• Here’s How The Top Players Apply The 2-5-1 Chord Progression In The Major Key

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,General Music,Piano,Theory

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    In today’s lesson, we’ll be looking at the diverse applications of the major 2-5-1 chord progression in the major key.

    It’s no longer news that the 2-5 1 chord progression is one of the most important chord progressions in prominent popular music styles like gospel and jazz.

    Although a vast majority of musicians are conversant with this progression, only the top players (and a privileged few) have maximized its use in the major key, and that’s what inspired me to put this post together.

    At the end of this lesson, you’ll have an out-the-box perspective to the 2-5-1 chord progression that will have a revolutionary effect on your playing.

    A Short Note On The Major Key

    The major key is one of the two known musical keys – the other one being the minor key.

    A key is the product of a relationship between eight tones whose goal is to establish one tone as the key center. The easiest key to think about on the keyboard is the key of C major, which is formed by the relationship between all the white notes on the keyboard from C to C:

    …geared towards establishing the first tone (C):

    …as the key center.

    In previous lessons, we resolved the misconceptions of the terms note and key, and also learned the eight components of a key, which are:

    • Tonic
    • Supertonic
    • Mediant
    • Subdominant
    • Dominant
    • Submediant
    • Subtonic
    • Octave

    …and their respective functions. You will do well to check them out.

    The establishment of C (which is a note):

    …as a key center by the unique relationship of eight different tones produces the key of C major:

    Every other major key on the keyboard has these eight components.

    “Check Them Out…”

    C major:

    Db major

    D major:

    Eb major

    E major:

    F major:

    Gb major

    G major:

    Ab major

    A major:

    Bb major

    B major:

    A Review On The Major 2-5-1 Chord Progression

    There are eight scale degrees in the key of C major:

    C is the first

    D is the second

    E is the third

    F is the fourth

    G is the fifth

    A is the sixth

    B is the seventh

    C is the eighth

    “Every Degree Of The Scale Has Its Unique Chord…”

    Chord 1:

    …is the C major triad, chord 2:

    …is the D minor triad, etc.

    The movement of chords from one degree of the scale to another produces a chord progression.

    “What Is A Major 2-5-1 Chord Progression?”

    The movement of chords from the second to the fifth, then to the first degree of the scale in the major key produces the major 2-5-1 chord progression.

    “In The Key Of C Major…”

    The second scale degree chord (aka – “chord 2”) is the D minor triad:

    The fifth scale degree chord (aka – “chord 5”) is the G dominant seventh chord:

    The first scale degree chord (aka – “chord 1”) is the C major triad:

    In a nutshell, a chord progression from chord 2 to chord 5, and then to chord 1 in the major key produces the major 2-5-1 chord progression. This can be played with triad, sevenths, or extended chords at the player’s discretion.

    “The Major 2-5-1 Chord Progression Using Triads…”

    A chord movement from the D minor triad:

    …to the G major triad:

    …then to the C major triad:

    …produces a major 2-5-1 chord progression in the key of C:

    “The Major 2-5-1 Chord Progression Using Seventh Chords…”

    A chord movement from the E minor seventh chord:

    …to the A dominant seventh chord:

    …then to the D major seventh chord:

    …produces a major 2-5-1 chord progression in the key of D:

    “The Major 2-5-1 Chord Progression Using Ninth Chords…”

    A major 2-5-1 chord progression in the key of Ab:

    …progresses from the Bb minor ninth chord:

    …to the Eb dominant ninth chord:

    …then to the Ab major ninth chord:

    The Application Of The Major 2-5-1 Chord Progression In The Major Key

    Before getting into the application of the major 2-5-1 chord progression in the major key, it is important for us to glance through scale degree seventh chords in the major key.

    A Quick Review On Scale Degree Seventh Chords In The Major Key

    Using the key of C major:

    …as a reference, here are the scale degree chords of the major key:

    Chord 1:

    …is the C major seventh chord.

    Chord 2:

    …is the D minor seventh chord.

    Chord 3:

    …is the E minor seventh chord.

    Chord 4:

    …is the F major seventh chord.

    Chord 5:

    …is the G dominant seventh chord.

    Chord 6:

    …is the A minor seventh chord.

    Chord 7:

    …is the B diminished seventh chord.

    Two out of the seven scale degree chords we highlighted are major seventh chords and they can be found specifically on the first and fourth degrees of the scale.

    “Here They Are…”

    The C major seventh chord:

    …of the first degree.

    The F major seventh chord:

    …of the fourth degree.

    Due to the fact that the seventh chords of the first and fourth degrees in the major key have a major quality, they are appropriate destinations for the major 2-5-1 chord progression.

    Consequently, there are two ways to apply the major 2-5-1 chord progression in the major key:

    • Major 2-5-1 chord progression to the first degree
    • Major 2-5-1 chord progression to the fourth degree

    Let’s check them out quickly as we round up.

    Major 2-5-1 Chord Progression To The First Tone

    This is the regular application of the major 2-5-1 chord progression. The first tone in the key of C major:

    …is C:

    Consequently we’re playing a D:

    …minor chord, a G:

    …dominant chord, and a C:

    …major chord. At the musician’s discretion, triads, sevenths or extended chords can be used like we did in the previous segment.

    Major 2-5-1 Chord Progression To The Fourth Tone

    Before anyone can apply the major 2-5-1 chord progression on the fourth tone, it’s important for the person to temporarily think in the key of the fourth degree.

    “What Does It Mean To Think In The Key Of The Fourth Degree?”

    In the key of C major:

    …where the fourth degree is F:

    Thinking in the key of the fourth degree literally means considering the major 2-5-1 chord progression in the key of F major:

    Here’s a basic major 2-5-1 chord progression in the key of F major:

    Chord 2 is the G minor triad:

    Chord 5 is the C major triad:

    Chord 1 is the F major triad:

    Music scholars call the progression above a borrowed chord progression because it’s derived from another [related] key.

    Check Out Some Major 2-5-1 Chord Progressions To The Fourth Tone…”

    Example #1

    Chord 2:

    …the G minor seventh chord.

    Chord 5:

    …the C dominant ninth chord.

    Chord 1:

    …the F major ninth chord.

    Example #2

    Chord 2:

    …the G minor ninth chord.

    Chord 5:

    …the C dom13[add9] chord.

    Chord 1:

    …the F major ninth chord.

    You can have more chord progressions to the fourth degree by transposing any major 2-5-1 chord progression to the key of F major:

    Attention: Irrespective of the key you’re in, always remember to think in the key of the fourth degree.

    Final Words

    The major 2-5-1 chord progression should not be limited to being a cyclical chord progression to the chord of the first degree of the scale (aka – “the tonic chord”).

    I’m glad you’ve seen another application of the major 2-5-1 chord progression. I recommend that you transpose any major 2-5-1 chord progression learned, to the fourth degree of the scale.

    I’ll see you in the next lesson where we’ll also explore the diverse applications of the minor 2-5-1 chord progression.

    All the best!

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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