The Circle of Fifths with Jordan Rudess | Video Tutorial

At the age of nine, Jordan Rudess entered the prestigious Juilliard School of Music for classical piano training. By nineteen, he began to include the rapidly developing world of synthesizers in his recordings and performances. Today, Jordan is a recording artist, composer, producer and performer.

Part One, Two, Three & Four:

  • Part One: Basic triadic concepts, major and minor chord structures, root/inversions.

  • Part Two: Continued diatonic chordal movement, voice leading, descending progressions

  • Part Three: Counter-clockwise harmonic motion, proper voice leading, completing the circle of fifths.

  • Part Four: Adding 7ths to a basic harmonic structure, four note voice leading.

Part Five, Six & Seven:

  • Part Five: Upper structure harmony, adding the 9th to 7th chords, advance voiceleading

  • Part Six: Improvisation tips, and a new piece demonstrating all of the concepts tied together.

  • Part Seven: An insight into the signature sounds of Genesis, Rundgren, and Emerson.

Video Transcript

One of the really important things to learn is how to deal with basic major and minor chords. What you saw in my musical example was improvisations based on a very important concept, which is the circle of 5ths. For me to show you the way I think about moving from chord to chord, I have a really vital exercise that focuses on learning all the different inversions that are possible. In this case, I have major and minor chords. I’d like to start off with looking at a basic chord. C major, it’s a triad, and the notes of the C major chord are C, E, and G, and we’ll play them here. It’s really important to understand all the root positions of all of the major and minor chords, but also to know about the inversions.

Here we are at root position. If we take the bottom note, and we put the bottom note C, which is the root on top of the chord, then we have what’s called the 1st inversion. If we take the next position up, which is the 2nd inversion, we’re basically taking the E and putting it at the top. Those are the only possible inversions of C major. Either way, it’s pretty easy, but of course, on a full-size keyboard, you can play C major down here, you can play it up here, inversions anywhere. The first thing I’d like to recommend to all of you out there is at your keyboard, find all the root positions of C. Play it here, play it really high up, and look at it. Let it seep into your brain.

Then get to the 1st inversion. Remember, put C at the top of the chord so E would be your base note. Then find that in the different positions. Then the same with the 2nd inversion where G is the bottom note, and then find that all over the keyboard. If you’re a little bit more advanced, you might want to try running the inversions. As a pianist and someone who loves the art of improvisation, I’m always trying to keep things interesting by being musical with things even if I’m practicing a chord. I’ll play C major in root position and maybe I’ll think of a little pattern to play. Part of it’s just not being bored, but the other part is just always being musical. Try that, as well, at home.

The other thing we want to do is we want to start looking at this pattern that I played. That’s really the circle of 5ths in a counterclockwise motion. We’re going to start out with the first two chords of it. What we do is when I do this harmonic exercise, I’m doing the circle of 5ths, but I’m making a little stop along the way. I’m stopping at the relative minor of the major chord. We’re going from C. Counterclockwise, we would go from C to F, but if we’re stopping along the way to pick up the relative minor, then we stop at A minor. A minor is the key that basically shares the same key signature as C major. There’s no sharps or flats.

The cool thing is that if you play a C major chord, to get to A minor, you really don’t have to move anything but one note because an A minor chord is A, C, and E. Of course, for C major, you have the C and E and the only difference was there’s a G in C major. Really, if you’re on a C major chord, you just have to move the G to an A. That’s the beginning of this exercise. If you start in 1st inversion of C, E, G, and C, the only thing you have to move is the G to an A, so you’re always moving the finger that’s closest to that A. To start the 2nd inversion, you move the G to an A so it makes a really nice smooth connection, which is the basis of so much cool music.

There’s a lot of bands out there that when they write songs, it’s all about, “Let’s make this really, really smooth. Let’s find a connection that just feels right.” This is almost imperative that all of us learn this. Let me just play for a second, and I’ll smoothly comp. You can get the feel. Just going back and forth between C and A minor. I’ll start here in the 2nd inversion. Check it out. I’ll do four beats for each chord. I’m just going to go back and forth. I’ll go to a different inversion now because totally, music is wide open. Concept is I’ve got these notes in C major, then I’ve got these notes in A minor, and I can really do whatever I want with them. I’ll stretch it out just so you know a little bit more and use multiple inversions, and this is the advantage of knowing the different chords and different inversions.

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