• Ask Jermaine: “2-5-1 Of The 4… What Does That Mean?”

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,Piano

    We’re back with another “Ask Jermaine” session — this time, focusing on the phrase, “2-5-1 Of The 4.”

    This question comes from Bill in San Antonio, TX.

    “Jermaine, I’ve heard you and others talk about how important 2-5-1 progressions are and I understand all this. What I don’t get is when you say the 2-5-1 of the 4 or the 2-5-1 of the 6. What does this all mean?”

    My Answer:

    First off, great question Bill!

    In music, even though you’re in one particular key (or as I always say, one planet or galaxy), you can borrow things from other places.

    For example, if you live in the USA like me, it doesn’t stop us from importing goods from other countries.

    Using chord progressions in your current key that would be typical in another key is very common… and helps to spice up your music.

    If you only used the same diatonic chords of a key every time, things would get boring pretty fast. Now, don’t get me wrong… millions upon millions of songs use the typical diatonic chords (that is — major on 1, minor on 2, minor on 3, major on 4, dominant on 5, minor on 6, diminished or half-dim7 on 7). And with all the inversions and potential voicings available to you, these 7 chords can be turned into a lot!

    So let’s explore the 2-5-1 in general. Then, we’ll turn to the “2-5-1 of the 4” and once you get that concept, you’ll get them all (i.e. “2-5-1 of 6” … “2-5-1 of 3” etc).

    If you’re a beginner, you must understand the numbers come from the major scale.

    A 2-5-1 chord progression is no more than a chord off the 2nd tone of the scale moving to a chord off the 5… finally coming home to a chord on the 1.

    In C major:

    C is 1
    D is 2
    E is 3
    F is 4
    G is 5
    A is 6
    B is 7

    So this would be some type of D chord going to some type of G chord… then coming home to some type of C chord.

    Above, we covered diatonic chords briefly. Those are the chords that are most likely to occur on each tone of the scale.

    So the D would most likely be D minor or D minor 7 because the 2nd tone of the scale naturally creates a minor chord.

    The G would either be a G major or G dominant 7.

    And the C — it would be a C major or C major 7.

    D minor 7

    G dominant 7 (a.k.a. – G7)

    C major 7

    This holds true in all keys.

    If we wanted to take this to the key of F, we answer these questions:

    1) What is the 2 in F? What is the 5? What is the 1?

    Answer: The 2nd tone of F major is G, the 5th is C, and the 1 is F.

    2) What diatonic chords occur on the 2, 5, and 1?

    Answer: The same diatonic chords that occur on any 2, 5, or 1. The key doesn’t matter. The 2nd diatonic chord of any scale will be minor or minor7. The 5th will be major or dominant 7 and the 1 will be major or major7.

    So, in F major:

    G minor 7 >>> C7 >>> F major 7

    G minor7


    F major 7

    So, if you’re in C major and someone says “play the 2-5-1 of the 4,” they literally mean:

    “Even though you’re in C major, think as if you were in F major because F is the 4th of C. What would be a 2-5-1 in the key of F major? Simply bring that chord progression to the key of C.”

    Your song may start on C major 7 and since we know 2-5-1 progressions are very strong, we’d insert a “2-5-1 of the 4” to give us a strong connection to the 4.

    So the progression would be: C major 7 – G minor 7 – C7 – F major 7

    You hear this all the time too! It’s simply a C major 7, followed by a “2-5-1 of the 4.”

    F is the 4th tone of C… so “2-5-1 of the 4” literally means “2-5-1 of F.” We’re bringing a 2-5-1 from F major into C major (and you know it’s not a chord progression native of C major because the G would never be minor… it would always be major or dominant so that’s an obvious giveaway that we’ve borrowed this progression.)

    C major 7

    G minor7


    F major 7

    So whenever someone says “2-5-1 of the 4,” you’ll never be confused again!

    I’m out of time but maybe next time I can cover the “2-5-1 of the 6.”

    It’s the same concept except the 6 is minor… so you’re borrowing a “2-5-1” from a minor key. Just check out this lesson I did on the diatonic chords of minor keys. Then figure out the 2, the 5, and the 1 of “A minor.” Once you’ve gotten that, bring those chords into C major and you’ve got yourself a “2-5-1 of the 6.”

    There you have it, the “2-5-1 of the 4” concept demystified!

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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.



    { 8 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 emmanuel

    teach me how to learn all the twelve keys becis i want to stop transposing……..please teach mee…..amen


    2 Bubba Johnson

    Reading your question above I suggest you take a few weeks off from studing music.
    maybe go fishin, do some woodworking then after that I would quite music altogether..
    :) Jusst Kidding…:)


    3 PraiseSong24

    Wonderful stuff!!! Such an enlightenment… Praise God for GMTC. God Bless


    4 cephas

    hey jermaine,great stuff men!GOd bless,anyway there’s a pdf/lesson you sent us about cycle of fourths and fifths..av been tryin to crack the whole concept but naah i didnt understood..then can you use more examples of songs tht have this concept..thanks


    5 tariq

    hey jermaine that was realy awesome, i tried it and it sounded great..i would just like to know how to approach the 2-5-1 of the 5..


    6 ab

    thanks Griggs and God bless u


    7 Nancy Reed

    Mr. Griggs
    I ordered the 350 and 450 series for organ DVDs.
    All i got is DVDs with you and another gentlemen playing chords on the organ.
    How is that supposed to benefit me?
    Not all songs are written in Aflat and I really can’t figure out how it will help me.
    Please help me to understand/
    also on one piece of literature in the packet was a web address http://www.HearandPlay.com/start now for a free offer and 30 day trial
    All I got was other websites to go to. How do I find out about this website
    Thank you


    8 Stuart Ramsey

    Wow I never new that. Thankyou


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