• Numbers rule the world of music. Here’s how to really use them in chord patterns to learn all 12 keys

    in Theory,Transposing Keys

    >NOTE: To learn ALL the techniques and strategies that you’ll need to start playing songs on your own – in all 12 keys – and sounding like you’ve been playing for years, go here:

    https://www.hearandplay.com/products

    After last week’s e-mail, I received a host of replies. Here’s one that I think will really help you (VERY IMPORTANT STRATEGIES).

    ***Comment From Kelly W.***

    Hi Jermaine,

    Thanks for sending such an informative e-mail. I feel like you give so much through your website, blog, and e-mails (maybe too much). Do you ever sleep?

    Well, here’s another e-mail to add to your insomnia. :-)

    You mentioned the number system and how it is key when it comes to playing music by ear. I totally get that now. But towards the end, you started talking about numbers and patterns but you quickly ended. Kinda left me hanging as I was hanging on your every word up until that point and didn’t want the e-mail to end.

    Do you mind expounding on how the number system works with patterns?

    A passionate fan, Kelly W.

    >>> My Comments (and explanations):

    Kelly, first off, thanks so much for your kind words. Yes, I DO sleep (but not nearly as much as I should). My wife says I should be getting in as much sleep as possible RIGHT NOW before our 2nd daughter is born in December. But I’m hard-headed. So enjoy these personal replies while they last :-)!

    To recap, YES, the number system is absolutely pivitol in playing music by ear without sheet music. There’s just so much you can do with it. (And it’s so easy to grasp — you just take every major scale you know and NUMBER each of them from 1 to 7… BAMMM! There’s the number system).

    But let’s talk about chord patterns for a second…

    In playing by ear, you’ll notice that a lot of songs use the same chord patterns over and over again. One popular chord pattern is the 1-4-5 chord progression. (Let me stop — for my beginners, “chord patterns,” “chord progressions,” “chord changes,” “chord ___whatever___” pretty much all mean the same thing).

    When I say “1-4-5” in this sense, I’m literally talking about a chord built off the first tone of the scale “moving” (or progressing) to a chord off the fourth tone of the scale… and finally to a chord off the fifth tone of the scale. There are countless possibilities.

    In the key of C (ahhhh, amazing how the number system stands on its own two feet… but now let’s move into a specific key)…

    In the key of C, a 1-4-5 chord pattern would be some kind of chord on C moving to some kind of chord on F, and finally ending on some type of chord on G. Those notes – C, F, & G – are the 1st, 4th, and 5th degrees of the scale, respectively. In other words, the “root” or “bass” of the chord will determine the number that gets attached to it.

    C major. Root (or bass) is C. And C is the first tone of the scale. Therefore, C major is on “the 1.”

    Now the reason NUMBERS are important is that I can express tons of patterns like this without being in any particular key. That is why I made the statement above about “coming” into a specific key. See, numbers are like a universal language. I can sit here and chat with a fellow musician all day long and if he or she knows about numbers, our conversation could actually make sense just saying stuff like “1-4-5” or “6-2-5-1” or “2-5-1” or “b5-7-3” (b5 = “flatted 5” and you get it by literally taking the 5th tone of the scale and flatting it a half step).

    So that’s why I mentioned how important numbers are when it comes to chord patterns.

    Here’s my advice to any musician who wants to get the most out of NUMBERS…

    First, master your scales as numbers and be able to call out any number fast. Like if I asked you, “what is the 2nd tone of F,” you should answer within seconds, “G.” If I say “the 7th tone of B,” you should answer “A#” within seconds. I’ve created a free 28-pg report about this very strategy and you can download at: https://www.hearandplay.com/numbers (Enjoy!)

    Second, once you’ve mastered numbers and they are second nature to you, start “THINKING” about them as you play songs. For example, if someone taught you these chords in the key of C:

    C major > F major > G7 > G/F > E minor > A7 > D minor > G7 > C major

    (Believe it or not, this is a very common string of chords). Oh yeah, since I hate for people to be lost, the “G7” is the quick way to write “G dominant 7.” The “G/F” is what we call a slash chord. It means play a G major chord over F bass. Whenever you see a letter without “major” or “minor” or something like that, assume “major.” And if you see a slash, the note on the right of the slash is to be played on your left hand as the bass.

    I get carried away, excuse me! :-)

    So back to this chord pattern. Once you’ve mastered numbers, you need to be thinking “NUMBERS.” See, if you’re just playing this progression and thinking these are random chords, you’re cheating yourself. But if you think of this string of chords as numbers progressing from one to the other, then you’ll be opened up to a whole new world. Let me explain…

    Because there are 12 distinct keys that you can possibly be playing a song in, most people don’t know they are playing the SAME exact thing in other keys. I mean, how can you? Everything feels different. The notes are different, the letters are different, the titles are different. The chords feel different to your hands. etc…

    Numbers standardize everything. There can only be a single number per chord. So it doesn’t matter what key you’re in, if you’re thinking in terms of numbers, you have just brought that key into a neutral world.

    Example:

    F major: ———–

    F major > Bb major > C7 > C/Bb > A minor > D7 > G minor > C7 > F major

    Did you realize right off the bat that this was the same exact pattern I displayed above in C? Most WOULDN’T because the notes are different. It throws most people off so they continue playing these two separate chord progressions in different keys NOT KNOWING they are playing the same thing!

    Let’s analyze:

    C major ———–

    C major > F major > G7 > G/F > E minor > A7 > D minor > G7 > C major

    1 > 4 > 5 > 4 > 3 > 6 > 2 > 5 > 1

    (I just took the keynotes of each chord and figured out their “numbers.”)

    For example, in the C major chord, C is the keynote (the title). It is the first tone of C major (duhh!). F major is the next chord. It’s the 4th tone of C major. G7 is the next chord. It’s the 5th tone of C major. (You just keep doing this until you’ve analyzed each chord). At the end, you have this chord pattern in numbers:

    1 > 4 > 5 > 4 > 3 > 6 > 2 > 5 > 1

    Now, if you do the same thing to the “F major” chord progression I posted above, you’ll get these numbers:

    F major: ———–

    F major > Bb major > C7 > C/Bb > A minor > D7 > G minor > C7 > F major

    1 > 4 > 5 > 4 > 3 > 6 > 2 > 5 > 1

    Lightbulb yet?

    It’s the SAME pattern but you probably didn’t know that if you don’t already think in terms of numbers. Most musicians would have treated these progressions as two separate “things” because they look different.

    But at the core, when you strip all the letters away, they are the same. Hmmm, “MESSAGE!” Everyone comes in different shapes, colors, and sizes. But when you strip all that away, we are all the same! :-)

    The third thing to do is to just get fast at being able to figure this out WHILE you’re playing. That’s all. After you do it so much, you’ll just ‘think’ that way. It’s a paradigm shift from the standard way of playing. You’ll be there soon.

    So, we’re full circle. Back to numbers and their importance.

    You may be thinking, “Jermaine! How do I ‘think’ in terms of numbers?”

    Well, it’s not something you overdo. It’s just something you’re “aware” of. As you’re playing, you force yourself to think: “Ok, I’m on the ____ tone of the scale.” That’s it! It’s simple! Over time, it will become second nature.

    Then, you’ll see just how EVERYTHING YOU PLAY (or 80% of it) boils down to the same exact patterns. You can’t see it now because you’re thinking in terms of letters. “Letters” are sort of the enemy of playing in all 12 keys. Just two hard to memorize all the letters. But if you get good at memorizing the universal numbers for all the patterns and chords you play, you won’t go wrong.

    To learn other unique techniques and strategies you can use to master the number system and take your playing to the next level, go to the link below. I recommend either my 300-pg course or my Starter 702 audio course (or BOTH). The Starter 702 course is cheap… a steal… $17 bucks and covers much of what I’ve talked about here… but with my VOICE and piano explaining everything. If you’re serious, check it out:

    https://www.hearandplay.com/products

    (It’s in the CORE ESSENTIALS section).

    Talk soon,

    Jermaine

    P.S. – This old video I did several months ago will really help you with numbers as well…

    The following two tabs change content below.
    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.




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    { 36 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Andrew

    Jermaine, that information is a gold mine! As a guitar player, I usually skim your emails and move one, but the “number” system is dynamite! I’ll be reading your free pdf with true appreciation tonight. Thanks very much!

    Reply

    2 Danny (p-rex)

    Jermaine! Great stuff man. I’ve really missed your blog and the radio show lately so this is like a breath of fresh air as a musician. The number system is truly vital to efficiently playing in all twelve keys. Good post.

    Reply

    3 nla

    I am confused that two patterns:
    C major > F major > G7 > G/F > E minor > A7 > D minor > G7 > C major
    (and)
    F major > Bb major > C7 > C/Bb > A minor > D7 > G minor > C7 > F major
    are the same. It is true that they both follow the same number pattern of 1 > 4 > 5 > 4 > 3 > 6 > 2 > 5 > 1
    However, in first case, we assume C as number 1 and in second case, we assume F as number one, right?
    So both of them would follow the same number system but pattern wouldn’t have the same tune coz i am playing the different cord. You know, i can’t see that i am playing the same thing.
    Could you explain me more?

    Thanks,
    nay lin.

    Reply

    4 Jermaine

    NLA, of course they “sound” different but they are relatively the SAME. Yes, you will get a different sound by playing the same pattern in F major. BUT, that is the key to music. To understand the underlying pattern, regardless of what ACTUAL letters or pitches you hear. To hear the pattern is to play by ear. To hear this same pattern, regardless of what 12 keys it could possibly be played in is the REAL goal. Relatively, you should hear the same movements and relationships going on. Can you sing Happy Birthday in all 12 keys? Isn’t it the same Happy Birthday whether you are in F major or in C major or in Bb major. Don’t you still know it’s happy birthday? Or do you get lost because two different singers sing happy birthday in two different keys? The point is, these are identifiable, recognizable chords being played in a sequence and when you convert them to numbers, you realize they are the same pattern… just as if i sung happy birthday in 12 different keys. THe only thing that has changed is my key, but the pattern is identical. Take away the lyrics “happy birthday” and you have yourself a particular pattern that is found in many other songs. Turn happy birthday into numbers and then compare with other songs you’ve played before in other keys (don’t forget to convert them into numbers as well) — and you’ll see how these patterns repeat over and over.

    Sorry for rambling. Hope it makes sense.

    Reply

    5 Marie Brennan

    Hi Jermaine,
    hi Jermaine,
    I play lever harp, and your piano emails are very helpful. The number system works perfectly for lever harp because there are levers to raise or lower the strings 1/2 step as needed for any scale. Once the levers are preset, the finger patterns are exactly the same for any key. I can close my eyes and start the song and no matter what key I am in, my fingers naturally fall into place. You have helped me trust my hands and my ears to know how to play in any key. Piano is a little harder because I have to remember different patterns of black keys, but the hand shapes are still essentially the same.
    Thanks,
    Marie B.

    Reply

    6 WILLARD CRAWFORD

    Hi Jermaine,
    Re: “Numbers Rule the World of Music” I understand everything except why are the slash chords G/F, and the C/Bb slash chord number 4? Since G and C are the chords, and F and Bb are the notes to be played in the base, it seems like the numbers should be 5 in both cases. What am I missing? Thanks. Willard Crawford

    Reply

    7 Danny (p-rex)

    Well, I hope Mr. Griggs doesn’t mind but I’ll try to answer that for you.

    With slash chords like that you interpret by the bass. What I mean is that even though G/F has G on top you would still refer to it as a kind of F chord. Try this: Play E minor over C (Em/C). While you might think it’s an E minor chord it is really a Cmaj7. That is a simplified example of what’s going on with slash chords like G/F and C/Bb.

    Hope that helped. Jermaine can probably explain it better though.

    Reply

    8 Pat

    I have been subscribing with you for a number of years and watched your site evolve. I was reading the information about numbers and chords and found it very intriguing. I am also going to order your gospel singing with Nena. Thanks for being such a creative young man and offering this information. I paid over $200 to learn to play piano and have not yet. I have had music theory and played violin. So your courses make sense to me. I will let you know how the gospel singing works for me. Again, thanks. I will find time for the lessons.

    Reply

    9 Jermaine

    @ Pat! Thanks! Will keep an eye out for ya!

    @ Willie @P-rex — P-rex is right, go by the bass (lowest note) for the reasons he described.

    Reply

    10 Marjorie

    I went to the address you gave in my e-mail, but can’t find the $$17.00 Starter.

    Thanks.

    Reply

    11 WILLARD CRAWFORD

    Thanks for your help P-Rex. That explains it. Willard

    Reply

    12 Miriam Tierno

    Greetings Rev. Jermaine,

    I leaned to play the piano the old-fashioned-classical style. I have done alot of self-studies in the chord-style playing and now I am learning to play by ear with your couses. Trying to think in the number system has been very different for me but quite interesting. I am enjoying all your lessons.

    Question: In the key of C, I understand the 1,4,5 theory. Where do you get the 4,3,6 and 2,5,1 that follows?

    Thank you, Miriam

    Reply

    13 Jermaine

    @Miriam – The 1,4, and 5 are the primary chords of any given key. Everything else is secondary chords. If you played all your songs just with the 1,4,5, you’d have very basic sounding songs. Nursery rhymes, folk songs, “the wheels on the bus go round and round,” all come to mind.

    When you start adding the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th tone of the scale, now you’re adding variety. At the end of the day, most songs are either at home (the 1), leaving home (the 4), on on their way back home (the 5). The other secondary degrees of the scale are stops along the way… need gas/fuel and food/energy while you’re out right?

    So you get this big circle:

    4 leads to 7
    3 leads to 6
    2 leads to 5
    1 leads to 4

    1 – 4 – 7 – 3 – 6 – 2 – 5 – 1. that’s the flow of most songs.

    My example in the newsletter used this for the most part.

    we started with a classic 1-4-5… then we used the “4th” tone of the scale again as a passing chord to lead to the 3. From the 3, we just stole the whole progression above. 3-6-2-5-1… very popular. Lots of songs have this progression. But at the end of the day, it’s just a fancy way to do a 5-1.

    For example, in the simple worship song Hallelujah, you “could” do:

    hallelujah -1 chord

    hallelujah – 4 chord

    hallelujah – 5 chord

    hallelujah – 1 chord

    Or you could do:

    Hallelujah – 1 chord

    Hallelujah – 4 chord

    Hallelujah – 5 chord

    hallelujah – (4) 3-6-2-5-1

    * in the last part, “le” is on 4, “lu” is on 3, 6-2-5 is on the held “jah”… by the time you hit the 5th tone of the scale, you’re ready to come home on the 1, which is hallelujah (simply repeat).

    I realize this may be extremely hard to follow with words.

    But just know that the other tones of the scale just make things more interesting. Yes, you can play most songs just with the 1-4-5 but you wouldn’t have much tension/release like you get with the interjection of minor chords and other stuff like that. Thus the other tones and the circle of fifths and all that.

    HOpe this helps,
    JG

    Reply

    14 Tricia-Dawn Chaitram

    Hello Jermaine,

    I appreciated your detailed explanations on the number system with regards to the scales. I would like to begin practicing the scales again since I have stopped a little while because I was attending to other studies but now I am back on track. Could you please send me the fingering techniques for all 12 major scales please? Thank you and I look forward to your reply.

    Tricia-Dawn Chaitram

    Reply

    15 babalola

    online traning

    Reply

    16 Davd Philips

    Dear JG

    Thanks for the Number System E-mail. It is very enlighting. I appologise for my silence for so long. I have had family problems that have taken me away form my piano as well as my computer.

    I really enjoy your correspondence as well as your products. I have bought several of your products and find them excellent.

    I have studed music since the year 1934 (yes 75 years) and still I find that I am learning from you.

    Keep up your good work.

    Dave.

    Reply

    17 Oma

    I just read your theory on number system to play by ear. I know it could be easy, but it just hasn’t dawned on me yet. I always try to make it harder than it is. I am going to try my level best to understand this. I wish I could take lessons from you. You see, I was almost 70 before I got a chance to play, and it is hard for me. Please keep uour emails coming. Thanks a million!!1

    Reply

    18 Peter Binnington

    I love the numbering system! am working on it to use when changing keys, but not perfect yet, still a long way to go before I can do it instantly. One question though, is what is the best way to remember chords that are not in the key your in. As an example, take `Begining to see the Light` in the key of `F`. The first phrase is ok in F, but the repeated second phrase at the end drops down to Db7. So do you try to remember it as 5#7 or 2b7 or is there a better way?
    Great lesson`s, keep em coming!!.

    Reply

    19 Gregory Bowman

    Hi Jermaine,

    Your take on the numbers system is so useful, especially the flashcards, which will help me to apply the 2 second rule faster. I’m a guitarist and bassist who wants to teach, session and write film music and have just started a music access course at Goldsmith’s University in London. The 2- 5- 1 progression is exactly what we’re talking about at the moment. I’ve sent your link on to my teacher and am looking back at your past emails in order to to get videos and pdf files covering each topic is my University year. When it comes to buying dvds and videos, Hear And Play is where I will purchase them from!:)

    Listening up,

    Greg

    Reply

    20 Tresa

    Hi Jermaine,

    I just started taking gospel piano lessons three weeks ago. I paid $117 for my first month of lessons, which included registration and four 30 minute sessions. I am so happy that I found your website through YouTube before I paid for another month of lessons. I am going into my fourth week of lessons, and the only thing that has been covered is 9 of the 12 major chords. During week 4, the remaining 3 chords are covered. The major scales are not covered until week 8. For the past three weeks I have been wondering where did the major chord formations originate from, b/c I was playing only what I was instructed to play with no background. It was not until I came to the “hear and play” website that I understood what I was learning. I subscribed to your beginners webpage and read about the scales and then it all begin to make sense. I read further, and learned more in the first hour on your website that I have in three weeks worth of lessons. I thank God for this website and your passion to share your knowledge with others. I have purchased the Gospel Keys Worship series and I am studying the lesson on the numbering system. God Bless You!!! I pray that God will continue to give you wisdom so that you continue to impart into the lives of others. I am so excited…now I feel like I am learning information and techniques that will help me reach my goal!

    Reply

    21 David

    Hi jermaine,
    Do you have a product to drill me on learning the numbers for each key? For example an audio, or flashcards, or computer program or something that will give me lots of repetition ?
    Thank You,
    Respectfully,
    David

    Reply

    22 Horace Washington

    Dear Jermaine, I was trying to find a way of getting in contact with you to ask about a couple of items that i haven’t yet received from back in december when i placed an order for the musicians transformation. The items are Mystery Piano Bonus and Mystery Organ Bonus which were supposed to be sent to me seperately from 12-disc Musician Transformation disc set that i have. If you would please sent me a response as soon as possible regarding the two items listed. I know that they were a part of the Musicians Transformation packet and i would like to add it to music transformation learning tools. Thanks in advance for your promptness and thanks for the learning tools that has helped me to get to the point where i am now. Thanks again and may God continue to Bless your music ministry which has helped so many people dreams; (such as myself), dreams become reality!!! My E-mail is: hwashington@atlanticbb.net .

    Reply

    23 Samuel

    Hi Jermaine,
    It’s been wonderful reading hear and play page content and the lessons you freely give out. God is not unjust to forget your labor of love. He will surely reward you greatly.
    Please I want you to kindly send the chord software link page to my mail box. Please I carelessly deleted the link page from my PC.
    Thanks and God bless.

    Reply

    24 stephen

    please ,i want the chords of :our father by Don meon

    Reply

    25 lius

    hi Jermaine!
    thanks you have an awesome blog!
    I am a classical pianist (student, will graduate next year). I am good at reading notes, but when it comes to ear playing i am horrible!!! talentless:P, so this year i have decided to improve my ear playing and i found your blog. I would be very very very very very very happy if you could send me these kind of emails:D
    Enkhuils

    Reply

    26 Bonny

    Jermine, I’ve been playing since I was 6 or 7 years old. Mother taught me. Then took classical piano lessons when in High School in the late 40’s. Later in the 60’s my church needed a piano player. Now I’ve found your site and am learning to play by numbers. It’s awesome. Keep up the good work. I think your lessons are easy since I know music theory. I’m not there yet playing by ear, but It won’t be long before I can do it. God Bless! I just fnished the third lesson. Praise the Lord!
    Bonny

    Reply

    27 Samson

    Thanx J.G.
    You are a blessing to your generation. Your resources here is really helping me build up myself.
    Please keep the flag flying.
    Samson (jairoki)

    Reply

    28 Samuel Tiro

    Dear Jermaine!

    My playing is gradually improving. Everytime i play a hymn in church my Pastor just
    Loves new way of playing. The area i live at in Johannesburg has a weak wireless signal so it is difficult downloading the large video tutorial and so on. BUT i will always try to purchase your HEAVEN SEND music tutorial. THANK YOU EVER so much man! You make odinary guys like me into Supermusicians!!! God Bless you man and your entire family!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply

    29 click this

    salutations from over the world. interesting post I will return for more.

    Reply

    30 Print Derry

    Hey I thought you possibly appreciate my blog

    Reply

    31 jim

    i find a lot of older songs are played with major chords , but i find they sometimes sound better by substituting minors , is it correct to do this ? is it all about the sound rather than playing it the way it was written one particular song is I BELIEVE by elvis presley , i play it in c and add minors in certain places. THANK YOU JIM

    Reply

    32 marsha jane

    I didn’t see any numbers to download for free, I said I was an intermediate, but I think now beginner, I mean I’ve learned some songs by reading sheet music, but that is hard, i’am real slow at knowing all the lines, when they drop so far below, or above the staff. I am studying music theory now, so i’m just learning from a couple of lessons about circle of fifths, minor cords of the majors, augmented, diminished, hasn’t stuck in my head. So familiarizing is all I’ve done, would be the thing to say;

    so you see, I am still a beginner. and the flash cards sounded so relevant, I’ll have to look back at your products, I wouldn’t know what to order 1st. BUT I KNOW I WANT THE CARDS, UNTIL I KNOW, & LET ME WATCH THE OTHER 3 FREE LESSONS. I HAVE CERTAIN I WILL BE WITH YOU THE REST OF TIME. YOURS IS G-R-E-A-T HOPE FOR ME. BUT WHY BIT OFF MORE THAN I CAN CHEW, 1ST THINGS 1ST. And like I said: I didn’t click beginner & I should have., (937-226-7233) marshalljane@att.net. Thank You

    Reply

    33 Emmanuel Essien

    Dear Jermaine,

    I appreciate your great works here. I can now understand how numbers works in music. God bless you and continue to give you more wisdom.

    Reply

    34 Nonso

    Sir, i saw your 30mins video on finding keys. I never knew it could be so easy for me to find the key a song is on without waiting to get to the end of the song. you made it sooooo easy. thank you.
    thank you for the other materials that you have for people like me.
    something tells me that my search for help is over.
    God bless you

    Reply

    35 Taiwo

    please,i am a slow learner,i havent understood this numbers…can u please help me more on this sir?

    Reply

    36 seidu sakiru abiodun

    Jermain thanks a lot for all your lessons, please i know circle of fifth and also all the 12 keys, i want to no how to use relative minor, is it when a song start from a minor note, like 2,3,6,7. Or when a song is descending to a close. Please throw more light on these thanks

    Reply

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