Cycling through Major 7ths

practice exercise
circle of fifths
Notes on a piano exercise.

Matt Crump


December 23, 2023

The basic task is to play Major 7th chords through the circle of fifths.

Circle of fifths

Going clockwise the next note is a perfect fifth from the previous note.

Major 7th chords have a I-III-V-maj7 structure. These are the first, third, fifth, and major 7th notes in the major scale of the root key. For example, the key of C has 7 notes in the major scale: C D E F G A B

The chord C Maj7 (also notated as C∆7) is C-E-G-B.

Where C is the root or first note, E is the III, G is the V, and B is the major VII. The same pattern is applied to make Maj7 chords in all other keys.

At the beginning of this practice track I play chords going anti-clockwise through the circle of fifths:

C∆7 - F∆7 - Bb∆7 - Eb∆7 - Ab∆7 - Db∆7 - Gb∆7 - B∆7 - E∆7 - A∆7 - D∆7 - G∆7 - C∆7

I can probably play through this a bit faster, but not without making mistakes. One goal is to get the speed up both in both directions (anti-clockwise and clockwise).

Next, there is a short riff that I got from Nahre Sol’s youtube channel, who has some other great recommendations for playing through maj7th chords.

Then, I end with playing ∆7th chords in my left hand and messing around with playing through major scales in the right hand. For example, if I’m playing a C∆7th, then I’m playing through the C major scale and so on. I thought I would have a better grasp on all of the major scales, but some of them are way out of practice. Yeesh. Baby steps.

A random observation about musical relationships that this exercise drew out. When playing anti-clockwise, the next chord remains ambiguous with respect to the tonal center: it could indicate a switch of the root, but maybe not. There isn’t enough evidence to go on based on the notes in the major 7th chords.

For example, going from C∆7 to F∆7 involves CEGB and FACE, all of these notes are in the C Major scale. So, the F∆7 chord doesn’t add any new notes, which in my mind allows some ambiguity about whether we are in C major still or have switched to F major. The F major scale has a Bb, which is the one note that makes F major different from C major, but this note is not voiced in the F∆7 chord. However, this “new note”, which would provide evidence that the root had switched from C to F is voiced by the next chord in the circle of fifths, Bb. So, in some sense moving anti-clockwise by one chord sets up a question—has the root changed?—and moving one more chord answers the question—yes—, but also asks the same question again, in a circle of fifths.