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The Circle #17:
The Hidden 5th

Posted on: December 11th, 2011 by dville
The-Circle WebMany years before I started learning to play a musical instrument, I was a disc jockey on the radio (this was when we still played vinyl records).  I remember sitting in the announcer’s chair during the overnight shifts listening to the music and thinking “How do musicians know how to make a song sound the way they want it to?”  It was a perplexing question to an absolute musical neophyte like myself.
When I started learning the banjo at age 34, I knew what a long road lay ahead of me, so I wanted to take every shortcut I could to becoming a musician.  Well, as anyone who has ever travelled knows, you can find shortcuts to your destination much quicker if you have a map.  The Circle of 5ths became my musical road map.
Using the circle, you can find your way around the well-worn and logical patterns that comprise the chord progressions to our favorite songs, and develop a deeper understanding as to why a song evokes a certain emotional response from the listener.  This brings me to the The Rolling Stones song No Expectations.  I’ve always loved the plaintive nature of this song and still have vivid memories of playing it on the radio.  But it wasn’t until featuring the song on my blog that I’d taken the time to examine the song’s structure.  That’s when I discovered the reasons I loved the song so much.
First off, the song resonates with me because I love the sound of the IV Chord.  In my workshops I call it the Sunshine Chord, because when it comes around in a tune (like when going to a bridge), the song will oftentimes take on a softer, more plaintive feel.  That happens in spades in No Expectations.  The first part of the song is I-IV-I-IV-I-IV-I.  You gotta love a song that bounces between the I and IV chords three times in a row.  Another song that goes to the IV three times in a row is the also very plaintive John Denver’s Leaving On A Jet Plane.  The emotional knock-out punch of No Expectations occurs when it unexpectedly drops one whole tone down from the home chord (I) to the bVII then back to the IV and the I.  Oh, my goodness what a haunting change!
I call this movement from the bVII to the IV the Hidden 5th.  If the song moved to the Dominant V or Dominant V7 chord it would have taken the mood of the tune out of the plaintive sound scape set up by the I-IV-I beginning.  So instead it moves to the bVII then to the IV (a 5th interval chord change) which provides a Dominant feeling to the chord progression without ever going to the actual V chord.  Here is the progression in the original Key of E.  Play along with with beautiful chord progression and enjoy.
Take me to the E station
And A put me on a E train
I’ve A got no expec E tations
To D pass through here E again.

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