• Using “5-1” Progressions To Enhance Your Playing

    in Chords & Progressions

    If you know anything about chord progressions, you’ll understand that each one has its own functions and roles. For example, one progression may be common for beginning a song, while another progression may be common for ending a song. Certain progressions are likely to be played during modulations to new keys while others aren’t. In other words, you want to understand the ROLES of chord progressions.

    (Oh, by the way, a chord progression is simply a series of chords played one after the other).

    To know a “2-5-1” chord progression, for example, but not know where to play it is useless when it comes to playing by ear. So in the next few lessons, we will explore different progressions and where to use them!

    The “5-1” Progression

    The “5-1” progressions will commonly end a song, chorus, or verse. Being that the “1” chord represents the actual key that you’re song is being played in, it makes sense for it to be the very last chord played.

    So again, in most cases, the “1” chord will end the song. However, there are times when other tones of the scale will end the song instead (like the sixth degree played as a major chord or the fourth degree played as a dominant chord in fast gospel songs). But for the purposes of this lesson, we will focus on the majority of songs that end on the “1” chord.

    Think of the “5-1” chord progression like this:

    If you were watching a live theatrical performance or even a musical concert of some sort, when would you know to clap? Isn’t it true that the audience as a whole always knows when to clap even though they’re not all musicians? How do they know when the song is over? How do we know when to clap?

    Because, we have already been trained to recognize “5-1” progressions whether we’re musicians OR not!

    The “5” chord by itself is that chord right BEFORE the end of the song. You know the song is about to end because you hear the “5” chord (and of course, I am referring more to slow songs than fast ones). Perhaps, the pianist will hold the “5” chord for a while … but you still don’t clap because you know it’s not the last chord. So, in essence, the “5” chord prepares us for the “1” chord. It creates such a strong pull towards the “1” chord that we can even predict how the next chord is suppose to sound in our mind.

    Imagine if a pianist was holding the “5” chord and all of a sudden gets up and walks away. The audience would totally be shocked because we would think he didn’t finish the song completely. That’s because the “5” gives us the feeling that something is about to end, but hasn’t quite ended yet (again, that’s why we don’t clap yet). And in cases where the song doesn’t actually end, it will alert us that the song is returning back to the beginning of the verse or chorus for another round.

    Examples of “5-1” endings:

    a) “Hap-py Birth-Day to You”

    Ending on the “5” in this example would be like not singing the final “you.” You’ve sung the “happy birthday to…” but until you say “you,” the song hasn’t ended.

    The “5” in this example is the word “to,” while the final “1” chord would be played on “you.”

    Are you following me?

    If not, feel free to post messages on our board about this lesson.

    b) “… Was blind, but now I see”

    This line is taken from “Amazing Grace.” Can you figure out where the “5-1” progression would be played in this line?

    If you’re having trouble, just think this to yourself…

    If I wasn’t a musician at all and simply listening to this song, at what point would I know the song is JUST about to end???

    The word “I” prepares you for the ending so it would definitely be accompanied by a “5” chord. But don’t think that a “5” chord only applies to the one last word before the ending. You can play a chord over multiple words.

    So in this case, I would say that the “5” chord begins on “now” and is held until “I” is sang. Finally, when “see” is sang, the song ends and obviously you’d play a “1” chord.

    Actual “5-1” Progressions You Can Play

    Here are some nice-sounding “5-1” progressions you can start playing right away. Make sure to listen for them in some of your favorite songs (especially slow ballads).

    These progressions will be based in the key of Db major. For simplicity, I will simply “spell out” each chord, one by one. Feel free to mix and match different chords from the “5” and “1” columns.

    A ” / ” slash means that the note to the right will be played on the bass (left hand).

    “5” chord ————————- “1” chord
    C + F + A / Ab ——————– Bb + Eb + Ab / Db
    Gb + Bb + Db + F / Ab ————- Eb + Ab + Db / Db
    C + E + Ab + B / Ab —————- B + Eb + Gb + Bb / Db
    Eb + Ab + Bb + C / Ab ————- Db + Eb + F + Ab / Db

    This concludes today’s Classroom Lesson.

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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!

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