• Who else wants to learn 2-5-1 chord progressions in every key?

    in Chords & Progressions

    If you’ve been on the blog the last few days, you’ve probably watched my 33-minute video teaching you how to play Robin Thicke’s “Lost Without You.”

    I chose this song because of its simplicity in structure and to show you how easy it is to play a popular song… if you have the right process. Plus, I love the progressions!

    Yesterday, I posted a quick lesson summarizing the chords. But I couldn’t stay long because I was headed to the hospital to support my grandma as she underwent surgery. Thanks for your prayers, by the way! She’s doing great! :-).

    So today, I want to back up and show you a simple way to play the chords of “Lost Without You” in all 12 keys!

    First, let’s review the four chords that dominate this song. (Again, if you haven’t watched the original video, you’re missing out and this lesson won’t have its full impact).

    Once again, I’ll use my new piano tool I announced on Tuesday to show you the chords below…

    Here’s the four chords…

    Dmin7

    G7

    Cmaj7

    Fmaj7

    Notice the stepwise motion between tones. That’s what makes it sound so good!

    This is what we call a 2-5-1-4 chord progression.

    Click here to view yesterday’s lesson. It will explain why we call it a “2-5-1-4” progression in more detail.

    But for this lesson, I want to focus specifically on the first three chords. This is the “2-5-1” part of the chord progression.

    (Alright alright! Here’s why we call this a “2-5-1-4” chord progression… Because if you compare the bass notes of the 4 chords I posted above to the C major scale, the key this progression is in, you’ll find that “D” is the 2nd tone of the scale — “G” is the 5th tone of the scale — “C” is the 1st tone of the C major scale, of course — and “F” is the 4th tone of the scale. So the numbers come straight from the scale. Simple enough?)

    But for this example, we’re only going to focus on the “2-5-1” part of the chord progression. And let me tell ya… this is probably one of the most commonly used chords in music history! I’m serious! You can hardly play a song without using some kind of 2-5-1 progression.

    They’re used to end songs because of the strong pull and resolution back “home.” Basically, you get a feeling of “ending” when you play a “2-5-1” progression. It’s like that “2” chord is sort of away from home. But when it progresses to the “5” chord, it tells your ear, “Ok, we’re getting ready to go back home.” And finally when you hear any kind of “1” chord, whether you’re a musician or not, your ear tells you, “Alas, we’re home!” That’s basically the whole idea.

    Music is a combination of tension (being away from home) and release (coming back home). If you think about it, EVERYTHING in life is a combination of tension and release. You go through something in life (tension)… and then you overcome it (release). But you better not get too comfortable because something else will inevitably come up. That’s how chord progressions are. Heck, that’s how movies, books, freeways, marriages, sports — that’s how everything is!

    So how can we learn this same exact “2-5-1” progression in every key? It’s simple. We’re going to use the famous circle of fifths chart!

    circle of fifths

    If you look closely at this circle, our “D to G to C” progression lies on the right side, going counter-clockwise. If you compare this chart to a clock, “D” is at 2 o’ clock, G is at 1 o’ clock, and C is at 12 o’ clock.

    Here’s the secret…

    This circle is filled with every “2-5-1” chord progression you’ll ever want to play. What do you do to find them?

    Just circle any 3 neighboring tones on this circle and move in a counter-clockwise direction. The last note circled in that direction will be your “home” chord just like “C” is our home chord in the example above.

    Check out these examples from my circle:

    circle of fifths

    If we want to play a “2-5-1” chord progression in Bb major, we do the same thing. Circle “Bb.” Then circle the note right next to it “F” — then circle the note right next to it, “C.” Always remember that these kind of progressions always work in a counter-clockwise direction when you use this circle. In other words, it’s like telling time backwards. If you’re going the same direction your clock on the wall moves, then reverse the direction and you’ll be on track!

    If we want to play a “2-5-1” in “A major,” the process is the same. Circle the note “A.” Then back up and circle the note right next to it, “E” — then the note right next to it, “B.” Piece of cake, yeah?

    So, with that said, here’s how to play the chords I taught you in the video — in ALL 12 KEYS.

    C major (example)

    Dmin7

    G7

    Cmaj7

    (All on the right hand)

    Step 1: From the first to the second chord, get used to lowering the left note first.

    Step 2: From the second chord to the last chord (home base), get used to lowering the right note.

    Step 3: Once you reach home, you’ll have to turn that “home base” chord into a minor chord so that it can operate as the “2” chord in the next key you’re trying to move to. In other words, now that you’ve finished playing a “2-5-1” progression in C (which is D minor 7 > G dominant 7 > C major 7), now you must prepare to convert the “C major 7” into a minor 7 chord so that it can operate as the “2” chord in the next key. You do that by just moving each note down a half step. That’s it.

    So this chord…

    (C major 7)

    turns into…

    …this chord (C minor 7).

    Then you just repeat the same pattern, except now, “C minor 7” is the beginning of your chord progression. You’ll lower its left note and it will take you to an F dominant 7. Just like you did in the original example, you’ll then lower its right note and it will take you to a Bb major 7. So now we’ve just played a “2-5-1” in the key of Bb major.

    “2-5-1” in Bb major:

    Cmin7

    F7

    Bbmaj7 (Bb on bass… not shown because my piano image is not wide enough)

    *Notice, all we’re doing is following the circle of fifths. What was once “D to G to C” is now “C to F to Bb.” The next one will be “Bb to Eb to Ab,” all in alignment with the circle. I tell ya — once you know the circle, you’ve opened the door to tons of musical shortcuts!

    So, I expect you to know the pattern by now! After we’ve successfully played Bb major 7, we lower both of its notes so that it becomes Bb minor 7. It now operates as a “2” chord for our next progression. It’s an unending cycle, basically!

    Exercise: Let’s figure out this “2-5-1” progression in every key using this technique. Post any one of your choice, as long as it follows the same voicing as my example. I’ll start us off!

    Until next time —

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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.




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    { 18 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Jermaine

    I’ll start it off…

    2-5-1 in C major

    C + F on right / D on bass = D minor 7
    B + F on right / G on bass = G7
    B + E on right / C on bass = C major 7

    ——–

    2-5-1 in Db major

    Db + Gb on right / Eb on bass = Eb minor 7
    C + Gb on right / Ab on bass = Ab7
    C + F on right / Db on bass = Db major 7

    Who’s next?

    Reply

    2 bigbeardale

    Jermaine,
    I love the new keyboard tool that you made available to us. I made good use of it by doing intervals on your theory forum in the zone, http://zone.hearandplay.com/index.php?name=PNphpBB2&file=viewtopic&t=7044
    and on my blog.
    http://my.opera.com/bigbeardale/blog
    Thanks for all that you are doing for everyone. Love you blog,

    Dale

    Reply

    3 bigbeardale

    2-5-1 in F major

    B + F on right / G on bass = G minor 7
    E + Bb on right / C on bass = C7
    E + A on right / F on bass = F major 7

    Reply

    4 Laketa

    2-5-1 in Eb

    Eb + Ab on right / F on bass = F minor 7

    D + Ab on right / Bb on bass = Bb 7

    D + G on right / Eb on bass = Eb maj 7

    Reply

    5 Roland

    2-5-1 in F# major

    F# + B on right / G# on bass = G# minor 7
    E# + B on right / C# on bass = C#7
    E# + A# on right / C on bass = F# major 7

    lol…takes a bit of thinking.
    Great exercise

    Reply

    6 ogoli afam

    i need d diagram to illustrate 2-5-1 of f# major

    Reply

    7 TRUMUSIC1SOUL aka BRIAN

    2-5-1 KEY OF A

    B MINOR 7 A + D RIGHT/ B LEFT

    E7 G# + D ” / E ”

    A MAJOR 7 G# + C# ” / A ”

    I REALLY LOVE THESE EXERCISES. THEY REALLY PUSH A MUSICIAN TOWARDS A STRONGER YEARNING FOR PERFECTION. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!!!

    Reply

    8 Marshall Davis

    Great lesson. In your description of the 2-5-1 chord related to a clock is it not a 2-oclock to 1-oclock to 12-oclock rather than 10 to 11 to 12?

    Reply

    9 Jermaine

    @ Marshall! You are right. I was thinking of the other side of the circle. I changed it.

    Reply

    10 Eresmas

    Nice one.

    2-5-1 in G MAJOR

    G + C / A on right

    F# + C / D on right

    F# + B / G on right

    May confuse at first but once you figure out the 2 chord, the rest is butter, Just “down-half-stepping” things on the right hand while watching the bass.
    By the way, thank God Granma’s fine.

    Reply

    11 Eresmas

    Ooops! I meant A on left, D on left and G on left

    Reply

    12 Everick

    Hi Jermaine:
    I dont understand this (Db + Gb on right / Eb on bass = Eb minor 7)
    line. Sure I know Dflat and G flat etc., but the notation above is way beyond me. What does on “the right mean?’ What does Eb on bass =E minor7 mean?
    Can you lease explain in some detail?

    Reply

    13 Jermaine

    Bass is the low end of your piano, what your left hand plays.

    Right means what you play on your right hand.

    So from left to right, this chord is

    Eb // Db + Gb

    Together, that is Eb minor 7 (just has the Bb omitted, which doesn’t affect the naming of the chord since it’s just the 5th).

    I hope this helps.

    Reply

    14 onyikielah

    Pls, i need it on c sharp… @all n Jere

    Reply

    15 PITSO

    jarmaine i’m in south africa and i’d love to get myself secrets to playing piano by ear. how can i get it? i dont have a credit card so i cant buy it via interenet.

    Reply

    16 Mr Simple

    I dont understand dis keys…… Am new in keyboard…. Can sm1 teach me more? Plsss

    Reply

    17 Emmanuel

    great lesson in deed.
    2-5-1 on D major
    E // D+G (Eminor7)
    A // Db+G (A7)
    D // Db+Gb (Dmajor7)

    Reply

    18 Emmanuel Ohwoka

    2-5-1 in B major

    Db // B + E (Dminor7)

    F# // Bb + E (F#7)

    B // Bb + Eb (Bmajor7)

    Reply

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