• You don’t have to be a math whiz to master “2-5-1” chord progressions in every key

    in Chords & Progressions

    mathwhizbig.jpgOk, so you’ve probably heard terms like “2-5-1 chord progression,” “2-5-1 progression,” or just “2-5-1” for short.

    These are just ways to describe chords going from one to the other… simple!

    Here’s a little poem I made up.

    Notes create scales,
    scales create chords,
    chords create progressions,
    progressions create songs.

    I know, I know… it doesn’t rhyme but it explains music in 4 lines.

    Basically, what it’s saying is the 12 unique tones on the piano create organized scales (there’s 12 of them, too, for every tone of the piano).

    These scales define “major keys.” When you hear someone singing, they HAVE to be singing in one of these 12 keys.

    If they are like some of the rejects on early American Idol episodes, they may be in two major keys, wavering from one to the other without knowing it (…that’s why they are rejects). At any given time, though, you can only be in one key… if the singer is legit.

    Once you know scales, there are easy formulas to play chords. I’ve made tons of prior posts on chords.

    While scales are tones played one after the other, chords are three or more tones sounded at the same time.

    One leads to the next as chord progressions are basically a series of chords going from one to the other… basically what you hear when you’re listening to your favorite band. You’re hearing chords organized into progressions.

    And that’s what this post talks about… the third line in my little poem:

    Notes create scales,
    scales create chords,
    chords create progressions,
    progressions create songs.

    So where do the numbers come from?

    Good question.

    They actually come from scales.

    Every scale can be thought of in terms of numbers.

    Like this, a “C major” scale:

    C D E F G A B C

    If you want to be really good at understanding all 12 keys (so that you’re not one of those musicians who can only play in one key), then you’ll want to think of this same scale in terms of numbers:

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

    Not only do these numbers let you create chords immediately (“scales create chords”), but they also allow you to play progressions pretty easily.

    First, the chords.

    If you want to play a major chord, here’s the formula:

    1 + 3 + 5

    Bam! Easy! You don’t have to know all that deep theory or even about intervals to create chords from scales. You just need to know the formula. Take any 1st tone, 3rd tone, and 5th tone — and play them together and there’s your major chord.

    In C major, for example, the 1, 3, and 5 are “C,” “E,” and “G.” Just play them together and that’s a C major chord. (All I did was take the 1st, 3rd, and the 5th tones of the C major scale above and play them together… it’s that simple!)

    The good news is that there are easy formulas like that for just about every type of chord, but that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about progressions.


    Basically, the “2” is the second tone of the scale. The “5” is the fifth tone of the scale. And the “1” is ________________ (well, you know the rest).

    But the only difference is, unlike the chords where you would take the 2, 5, and 1 — and play them together… this time, you’re actually forming separate chords on each one of those tones and leading from one to the other.

    So some kind of chord built on the second tone of the scale “PROGRESSES” to some type of chord built on the 5th tone of the scale, which ends by progressing to some type of chord that’s built on the 1st tone of the scale.

    That’s how progressions work.

    Now, I could get deeper but I won’t. There’s plenty of lessons on the chords that go with every tone of the scale. But just know this… every tone has a “favorite” chord that usually goes with it.

    The first tone is usually a major chord. It CAN be something different but usually it’s some kind of major chord (I say “some kind” because you can have a very basic major chord all the way up to a fancy “major 13” chord).

    The second tone of the scale is usually a minor chord. So that “2” in the “2-5-1” is usually minor.

    The fifth tone of the scale is usually a major chord as well. Now, as we get more fancy, it can also be a dominant chord but let’s keep it simple.

    So we have a major chord on the 1st tone, a minor chord on the 2nd tone, and a major chord on the 5th tone.

    That means our 2-5-1 looks something like this:

    2minor > 5major > 1major

    You get that?

    So now… because we’re dealing with numbers (the universal language), we can apply this chord progression to any key.

    If we want to play this in C major, we just figure out the 2nd, 5th, and 1st tone of C major and we’re ready to fill in the gaps:

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

    The 2nd tone is: ___________
    The 5th tone is: ___________
    The 1st tone is: ___________

    Therefore, the 2-5-1 progression in C major is:

    ___minor > ___major > ___major

    You should have:

    Dminor > Gmajor > Cmajor

    Putting it all together

    Ok, so how can I get really good at playing in all 12 keys without even having to think about it? How can I just play that same 2-5-1 chord progression in any key I want? Whether C major, or F major or Ab major… how can I get to that level Jermaine?

    Good questions…

    The answer is…


    See, the chord part is easy. If you know the “2” will always have a minor chord, the “5” will always have a major chord, and the “1” will always have a major chord, then all you have to know is all 12 major and minor chords and you’re good to go.

    The hard part is knowing what the 2 of Ab major is without even having to think about it. Or the 5 of B major without blinking an eye. Or the 1 of C major (…now you have to be pretty slow not to know the “1” because the “1” is the first tone of the scale… in other words the title of the scale you’re playing… hehe). C major scale… the 1 is “C,” which is in the title.

    So with that said, your biggest battles are going to be knowing the “2s” and “5s” of every key.

    The best thing to do is to follow this circle of fifths pattern below, calling out the 2 of every key as you move clockwise (or counter-clockwise) around the circle.

    I personally like to move counter-clockwise because that is the direction music moves in. In fact, moving counter-clockwise gives you a 2-5-1 chord progression. Check out this chart below:

    circle of fifths

    Notice that C is at the top (12 o clock). And if you move to where 11 o clock would be, which is F, and then move again to Bb… and stop for a moment to think about it, you’ll notice that “C > F > Bb” is a “2-5-1” in the key of Bb major.

    So every 3 neighboring notes on the circle of fifths chart going counter-clockwise is a 2-5-1 in the last key of the group.

    (If you study the circle of fifths, you’ll be blown away at how much there is to learn from this simple little circle.)

    But that’s a lesson in and of itself.

    Here’s the exercise I want you to do though:

    1) First you’ll start off by trying to master your “2s” of every key.
    2) Starting at C, call out the “2nd” tone of C as fast as you can.
    3) You can either go clockwise or counter-clockwise. If you go my direction (counter-clockwise), then the next key will be F. Call out the 2nd tone of F as fast as you can.
    4) Proceed to do this around the entire circle.
    5) Use a stopwatch to figure out how long it took you to call out the “2s” of all 12 keys. If you don’t have one, check out my online stopwatch tool.

    Then start all over and do the same thing for the “5s” of every key.

    To be honest, you should be doing it for every tone of the scale. You should be doing it for 2 thru 7. Don’t worry about doing it for the 1st tone of the scale as you have to be pretty slow not to know that C is the first tone of the C major scale, lol.

    So that’s how you get good at knowing what a “2-5-1” is in the key of “B” without thinking about it. It comes down to knowing the numbers.

    But you don’t have to be a math whiz! You just have to be committed to knowing your keys and doing these exercises will have you on your way!

    If you’re really serious, check out my home study course. It covers this kind of stuff in depth.

    Use the comment form below to talk back to me. If you reading this post via e-mail or rss reader, click on to the site to leave a comment below.

    How long did it take you to call out your “2s” and “5s” in each key?

    What do you find most challenging about mastering each key?

    Do you like to go clockwise around the circle or counter-clockwise?

    Hate numbers? lol

    Like this lesson? Hate this lesson?

    See ya next time!

    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.


    { 50 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Jermaine

    I know this one was long… does everyone get it? Any questions?


    2 wesley

    u are not givin me the basic chords on the screen that equire to staat learning so i must say please give me a little more help at this rate ….tank u


    3 wesley

    hello jermaine are u ther please tap me back … tank uuu


    4 giuseppe

    GOOD !


    5 Jermaine

    @wesley: Here are the major and minor chords you need to make the lesson make sense (there are tons of prior posts that cover these and if I backtrack for every post, they’ll be super long and people that know it may get annoyed because they want me to get to what the topic actually is. I actually thought I backtracked a little too much for this post as I really wanted to get to the “meat” and “potatoes,” which was the “2-5-1” progressions and how to learn them in every key.)

    Here are some posts that cover the basic major and minor chords. Then return here to see if this lesson makes more sense to you:


    All the best,


    6 MS

    Thanks for this lesson. It has really opened my understanding of the importance of the ‘Circle of Fifths’. I have your course, but find that I do more work on the computer. Fascinating! I enjoy reading the comments, too. May God continue to bless you and family at home and at Hear and Play Music! Keep up the good work.


    7 Jermaine

    @MS: Thanks for your comment. Yup yup, the circle of fifths chart has many implications. If you type circle of fifths in the search box (or click here https://www.hearandplay.com/main/?s=circle+of+fifths ), it will give you other posts that mention the circle.

    Come back and see us regularly on here, will ya? :)



    8 Lucion

    This is a great lesson!!! I liked it


    9 Pablo

    going counterclockwise on the wheel gives 2-5-1. In your example starting at 12 oclock ( C ) to 11 (F) to 10 (Bb)..why is it in 4ths,
    doin my cyferin…Jethro


    10 David R. Henry

    Pablo, each note in the circle going counterclockwise is the FOURTH note of the scale to the right hence, the 4ths (F is the 4th tone of the C major scale. Bb is the fourth tone of the F major scale etc…).


    11 sharon briggs

    I really need to study this system. I know it will help me. I must find the time. Thanks Jermaine. Sharon


    12 ruth

    Since knowing your site I have been training on the “counter-clock wise direction, but it’s still a bit mind-stretching for me to get the numbers right. Looking in my mind’s eye at the circle chart it still took me 45 seconds to name the nr 2 in all the keys because you have to “think” two places backward. For the nr 5 I said it in 25 seconds.
    Thanks for the lesson.


    13 jerry

    I love your teachings. Im not very fast at learning to play but I have a lot of your lessons and listen to them over and over. I want to learn how to play but just for my self and maybe a special in church some time. I just wanted you to know that I read everything you send out and enjoy it. You are a great teacher. Just wanted you to know I dont respond very often but I do enjoy. God Bless You and your Family and Staff


    14 jeffrey booker

    thanks for your help jermaine I can say I’m making good progress, welsley look to your left to find your notes i was lost to till I order the course makes a lot of sence to me now I made it hard for myself


    15 Adotei

    Thanks so much Jermaine may God add more grease to your elbow. shalon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    16 David R. Henry

    An easy way to get the 2 of any key is to skip a note on the circle of fifths and read the next note going clockwise. So, if you go clockwise from C and skip G you will get D, starting at G and skipping D you get A, the 2nd note in the G major scale. ALSO, the 2 is the relative of the 4, D is the relative note of F (D minor is the relative minor of F major).


    17 David R. Henry

    Germaine, this is GREAT!!! I NEVER noticed that it is 2-5-1 progression going counter-clockwise. WAY COOL!!!


    18 sunay

    i want to say thank you Germaine for your courage ,outstanding put through , and your motivation, indeed you are a great teacher keep it up !


    19 alphonzo

    Am currently learning the circle of fifth’s and i must admit i had already spent a fair amount of time trying to understand it. hovever after reading this post i realised all the 2,5,1 progressions were right there infront my eyes….lol, it’s becomming easier.


    20 merlie

    hi jermaine,

    thanks for the lesson. May God bless u always! all d best.


    21 merlie

    Hi jermaine,

    it’s me again i got a mistake ordering gospel 101, instead of DVD i ordered gospel 101 chord,i thougt it was the same but when i got the package and play i didn’t watched anything. But it’s okay maybe i will try to order again in some other time. thanks a lot!


    22 AutoFinesse

    hello like your time have a ganders of mine


    23 mobile recyclers

    Rattling superb information can be found on this website.


    24 yvonne

    Hi Jermaine, You would not believe your information at this time is so timely.I am now at chapter 11. I have learnt so much over the past months. The circle of fifths has open my eyes to the world of music. In all my years I have been trying to play the piano I have never reached so far. Thanks for your input.


    25 Emmanuel

    Hi Jermaine……..
    Thanks for that enlightening piece….but would like to know where…i can get the most basic theories of the piano to start from…pls help me out,…i really need a step by step course structure to follow….i tried to rely..on musician friends but they keep giving excuses and they want to keep to themselves…i really need your..help…i am into gospel thank you


    26 David Scott

    It’s a bit spooky the way you seem to know all about me and my failings as a pupil!
    I’m slow and haven’t yet seen anything on finger positions – or is that not important just now?
    Just be patient with me……….

    and thankyou for the birthday card!


    27 Julio

    Muchas gracias por esta lección!

    Estoy siguiendo los ¨4 Steps to next level of playing¨ y estos consejos sobre la progresión 2 – 5 – 1 con el Círculo de Quintos me fue realmente muy util!

    Thanks a Lot

    Buenos Aires, Argentina


    28 Dave Clarke

    Thank you for making learning the piano relatively easy. You do so by plugging in important information in a variety of contexts. I am currently taking the 300-page course and enjoy the reinforcements you provide. God Bless!


    29 Elisabeth

    Jermaine, thank you for this great post. With all your help, I understand the circle of fifths quite well, but this is a new one for me, and I’ll be spending time learning this. My problem is, although I am getting quite good at the theories you’re teaching, actually executing it on the piano is another matter altogether. I am having a lot of trouble getting the music in my head through my fingers and onto the piano. I know, practise, practise, practise, but my playing ability at this point is in my opinion not equal to the time I’ve spent at it. I’ll spend some time thinking about what might be going wrong, then seek your advice.


    30 Raquel

    I like this lesson.
    the 2s are very easy, the 5s also.
    I like to go clockwise around the circle.
    Thank you very much for this lesson.


    31 Reginald Ford

    man you are a dangerous dude to the haters.I know i’m real with people and myself but what you are doing for me in the music department is incredible.I had no idea I could learn from online teaching being a little antisocial but i’m learning.IF people could see where I was at when I started with you they would not have believed I just got started.I laugh to myself when I went to a church and a musician that said he was gone teach me said oh no you are getting some teaching from somewhere you wasn’t playing like that lol keep me going love you.mr. kool-laid and that’s how I spell my nickname so don’t laugh I was a master speller and I still am I just don’t type funny huh


    32 Joshua

    Thanks Jermaine. Please, how can i order 4 your courses 4rm Nigeria in Africa?


    33 Kathryn

    I read your email you sent me today the circle helped me realize I know these. I’m Slow but it came back to me. I haven’t got to listen to the disc it has to be done on my computer and it’s not close to me. I’ll need to get in my wheelchair and go to it. I want to go to the piano first and play them all. I’m so but wanting to learn I will let you know how I’m doing I have a lot to listen to. I really looking forward to it


    34 hluga

    Am so wow :-)


    35 Jeff Mills

    Actually I find some of this confusing. But hopefully after reading this 10 times maybe I will begin to understand it. I understand 1 3 5 for C Major and playing it as 3 5 1 to put the C on top. But i do not understand how you make it 2 5 1, as to me that is D G C. Please help me. My address is above. Jeff Mills


    36 Tolu

    Wow! Thanks Jermaine…


    37 Jacqueline Williams

    Jermaine, I understand all that you have mention concerning notes, chords, and progressions, how to determine them. My problem is understanding how and when to use progressions like 2-5-1 and others in a song that I am playing. I am only using right now the major triad of chords in their different inversions in songs. How can I determine when to use progressions when playing music? I hope I am explaining myself so you can understand what I am asking.
    Please give me some help!


    38 Mitah

    Hey Jermaine

    Again thank you. I was amazed at this circle of fifths. I mean how this 2-5-1 chord progression is formed. Amazing, I am busy with your K101 which I just bought recently, amazing stuff. You are really doing a good job. Every information you give always makes me say ahhhh! Okaaayyy. :-)

    From: South Africa


    39 google mail

    I enjoy the subject you are talking about. It very interesting!


    40 Giovanni

    I like this lesson.
    Giovanni from Italy.


    41 Prepaidgiftbalance

    What a great article, I enjoyed it a lot. Thanks a lot.


    42 myflorida access

    I was actually looking for the same type of article. I just want to thank for it.


    43 veejay 09037586135

    joshua, i see where you’re posting from its trips cos we from same place, anywhere i’ve put my contact above incase you wanna hook me up. we may discuss some stuff


    44 Jama Martin

    Wish we could have heard a 2-5-1 progression and an example of a melody using the 2-5-1. Wasn’t near a piano or guitar (but I will be tomorrow). I do understand building the 2-5-1’s in any key. Love use of the circle of 5ths (4ths counter clockwise). Thank you.


    45 Dennis Joyner

    Thanks Jermaine, I will start working on this. Great lesson!


    46 Ironside Ortega



    47 gmail login

    Since knowing your site I have been training on the “counter-clock wise direction, but it’s still a bit mind-stretching for me to get the numbers right. Looking in my mind’s eye at the circle chart it still took me 45 seconds to name the nr 2 in all the keys because you have to “think” two places backward. For the nr 5 I said it in 25 seconds.


    48 Chase Verify

    Trumendos work really inspired form it because it was actually extraordinary.


    49 Don Stanford

    Good lesson, Thanks for the reinforcement. God Bless You.


    50 Lila O. Berry

    Jermaine, Thanks the circle of fifths have given me great deal of understanding. you explained how to read it very well, I am thankful. now I can practice my scales and chords with confidence I do understand the 2,5,1
    Lila Oliver Berry


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