Major Scale Mojo And Step Progressions

Step Progressions

This course has no reached past its halfway point so a review of some meaningful concepts would be in order.

All songs in every style are based on pleasing combinations of chords and the resolutions they produce.
The strongest type of root motion, or bass motion, is movement by four or five degrees of the scale. The root movement are bass movement of chord progressions is what makes them stick together and sound good smooth, and musical.
The first new concept in this lesson is that chords also frequently move by half step and whole step. In fact, the second strongest type of root movement is movement by half step and whole step. Sometimes the scale itself becomes the bass line, this type of chord progression is called a step progression and is one of the professional songwriters and arrangers favorite tricks. There is a very famous song called Lean On Me, which is the perfect example of a step progression. The example below is written in the same style of that well known tune.

A step progression is truly an amazing and wonderful thing, more than once it has gotten someone out of an artistic dilemma in a compositional are ranging sense. Personally, I love using step progressions and many of my favorite songs were written using this simple harmonic device. Learn it, know it and use it – and you will be glad you did!

To continue our studies of the step progression we will of course use short musical examples. In order to gain technical expertise and a higher level of musicianship you must work in as many of the 12 keys as possible, hopefully all of them on a regular basis but certainly most of them on a daily basis. Use the table below to compare the three keys we have been working in thus far: C major, F major and G major.


Chord Quality:

I Maj 7
II min 7
III min 7
IV Maj 7
V 7
VI min 7
VII min 7 b5
I Maj 7
Key Of C:
C Ma 7
D mi 7
E mi 7
F Ma 7
G 7
A m 7
B min 7 b5
C Ma 7
Key Of G:
G Ma 7
A mi 7
B mi 7
C Ma 7
D 7
E mi 7
F# min 7 b5
G Ma 7
Key Of F:
F Ma 7
G mi 7
A mi 7
Bb Ma 7
C 7
D mi 7
E min 7 b5
F Ma 7


The composition below is written in a Latin jazz style, to reinforce the point that cadences do not belong to any style. Note how the III chord fulfills its job as the tonic substitute quite nicely by providing a sense of calm and rest at the beginning of the piece. As it alternates with the II chord a nice vamp with a subtle yet beautiful harmonic movement is established with the II chord providing just nough tension, drawing your here away from the tonic. The final arrival at G, the key we are in, is strong, stable and restful. These cadences are compositional tools and studies, keep them in your bag of tricks for future use.

Below is a beautiful progression written in the key of F. Again your new tool, or new rule is that the scale itself becomes the bass line. As is common harmonic practice, a brief II – V cadence is added to the end for a complete and thorough resolution. This song also uses the VII minor 7 flat 5 chord, a step progression is one of the few instances that this chord will be appropriate in rock and pop music.

theory68Major Scale Bass Lines

The major scale can also serve as a bass line that may or may not perfectly match the chords, meaning that a C major chord may have another base note other than C. These types of chords, ones where the root note of the chord is not the base note of the chord are called slash chords.

This technique of writing is called a scale wise bass line and with the use of slash chords some very rich and beautiful harmonies can be created.

One such song, Like A Rollin Stone by Bob Dylan, the same song that has been called the greatest rock song ever written. In this course, Like A Rollin Stone is one of the songs I will analyze and periodically refer to. The recorded examples below examine sections of the song which use the scale wise bass line. As you play your way through the example have the three primary chords have been woven into a fantastic composition, one heralded as the greatest rock song ever. This is not only a testament to Bob Dylan but also to the power found in simple artistic ideas, and the end result when placed in the hands of a master. As I’ve said before you will constantly be amazed at the power inherent in a basic I – IV – V progression.


Letter A and the introduction reveal the overall musical effect of a simple I – IV cadence, which is serving to set up the key quite nicely. The G chord, the all-powerful V, comes at the end of the line to create tension and lead our ear to the tonic chord to begin the A section anew. also, the C major scale is being played in the base to complement this basic maintenance. The entire band is forming the slash chord because the bass player is playing something other than the root note.

The pre-chorus, or what used to be called the bridge connecting the verse and chorus, begins with F the IV chord and features the second employment of the major scale as the bass line compositional technique. In this example however the guitar player is actually playing the slash chords along with the bass player who is doubling the bottom note of the chord progression.

Finally letter B or the chorus is the payoff of the entire composition. The strongest section of the song, the most memorable should be the chorus are what musicians call letter B. In this case the strongest possible progression in rock music, I – IV – V of course, is married to the strongest section of the song. I call this a great example of the craft of songwriting.


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