When you’re listening to a song, whether you notice it or not, your brain recognizes a sense of “home” when the right cadence is played. This feeling of “home” comes from, what we commonly refer to as the “tonal center” of the progression. Learning how to use tonal centers creatively, and to our advantage, opens the doors to us comprehending non-diatonicism, Blues, and modality in general.

In his course, Tonal Freedom: Rhythm, Robbie Calvo becomes your guide into the world of unlocking your tonal potential.

Here are 5 free Robbie Calvo guitar lessons from the course. For the full course, check out Tonal Freedom: Rhythm on TrueFire!

Guitar Lesson – What Are Tonal Centers?

Typically, the tonal center will be the first chord of the harmonic progression. If your progression starts at that point, cycles through a series of chords, and comes back to the first chord to repeat the same cycle, your ear will hear that chord as the resolution point. This gives the feeling of a start and an end. There are exceptions, however, that we’ll discuss throughout the course. Understanding of tonal centers in any given chord progression will help you understand how to improvise over that progression.

Guitar Lesson – The 3 Types of Tonal Centers

There are 3 main types of tonal centers:

Diatonic – the chords in a Diatonic chord progression are derived from one key and can be major, minor or dominant.
Chromatic – progressions derived from a series of different keys: blues, R&B, etc.
Temporary – In the case of jazz progressions which typically descend through a series of Tonal Centers. I call these temporary tonal centers because they will move through a series of tonal centers within one progression or movement before returning to the “master” tonal center of the musical structure.

Guitar Lesson – Lydian Major: Overview

Download the tab & notation for this Robbie Calvo guitar lesson

In this performance, we’re listening to 3 diatonic major chords, all in the key of D. This is a super simple progression that is going to sound great for overdub parts and soloing (which of course we’ll be doing in the lead edition of this course). Listen carefully to why this chord is resolving to the G (IV) chord.

Guitar Lesson – Lydian Major: Performance

Download the tab & notation for this Robbie Calvo guitar lesson

Here, I’ll perform this up to tempo for you. Next, we’ll break it down.

Guitar Lesson – Lydian Major: Breakdown

Download the tab & notation for this Robbie Calvo guitar lesson

This 2 bar progression starts and ends with the IV Major chord G, giving us a really solid tonal center resolution to the IV chord, with the IV chord progression being named Lydian after the 4th degree of the major scale.

Play along with the progression and understand that the G is IV, A is V and D/F# is I in the key of D. D/F# is still the I chord regardless of the listed inversion triad we are using here. The F# in the bass is actually adding a stronger resolution and pull towards the root of the G chord… it’s simple harmonic tricks like this that will solidify and strengthen your progressions.

Digging these free Robbie Calvo guitar lessons? Check out his full course, Tonal Freedom: Rhythm.