TonalityGUIDE - basic tonal music theory and analysis for undergraduates
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introduction diatonic chromatic

introduction | fifths | seconds | thirds

introduction | chains of 5ths | modulation by 5th

in theory | examples

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The chains of fifths is a very common device in tonal music for creating a sense of movement without actually going anywhere in terms of modulation. Such chains are always by the 'easier' and tension decreasing descending fifth, progressing like series of perfect cadences but with a mixture of major, minor and diminished triads.

In order to avoid moving out of the diatonic scale, chains of descending fifths have to include a dimininished fifth between IV and vii. In the example below this comes between the second and third chords - one of the few contexts in which vii resolves by fifth to iii, rather than acting as a substitute dominant and resolving on I.


It is very common for such chains of fifth in both major and minor to be written as a series of non-dominant sevenths. The example below shows how the third chord, like all the others except for the first and last, is simultaneously a preparation, suspension and resolution.


The same sequence of non-dominant sevenths works equally well in the minor.



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