One of the easiest chord progressions anyone can learn on the piano is the 1-4 chord progression.
There are tons of gospel songs that cycle around the 1-4 chord progression, ranging from O Happy Day, to My Redeemer Lives (Hillsong), to God is A Good God (Bishop Paul Morton), and the list goes on and on.
Today, we’ll be approaching the 1-4 chord progression in 12 exciting ways that will spice up your playing and take you to your next level. But before we get into all of that, let’s review the 1-4 chord progression.
A Review On The Classic 1-4 Chord Progression
There are eight degrees in every key (be it a major or a minor key.) In the key of C major:
C is the first
D is the second
E is the third
F is the fourth
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G is the fifth
A is the sixth
B is the seventh
C is the eighth
The movement of chords from one degree of the scale to another creates chord progressions.
The classic 1-4 chord progression is a product of the movement of chords from the first degree of the scale to the fourth degree of the scale – involving the numbers 1 and 4.
“The 1-4 Root Progression In The Key Of C…”
In the key of C major:
…the first and fourth tones of the scale are C and F. Consequently, a 1-4 root progression in the key of C major entails the movement from C (which is the 1):
…to F (which is the 4):
Now that you already have an idea of the 1-4 root progression in the key of C, let’s go ahead and play triads over the root notes.
…we have the C major triad:
…which is the chord of the first degree.
…we have the F major triad:
…which is the chord of the fourth degree.
12 Exciting Ways Of Playing The 1-4 Chord Progression
Alright! Now that we’ve thoroughly reviewed the 1-4 chord progression, let’s go ahead and explore a dozen other exciting ways it can be played.
“Let’s Take It To The Minor Key…”
Although we’re focusing on the 1-4 chord progression in the major key, taking the 1-4 chord progression to the minor key can really add a twist to it and that’s exactly our intention – to spice things up.
“So, Here We Go…In The Minor Key!”
We’re in the key of C minor:
…and our 1-4 chord progression here entails a movement from the C minor eleventh chord:
…to the F minor ninth chord:
I’m sure you’ll love the voicing of the C minor eleventh chord. If you really do, you might want to use this C dom 7 [#9,#5] chord:
…as a passing chord to the F minor ninth chord.
We’re still in the key of C minor:
…however, our underlying scale here is the C dorian scale:
The 1-4 chord progression here is between the C minor ninth chord:
…and the F 13[add9] chord:
This 1-4 chord progression can be considered as a 2-5 chord progression in the key of Bb:
The C minor ninth chord is chord 2, while the F13[add9] is chord 5.
“Classical Musicians Would Love This…”
We just got off the minor key, so, let’s do something that would make you sound like Richard Smallwood or any other classically influenced piano great.
You don’t need to shy away from the third and fourth approach because it’s for classically trained musicians – No! You too can sound like you know what they know if you learn and apply what I’m about to show you.
Here, we’re approaching the 1-4 chord progression using the third inversion of the C dominant seventh chord:
…and the first inversion of the F major triad:
Classical musicians approach the inversion of chords from two different standpoints – the keyboard style and the chorale style. The chorale style of inversion is used in this 1-4 chord progression.
Playing the Bb tone:
…of the C dominant seventh chord:
…on the bass (instead of C), produces the third inversion of the C dominant seventh chord, while playing the A tone:
…of the F major triad:
…on the bass (instead of F), produces the first inversion of the F major triad.
In this second approach, we’re also moving from the C dominant seventh chord:
…to the F major triad:
Classical musicians consider chord tones as voices or voice parts, consequently, the 1-4 chord progression is arranged for the soprano, alto, tenor, and bass voices.
In the C dominant seventh chord:
…is the soprano voice, E:
…is the alto voice, Bb:
…is the tenor voice, and C:
…is the bass voice.
“Attention! If You’re A Gospel Musician, Check These Out…”
Now that we’ve gone past the first four approaches, let’s explore a couple more ways to play the 1-4 chord progression from a gospel musician’s perspective.
The 1-4 chord progression moves from chord 1 to chord 4, however, gospel musicians use a technique known to them as the walk-up to move step wise from chord 1, to chord 2, then to chord 3, and eventually to chord 4.
Regular progression – 1 > 4
Walk-up progression – 1 > 2 > 3 > 4
Believe it or not, this sounds like they’re literally walking their way up from chord 1 to chord 4.
“Check It Out…”
“Just In Case It Escaped Your Notice…”
Did you see the chromatic descent of the left hand part? From the A minor triad:
…to the G# minor triad:
…then to the G minor triad:
Here’s another technique gospel musicians call the walk down – a reverse of the walk up technique we just learned.
In this approach, gospel musicians walk down in the minor key using step-wise root progressions from the first to the fourth degree. In the key of C minor:
…the root progression descends from C:
…then to F:
“Check Out The Chords…”
From the C major triad:
…to the Bb major triad:
…to the Ab major seventh chord:
…to the G minor seventh chord:
…then to the F minor ninth chord:
Suggested Listening: You can hear this 1-4 chord progression in the bridge section of the gospel song Praise Is What I Do.
“If Salsa Music Appeals To You, Try This One Out…”
The emphasis in salsa music is on the rhythm and not on the harmony. This explains why salsa progressions are usually played with triads and seventh chords.
A typical salsa approach to the 1-4 chord progression would entail a chord movement from the C major seventh chord:
…to the F major seventh chord:
Attention: The right hand chords are played with the omission of the root and fifth notes, which are played on the left and are used to create amazing bass lines.
“Here’s Another Variation…”
In this variation, we’re using the C dominant seventh chord as a passing chord to the F major seventh chord.
“Rock Music Lovers! I Bet You’ll Love This…”
Quickly, let’s take a look at the rock musician’s approach to the 1-4 chord progression.
Rock musicians use suspended chords a lot, therefore, it’s common to have a rock musician approach a 1-4 chord progression in the key of C:
…by playing a Csus2 chord:
…over C and F.
“Check It Out…”
“Let’s Jazz Up The Classic 1-4 Chord Progression…”
Jazz players can play a handful of complex 1-4 chord progressions. You will do well to learn these two approaches.
The 1-4 chord progression can be played with these two chords:
The C dominant thirteenth chord (rootless voicing):
…and the F dominant thirteenth chord (rootless voicing):
Also check out this jazzy 1-4 chord progression that can be played with these two chords:
The C dominant ninth chord:
…and the F dominant ninth chord:
“If You’re An R&B or Smooth Jazz Lover, Try This One Out…”
R&B players use a lot of major seventh and major ninth chords. If you’re looking for a sentimental approach to the classic 1-4 chord progression check out approach #11.
You can play a spicier 1-4 chord progression in the key of C by progressing from the C major ninth chord:
…to the F major ninth chord:
“Does Anybody Care For A Bluesy 1-4 Chord Progression?”
Blues musicians use a lot of dominant chords to create the melancholic feeling. Check out this final approach.
The 1-4 chord progression sounds bluesy when played with the C dominant seventh:
…and F dominant seventh chord:
Congratulations! You just learned a dozen ways to approach the 1-4 chord progression and the good thing is that we covered a variety of styles from gospel, to classical, to jazz, to salsa, to blues, etc., and that’s a good thing.
Submission: I’m aware that some of the approaches we learned may be familiar to you.
I’ll see you in another lesson where we’ll cover 24 exciting ways of playing the 2-5-1 chord progression.
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