• Ninth Day Of Christmas: Nine Variations of the 2-5-1 Chord Progression

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,Piano

    2-5-1 chord progression

    The 2-5-1 chord progression contains, what can be argued, the strongest connection between chords in most music styles (like gospel, jazz, etc.). This is because the attraction between two chords is at its strongest when the root ascends by a fourth or descends by a fifth.

    A chord progression from C to another chord whose root is a fourth higher or a fifth lower than C will sound stronger than any other option.

    Using the major scale of C, a fourth above C is F:

    And a fifth below C is still F:

    This means that as far as chord progressions are concerned, of all the notes in the major scale:

    …the movement from C to F will be the strongest.

    “Hey! Why is C to F the strongest?”

    Let’s back up.

    The progression is from C to F.

    However, if you consider this movement from C, it will be much more difficult to understand and this is because between C and F, F is the destination (not C).

    A chord progression from C to F is like taking off in the city of C and landing in the city of F (our destination). Therefore, let’s take a look at this C to F movement from F’s perspective (our destination).

    Looking at the F major scale:

    It is important to note that there’s a C note in its fifth degree.

    If we begin to consider the movement from C to F from F major’s perspective, we’ll understand with utmost clarity that C to F is the movement from the fifth degree to the first degree of the major scale.

    C is the fifth degree while F is the first degree.

    In our eighth day of Christmas post, we covered technical names with much emphasis on the fifth degree which is known as the dominant.

    Today, we are covering a progression of chords from the fifth degree to the first degree. If we use technical names to describe this movement, we can say that it’s a movement from the dominant to the tonic.

    (Remember that the terms dominant and tonic are the technical names of the fifth and first degrees of the scale, respectively.)

    Chord progressions that move in this manner have the strongest attraction. To create them, you don’t necessarily have to go to the fifth degree of the scale. You can create them from any note. All you need to do is to ascend in fourths or descend in fifths like we did in the beginning of this lesson when we based our perspective on C major.

    There’s an interval cycle that can help you master this:

    The musical use cases of this cycle is inexhaustible.


    This cycle can be used clockwise or counter-clockwise. For the purpose of this study, be sure to go counter-clockwise from C to F etc.

    The 2-5-1 Chord Progression

    It’s possible to create a chord progression (with the strongest attraction) between three root notes in the same way I created it between two roots (C and F).

    Movement from C using the cycle of ascending fourths (or descending fifths) we learned (in a counter-clockwise direction) will take us to F.


    If we continue in the same counter-clockwise direction, we’ll have B, a new destination.

    Putting everything together from takeoff (C) to destination (B), we’ll have:


    That’s three root notes.

    Now that we’ve connected three root notes, let’s consider this movement in the key of B, which is our destination.

    Remember that it’s better to consider a chord progression from the destination key note.

    Using the major scale of B:

    C is the second tone (aka – “chord 2”)

    F is the fifth tone (aka – “chord 5”)

    B is first tone (aka – “chord 1”)

    Putting it together will yield the famous “2-5-1 progression.”

    Creating other 2-5-1 progressions is as easy as selecting three adjacent notes in the cycle of fourths/fifths, which include:






    …the list goes on and on.

    Major vs Minor 2-5-1

    In my post on the second day of Christmas, we covered two tonalities.

    A 2-5-1 progression is a chord progression that takes you to the first degree of the scale (aka – “tonic”).

    The tonic chord of a key will share the same quality with that key. Using triads, the tonic chord of C major is:

    C major

    …while the tonic chord of C minor is:

    C minor

    A 2-5-1 progression to C major can be differentiated from a 2-5-1 to C minor by assigning quality (major or minor) to it.

    A 2-5-1 to C major is known as the major 2-5-1 while that of C minor is known as the minor 2-5-1. If we generalize that for every other key, we can summarize the classification of 2-5-1 progressions (according to their tonality) as follows:

    Major 2-5-1 is a 2-5-1 chord progression to a major chord or key (as the case may be).

    Minor 2-5-1 is a 2-5-1 chord progression to a minor chord or key (as the case may be).

    In today’s post, we’ll be covering 4 varieties of the major 2-5-1, 3 varieties of the minor 2-5-1, and 2 varieties of the 2-5-1 with borrowed chords.

    Fasten your seat belt!

    4 Varieties of the Major 2-5-1

    The destination of a major 2-5-1 is a major chord.

    I’ll be breaking these 2-5-1 progressions down in the key of D. Feel free to transpose it to other keys using our midi learning tool below.

    Considering that D major is:

    • The first chord of the scale in D (obviously)
    • The fourth chord of the scale in A

    …these 2-5-1 varieties can be applied to any chord progression where D major is the destination.

    Variety #1

    In this variety, we’re moving from Emin9 to Adom7[9], then to Dmaj9, which is the tonic chord (aka – “chord 1”).

    The chord qualities used are min9 | dom7[b9] | maj9.

    Variety #2

    In this variety, we’re moving from Edom13[add9] to Adom7[9], then to Dmaj9 in the style of Gospel Keys 202 – Mastering Worship Chords. If you need over 60 similar voicings that can revolutionize your playing right away, click here.

    The chord qualities used are dom13[add9] | dom7[b9] | maj9.

    Variety #3

    I trust you’ll love this bluesy 2-5-1 progression that you can incorporate into shouts, preacher accompaniment and other charismatic styles.

    You’ll literally turn heads if you play the blues scale over Ddom13[add9] (chord 1).

    C Blues Scale (enharmonic with D):

    This variety uses the dominant chord quality over all root notes. So that’s Edom13 to Adom7[9] to Ddom13[add9] (that’s pretty much tritonic and dissonant).

    The chord qualities used are dom13 | dom13[b9] | dom13[add9].

    If you love this 2-5-1 and want to learn more “sick” varieties that are similar, then GospelKeys 300 is for you. Click here to learn more.

    Variety #4

    The typical chord quality of the second degree is minor. Sometimes (like in varieties 2 and 3), a dominant chord quality is used.

    However, in this variety, I’m taking you out of the “conventional” to something a lil bit spicier.

    If you value the importance of melody notes, you’ll appreciate the stepwise movement of the melody notes of the chord from the sixth tone (in chord 2), to the seventh tone (in chord 5), and ending on the first tone (in chord 1).

    The chords used in this progression are Emaj9, Adom7[b9], and Dmajor6/9.

    Did you feel the warmth in chord 1?

    Well, that’s because of the chord quality used (major6/9).

    3 Varieties of the Minor 2-5-1

    The minor 2-5-1 chord progression basically takes us to a minor chord.

    The varieties are in the key of C (which sounds the same as D). It’s possible to transpose it to any key of choice using the song tutor blog tool.

    C minor is:

    • Second chord of the scale in B
    • Third chord of the scale in A
    • Sixth chord of the scale in E

    Therefore, feel free to apply these 2-5-1 varieties to any chord progression where C minor is the destination.

    Variety #1

    Let me give you a real life application of this variety of the minor 2-5-1.

    In the song “As the Deer”.

    You can play this minor 2-5-1 over “pan-teth for”.




    The chord qualities used are half-dim7 | dom7 | min11.

    Variety #2

    In this variety, we’re moving from Dhalf-dim7 to Gdom7[9,5], then to Cmin9.

    I learned this chord progression over a decade ago from our president and founder – Jermaine Griggs in the “Thank You Lord” segment of Gospel Keys 202.

    (It’s my pleasure to share it today. Of course, chords don’t grow old, do they?)

    The chord qualities used are half-dim7 | dom7[9,5] | min11.

    Variety #3

    I’m throwing one more altered chord into the basic minor 2-5-1 to give you something that can make you grimace.

    I hope the tonal cluster in the very first chord (Ddom7[9,5]) does not escape your notice:

    From F to G:

    …is a minor 2nd and a dissonant interval. This dissonance is the what makes this chord cool.

    The dom7[9,5] is also known as the altered chord. There are two of such in this progression.

    Pretty much, everything sounds tensed when chords 2 and 5 are played. After a build up of tension, there’s a beautiful resolution to a Cminor9 chord.

    The chord qualities used are dom7[9,5] | dom7[9,5] | min9.

    2 Varieties of 2-5-1 with Borrowed Chords

    Having covered the major and minor 2-5-1 progressions, let me take you a step further by throwing in two more varieties of 2-5-1s using borrowed chords from parallel and relative tonalities (or simply, keys).

    Variety #1

    The harmonic destination of this variety is Dmaj9.

    Therefore, it’s not wrong to call this progression a major 2-5-1. However, a closer look at the chord qualities used…

    • Chord 2 = min9
    • Chord 5 = dom7[9,5]
    • Chord 1 = maj9

    …shows that chord 5 is altered. This altered chord resolves more to C minor. However, we’re borrowing it in the key of D major.

    (In a future post, I’ll show you how chord alterations create a relationship to foreign and related keys.)

    Long story short, this altered chord takes our playing outside, into a related key (not like the outside playing that takes us into foreign keys).

    This progression is used a lot in jazz and trust me can be effective in other pop styles.

    Variety #2

    The chord qualities used are min11 | dom7[9,5] | min11.

    This variety is a minor 2-5-1 because the harmonic destination is Cmin11.

    While studying minor 2-5-1 progressions earlier, the basic chord quality used was the half-diminished seventh. I also admit using the altered chord in chord 2 of variety #2.

    Here in this segment, we’re borrowing Dmin11 (chord 2 of Cmajor).

    Owing to the intervals between chord tones, this borrowed chord is what most musicians would call “phat”. Don’t forget what I shared previously on phat chords.

    Back to the progression.

    The Dminor11 chord above creates the false impression that our destination is Cmajor. However, the next two chords following (especially Cminor) actually contradict the earlier impression.

    Borrowed chords are effective when you want to twist a 2-5-1 progression.

    Final Words

    I cannot say how excited I am to share these chord progressions with you.

    The importance of practicing these nine progressions in all keys cannot be overemphasized. If you start tomorrow by practicing each one in all keys, in two months or less, I guarantee you mastery of 2-5-1 progressions in all keys.

    This is just a tip of the iceberg. If you want to know All About Chord Progressions, join our early bird list for the chord progression workbook we’re introducing this year.

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku (aka - "Dr. Pokey") is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

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


    { 4 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Tammy

    While I was reading this post I knew there was no way Jermaine wrote this (I followed his blog years ago, 5+). The content of the article is great, but the technicalities are overwhelming and seem to take over the point of the article which is to teach the progression, and some variations. I know there are some know it all’s out there who are just waiting to challenge you on technical aspects, but for the sake of everyone keep it short, sweet and straight to the point. Maybe it should have been broken up??Just a little constructive criticism.


    2 Chuku Onyemachi

    Note taken.
    Honestly, i appreciate the use of adjectives such as short, sweet and straight (aka – “S cube”) to describe our blog contents you’ve enjoyed over the years. I’ll do my best “for the sake of everyone” to keep the “s cube” code.
    Happy new year in arrears Tammy!


    3 Vicki4Victory

    As I was reading this blog post, I thought, “No wonder I don’t understand this completely. It’s hard!” And then I noticed the “experienced players” tag at the very top.

    It took me a couple of tries to figure out how to make the song tutor snippets stop so that I could look at the chords. I needed to “pause” instead of “stop.” But it was very nice to hear the variations. (It would have been even better if the melody–the sequence of top notes–had stayed the same.)

    I had to re-enter my email to see all of the post–I hope I don’t get a second copy of the weekly email.


    4 Liinda

    I really just found this blog and I find it very helpful. I love learning the theory behind the music. I am a retired classroom teacher and your blog is clearing up a lot of things I have been trying to make sense of. Thanks.


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