord voicings
  6. Quiz - Quiz Answers
  7. Lesson Material - General files

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JT 13.1 - Pentatonic / Major scale Relationship

We discussed the major pentatonic scale in Lesson 11.

This oldest recorded scale in the history of music was eventually extended by the addition of two new notes, F and B.
This closed the two (3-semitone) gaps in the pentatonic scale, and produced a new 7-note scale. In the process a totally new interval, the semitone was introduced into the ancient Western musical system.

Audio 1

It was Pythagoras (550 BC) who defined these seven notes on his famous monochord for the first time.
But it was not until at least 500 years later that the 7-tone scales became used in Greek music.

This adds substance to the opinion that the first use of the 7-tone scale represented the beginning of a higher level of musical sophistication, in which the semitone was appreciated by the human ear as a musical interval.

During the ancient Greek era each of these seven notes was selected to become the tonic of its own scale, forming seven modes with different tonalities ('flavours'). (More about these in Jazz Theory 14.) From these the major scale eventually became the most prominent tonality in Western music.

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JT 13.2 - The Circle of Fifths Perspective

The five notes of the major pentatonic scale form an uninterrupted chain on the Circle of 5ths (see Lesson 11).
This reflects its strong acoustic basis and accounts for the natural beauty of the scale's tonality.

Audio 2
(Starting on E, going anti-clockwise, alternating up a 4th, then down a 5th.)


Now look what happens when we mark all seven tones of the major scale on the Circle of 5ths.

Audio 3
(Starting on B, going anti-clockwise, alternating down a 5th, then up a 4th.)


The continuous segment of the pentatonic scale is extended at each end with an additional tone.

This means that the acoustic coherence of the pentatonic scale is maintained and extended by the major scale.

This is without a doubt the main reason why this group of tones has played such a successful and dominating role in the development of Western music.

In Classical music terminology the major scale is classified as a diatonic scale.
Diatonic is defined as "a scale with seven different pitches that are adjacent to one another on the Circle of Fifths, thus a scale in which each letter name is only used once".
The Diatonic scales are the major scale (in any key) and the six modes related to it.

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JT 13.3 - Scale-tone Chord Progression

We introduced the scale-tone 7th chords of the major scale in Lesson 12.

All these chords are formed from scale-tones of the major scale only, and therefore form the various musical colours which make up the tonality of the major scale.

Audio 4

Arranging the Scale-tone 7th chords in the order the major scale tones occur on the Circle of 5ths produces :

Audio 5
(Starts on Fmaj7 and follows the arrows to end on Cmaj7, the Tonic chord of the scale.)

This is the scale-tone 7th chord progression of the major scale.

IVmaj7 --> VIIø --> IIIm7 --> VIm7 --> IIm7 --> V7 --> Imaj7

in C : Fmaj7 - Bø - Em7 - Am7 - Dm7 - G7 - Cmaj7

in F : Bbmaj7 - Eø - Am7 - Dm7 - Gm7 - C7 - Fmaj7

It is the most important chord progression in Western music, and many of the harmonies in Western music of the past 300 years (from about J.S.Bach onwards) have been derived from it.

Audio 5

The chord progression can start at any point.
But as the tonic I chord (Cmaj7) is usually the final target, the first logical choice is the IV chord (Fmaj7), then across the Circle to the VII chord (B ø), followed by the other chords along the Circle of 5ths to the final destination : Cmaj7.

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JT 13.4 - Practical Application

There are many ways in which the scale-tone chord progression can be applied in the harmony of songs.

For example :

  1. as a whole, like in Fools Rush In by Rube Bloom & Johnny Mercer (notation) :

    Fmaj7 - Bø - Em7 - Am7 - Dm7 - G7 - Cmaj7 -

    IVmaj7 - VIIø - IIIm7 - VIm7 - IIm7 - V7 - Imaj7 -

  2. as a smaller segment, like in I Got Rhythm (George Gershwin), or Heart and Soul (Hoagy Carmichael) :

    C Am7 - Dm7 G7 - C Am7 - Dm7 G7 -

    I VIm7 - IIm7 V7 - I VIm7 - IIm7 V7 -

  3. as small segments modulating from one scale to the next, like in Satin Doll by Duke Ellington (notation) :

    Dm7 G7 - Dm7 G7 - Em7 A7 - Em7 A7 -

    (in C :) IIm7 V7 - IIm7 V7 - (in D :) IIm7 V7 - IIm7 V7 -

  4. following the progression of the chord roots but changing the chord quality as mini modulations like in the famous Prelude No.1 (Well-tempered Clavier 1) by J.S.Bach :

    C - Dm7 - G7 - C - Am - D7 - G - Cmaj7 - Am7 - D7 - G -

    I -IIm7 - V7 - I - VIm - II7 - V - Imaj7 - VIm7 - II7 - V -

    (each chord in the above progression covers two bars)

  5. an underlying scale-tone chord progression can also be disguised through the use of chord substitutions like in this segment near the end of Autumn Leaves - 1 by Johnny Mercer (notation).

    Em7 Eb7 - Dm7 Db7 - Cmaj7 -

    (Eb7 and Db7 are substitute chords for resp. A7 and G7. See Lesson 19)

There are four more examples in the Quiz Section for you to analyse.

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JT 13.5 - Keyboard Chord voicings

Chord voicings for the keyboard should of course not all be played in root position. The jumps from chord to chord are too awkward.
Listen to it once more.

Audio 5

(Play all chords in the left hand one octave lower than notated in this section.)

For smooth transitions from one chord to the next use the basic voicing rule for chord progressions that follow the Circle of 5ths :

Alternate chord voicings

Here an example which starts with the IV chord (Fmaj7) in root position.

Audio 6

From chord to chord only two fingers shift to new keys (on the keyboard) each time. First the two fingers on the right side of the hand shift, then the two fingers on the left side of the hand move sideways.

You can also reverse the order and start on the 2nd inversion of the IV chord :

Audio 7

Two more sets of voicings can be created this way alternating the 1st and 3rd inversions of the chords (see Quiz).

Scale-tone Chord Progressions 1 and Scale-tone Chord Progressions 2 contain Scale-tone 7th Chord Progressions for all 12 major scales.

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JT 13.6 - Quiz

Write out the scale-tone 7th chord progression for the major scales of G, C and F.
Start each progression with the IV chord.

Place the following chords in their correct scale-tone 7th chord progression order, with the IV chord in front. Add the missing chord :

  1. Am7 - G7 - Fmaj7 - Em7 - Bø - Cmaj7 - ?

  2. Bm7 - D7 - Cmaj7 - Em7 - Gmaj7 - Am7 - ?

  3. Ebmaj7 - Dø - Cm7 - Fm7 - Gm7 - Abmaj7 - ?

  4. Aø - Gm7 - Ebmaj7 - Cm7 - Bbmaj7 - F7 - ?

  5. B7 - G#m7 - Emaj7 - F#m7 - C#m7 - D#ø - ?

  6. Gmaj7 - C#ø - A7 - Em7 - Bm7 - Dmaj7 - ?

Here are the chords for the first 8 bars of
Fly me to the Moon (Bart Howard)
Make an analysis of the chord progression.

Am7 - Dm7 - G7 - Cmaj7 - Fmaj7 - Bø - E7 - Am7

Here are the chords for the first 8 bars of All the Things You Are (Jerome Kern / Oscar Hammerstein)
Make an analysis of the chord progression.

Fm7 - Bbm7 - Eb7 - Abmaj7 - Dbmaj7 - G7 - Cmaj7 - Cmaj7

Here are the chords for bars 9 to 16 of All the Things You Are (Jerome Kern / Oscar Hammerstein)
Make an analysis of the chord progression.

Cm7 - Fm7 - Bb7 - Ebmaj7 - Abmaj7 - D7 - Gmaj7 - Gmaj7

Here are the chords for the first 8 bars of Autumn Leaves - 2 (Johnny Mercer)
Make an analysis of the chord progression.

Am7 - D7 - Gmaj7 - Cmaj7 - F#ø - B7 - Em - Em

Friends Forever is a song composed on the scale-tone chord progression of the C major scale.
1. Describe the format of the song.
2. Are there any modulations to other keys ?
3. What can you observe about the long notes in the song in general ?
4. What can you observe about the long notes in the first 8 bars of the song ?

Write out on manuscript paper or on Chord Inversion Diagrams (same format as for Quiz 12) smooth chord voicings for the scale-tone chord progressions for the major scales of C and G.
Use alternating 1st and 3rd chord inversions, two versions for each progression. Start each progression with the IV chord.

Write out on Scale Letters Diagrams the scale-tone 7th chord progression for the major scale in all 12 keys as shown on this example for the D major scale.


Quiz Answers

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JT 13.7 - Lesson Material

File Name Contents
jt13fac.gif Jazz Theory 13 - Facts sheet




Keyboard Diagrams

Manuscript paper

Scale Letters Diagrams

Chord Inversion Diagrams



Scale-tone 7th Chord Progressions 1 (p.18)

Scale-tone 7th Chord Progressions 2 (p.19)





Friends Forever : C- instr. score

Friends Forever : Bb- instr. score

Friends Forever : Eb- instr. score

Friends Forever : Play-a-long midi file

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© 1998 - 2008 Michael Furstner (Jazclass)