• Voice Leading Techniques for Approaching The 2-5-1 Chord Progression

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,Piano,Theory

    chord progressions

    The harmonic movement to the first degree from the second and fifth scale degrees is known as the 2-5-1 chord progression.

    I’ll assume that you know the 2-5-1 chord progression since we highlighted it in a previous lesson.

    The 2-5-1 chord progression is one of the most important progressions in music. It was from our founder and president that I first heard that the 2-5-1 chord progression could pretty much end ALL songs. To be honest, when I first read that blog post several years ago, I literally started searching for songs that contradicted this principle.

    Truth is, sure, there are songs out there that don’t follow the “2-5-1” ending and that’s because from time to time, composers tend to break rules or want to do something different. I got to find out after all, though, that our founder was right in his proposition.

    In a previous lesson, we covered Intermediate Voice-Leading Techniques for Seventh Chords. Please check out that lesson before you proceed. Today, I’m going to show you voice leading principles that can help you make the most out of the 2-5-1 chord progression and most importantly in ALL keys.

    Note: There is an upcoming FREE Quick Guide available for this lesson. Sign up below to get notified when it’s ready for download:

    Voice Leading Principles for Cyclical Progressions

    The 2-5-1 chord progression is a cyclical progression because it is based on an interval cycle (of fourths/fifths). For example, a 2-5-1 movement in the key of C will imply D-G-C (that is, a chord on “D” to a chord on “G” to a chord on “C”).

    In a 2-5 chord progression, using D to G (in the key of C) is an interval of a fourth.
    chord progression
    However, inversion of D-G will yield G-D (a fifth).

    Therefore from D to G, we’ll ascend a fourth or descend a fifth. The same thing is applicable to the 5-1 progression. G to C (in the key of C) is an interval of a fourth.

    Inversion of G-C will yield C-G (a fifth).

    The 2-5-1 chord progression is a cyclical progression because the movement of the root is based on an interval of fifths/fourths. There are special voice leading principles for chords progression following this cycle.

    1. Seventh chords are categorized into A and B voicings. In the “A” voicing, the third comes before the seventh while in the “B” voicing, the seventh comes before the third. (Don’t worry, I’ll break all of this down).
    2. Moving from an “A” voicing to “B” voicing (and vice versa) in cyclical progressions is key. Options like A voicing to A voicing or B voicing to B voicing are forbidden.
    3. The root and third of a chord becomes the fifth and seventh of the next chord in cyclical progressions of fifths/fourths.

    Let’s look closely at each of these principles.

    Principle #1 – Seventh Chords are Categorized Into A and B Voicings

    Voicing is the practice of regarding the notes of a chord as voices. Voicing deals largely with the re-arrangements of these notes. The voicing ­or re-arrangement of the notes of a chord is important in voice leading because these re-arrangements help us achieve a higher degree of smoothness when connecting chords.

    In the A and B voicing technique, the emphasis is on the arrangement of the third and seventh and this is because the third and seventh are the most important tones of a chord (they have the ability to determine the quality of chords).

    If a seventh chord is played in such a way that the third comes before the seventh, such a voicing is called the A voicing. When a seventh chord is played in such a way that the seventh comes before the third, such a voicing is called the B voicing. We’ll look at A and B voicings of seventh chords shortly before moving on.

    The A voicing of F major seventh is the regular way of playing it – which you’re probably accustomed to:

    Chord voicings can be represented using voicing formulas. The voicing above can be represented as R-3-5-7, meaning root, third, fifth, and seventh and is considered an A voicing because in the voicing formula, the number “three” comes before the number “seven.”

    Voicing other chords using this voicing formula will yield A voicings. For example:

    Chord 2

    Chord 5

    Chord 1

    The B voicing of F major seventh is a re-arrangement of the regular F major seventh chord:

    The voicing above can be represented as 5-7-R-3 meaning fifth, seventh, root and third, and is considered a B voicing because in the voicing formula, the number “seven” comes before the number “three.”

    Voicing other chords using this voicing formula will also yield B voicings. B voicings can be challenging to play because of the re-arrangement. However, if I share with you with what I was taught on this site so many years ago by JP (Jonathan Powell of the Gospel Music Training Center), I know you’ll play B voicings with effortless ease the same way I did.

    It was a while ago, but he simply said something like: “take the two top notes of a chord and put them on the bottom or vice versa”. It was that simple! (I know I’ll make JP proud of me whenever he finally reads this.)

    So, let’s put JP’s secret to work.

    JP’s Secret Step #1 – Play an A voicing. Let’s use the F major seventh chord:

    JP’s Secret Step #2 – Take the two top notes and put them on the bottom or you take the two bottom notes and put them on the top. The two top notes are C and E while the two bottom notes are F and A. Transposing two top notes an octave below will yield:

    Also, if we choose to do an octave transposition of the two bottom notes (F and A) to a higher octave, we’ll still arrive at:

    The voicings below are all B voicings.

    Chord 2

    G minor seventh chord is regularly played as G-D-B-F. However, with JP’s secret, we’re able to make a B voicing out of it below as D-F-G-B.

    Chord 5

    C dominant seventh chord is regularly played as C-E-G-B. However, with JP’s secret, we’re able to make a B voicing out of it below as G-B-C-E.

    Chord 1

    F major seventh chord is regularly played as F-A-C-E. However, with JP’s secret, we’re able to make a B voicing out of it below as C-E-F-A

    Principle #2 – Moving from A Voicings to B Voicings and Vice Versa in Cyclical Progressions is Key.

    In a 2-5-1 chord progression, chords 2 and 1 are adjacent to each other. Therefore, it is easy to move from chord 2 to chord 1 smoothly.

    However, from the grand scheme of things, we can see that a 2-5-1 chord progression can be broken down into two smaller chord progressions: 2-5 and 5-1.

    2-5 progression

    5-1 progression

    In both cases, the chords are not adjacent to each other and the only way we can connect chords 2, 5 and 1 is with voice leading techniques.

    To create a smooth connection between two chords that are not adjacent to each other, you are advised to move from an A chord voicing to a B chord voicing (or vice versa). In a 2-5-1 chord progression, you can play an A voicing of chord 2, B voicing of chord 5, then back to A voicing of chord 1. Or, of course, the other way around.

    2

    5

    1

    A voicing

    B voicing

    A voicing

    B voicing

    A voicing

    B voicing


    With this, you’ll have two ways of connecting chords and that largely depends on the voicing used for chord 2. If an A voicing is used for chord 2, you’ll have an A-B-A “2-5-1” while if a B voicing is used for chord 2, you’ll have a B-A-B “2-5-1.”

    A-B-A “2-5-1”

    This voice leading technique of playing the 2-5-1 progression starts and ends with an A voicing. Considering that chords 2 and 1 are adjacent chords:

    Our assignment is to connect chords 2 and 1 (A voicings) with chord 5 (B voicing). The B voicing of chord 5 (C dominant) is G B C E:

    If we put everything together, we’ll have:



    In the 2-5-1 chord progression above, did you notice the smoothness? We’re playing the same 2-5-1 progression with the voices moving as close as possible (also with little hand movement).

    B A B 2-5-1

    In contrast to the A-B-A style we just covered, this 2-5-1 progression starts and ends with B voicings. Here are the B voicings of chords 2 and 1 (adjacent chords):

    Considering that these two chords already have a degree of smoothness, we are only left with the obligation of connecting chords 2 and 1 (B voicings) with chord 5 (A voicing). The “A” voicing of chord 5 (C dominant) is C E G B:

    If we put everything together, we’ll have:


    That was smooth even though it may seem a little bit unusual to end your 2-5-1 with the B voicing. But hey, my job is to give you options. It’s your job to explore them and apply what makes sense and resonates for you.

    Let’s round up by summarizing the first two principles we covered.

    Principle #3 – The Root and Third of a Chord Becomes the Fifth and Seventh of the Next Chord

    A seventh chord consists of a root, third, fifth and seventh. If we take a closer look at the two voice leading styles (A-B-A and B-A-B) we covered earlier, you’ll notice that:

    The root and third of chord 2 and the third and seventh of chord 5 are the same.

    Table #1 – A Voicing (R-3-5-7)

    Chords

    Root

    Third

    Fifth

    Seventh

    Chord 2 (A voicing)

    G

    B

    D

    F

    Chord 5 (A voicing)

    C

    E

    G

    B


    Table #2 – B Voicing (5-7-R-3)

    Chords

    Fifth

    Seventh

    Root

    Third

    Chord 2 (B voicing)

    D

    F

    G

    B

    Chord 5 (B voicing)

    G

    B

    C

    E

    In both cases, the root and third of G minor seventh (chord 2) and C dominant seventh (chord 5) are the same – G-B. The second principle forbids us from moving from A to A voicing. Therefore, we can achieve smoothness by connecting chord 2 from table 1 (A voicing) and chord 5 from table 2 (B voicing) to form a smooth 2-5 progression (A-B style) or chord 2 from table 2 (B voicing) and chord 5 from table 1 (A voicing) to form another smooth 2-5 progression (B-A style).

    The root and third of chord 5 and the third and seventh of chord 1 are the same.

    Table #1 – A Voicing (R-3-5-7)

    Chords

    Root

    Third

    Fifth

    Seventh

    Chord 5 (A voicing)

    C

    E

    G

    B

    Chord 1 (A voicing)

    F

    A

    C

    E

    Table #2 – B Voicing (5-7-R-3)

    Chords

    Fifth

    Seventh

    Root

    Third

    Chord 5 (B voicing)

    G

    B

    C

    E

    Chord 1 (B voicing)

    C

    E

    F

    A


    In both cases, the root and third of C dominant seventh (chord 5) and F major seventh (chord 1) are the same – C-E. If we move from chord 2 in table 1 (A voicing) to chord 5 in table 2 (B voicing), we’ll have a smooth 2-5 progression (A-B style). Alternatively, if we connect chord 2 from table 2 (B voicing) and chord 5 from table 1 (A voicing), we can also have another smooth 2-5 progression (B-A style).

    If you want to learn how to apply this technique in ALL the keys, then I recommend that you subscribe below for the upcoming FREE quick guide that accompanies this blog post. Yup, it’s free, yet priceless.

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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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    { 5 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Carl Clark

    This was very useful!. But it kinda of gave me confusion but I understand it. I thought the A and B voicings were primarily used to name the “Bill Evans” rootless voicings. Like for instance a 2-5-1 in C, you’d have A voicing first Dmin, 3,5,7,9, G- 7,9,3,6 ( keep the thirteen because of smooth voice leading) and back to A voicing for C, 3,5,7,9. Threw me for a loop because these chords don’t give any extensions and you have the root also so you would get in the bass players way. Very good otherwise though.!

    Reply

    2 Chuku Onyemachi

    Thank you Carl. Indeed this post is a good way to start and hopefully, we’ll cover the 3-5-7-9 and 7-9-3-5 voicings in subsequent posts. A 3-5-7-9 voicing of Dmin9 can be spelt as F-A-C-E right? Now, if we move smoothly into a 7-9-3-5 voicing of G9, we’ll have F-A-B-D right? Now if you look at these two chords – F-A-C-E and F-A-B-D, you’ll still notice that they are the R-3-5-7 and 5-7-R-3 voicings. With this, i hope you see the relationship between the two, and more importantly, how R-3-5-7 and 5-7-R-3 voicings are the springboard of 3-5-7-9 and 7-9-3-5 voicings.

    Reply

    3 Carl Clark

    Well I guess so but looking at that chord F,A,B,D since you said those consist of a 5,7,b,3 I assume that’s so sort of Bb chord because the 5th is F so I’m looking at it as a 5,7,b2,3. Maybe you made a mistake with that chord name lol. But I’m used to the A voicing being a rootless voicing, 3,5,7,9 and the B rootless 7,9,3,5 . It’s called the Bill evans rootless voicings you probably have heard of it

    Reply

    4 elliot

    How do I apply bass notes to these when am not doing rootless voicings especially with use of power chords on the left in the B voicing.

    I would also be happy to know when and how to use the ABA voicing with a focus on 5/9 instead of 3/7 either as root less or voicings with root

    Reply

    5 elliot

    Hello, how do you apply the AB voicing in a stepwise progression. Some jazz sources say it must be A-A, or B-B. However, in avoiding movement in all parts at the same time as smooth voice leading principles would teach so that the bass moves opposite to the direction of the upper structure, I realized you end up with an A-B or B-A

    Reply

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