Skip to main content
Library homepage
 
Humanities LibreTexts

2.10: Circular and Linear Progressions

  • Page ID
    56147
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    circular progression cycles the same harmonic pattern over and over again: The harmonies revolve like a spinning merry-go-round.

    Circular progressions are common in commercial music. The theme song from the television series “The Office” is based on one.

    Circular progressions are also ubiquitous in improvisatory and participatory music: They allow for independence and spontaneity within a shared, reliable framework. Jazz’s “12-bar blues” and “Boogie-Woogie” bass-line are iconic examples.

    In classical music, chaconnes, passacaglias and theme and variations incorporate circular progressions. Each time the progression is played, it is expressed in a new way. This excerpt from Georg Friedrick Handel’s Passacaglia in g-minor cycles the harmonic progression four times.

    In this excerpt from Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2, the solo violin traces its languorously evolving melody over a circular progression, which cycles eight times. Only in the last cycle is there is a small change in the harmonic progression.

    On the other hand, a linear progression keeps changing, incorporating new chords and patterns. This excerpt from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in c-minor is a linear progression.

    Circular progressions are frequently used for sustaining a mood or elaborating on a state of mind. Linear progressions serve a stronger narrative purpose: They allow the music to progress to new destinations and incorporate greater contrast. Most commercial songs consist of circular progressions: The words may tell a story but the harmony generally revolves in a circle. In contrast, classical music generally incorporates both types: As a result, the music itself can tell an expansive, evolving tale.


    This page titled 2.10: Circular and Linear Progressions is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anthony Brandt & Robert McClure (OpenStax CNX) .

    • Was this article helpful?