What Every Gospel Pianist Should Know About The 2-5-1 Chord Progression

If you’re interested in learning about the 2-5-1 chord progression, then this lesson is for you.

The 2-5-1 chord progression is one of the most vital progressions that every gospel pianist must not be without, and that’s why we’re dedicating this lesson to learning essential concepts that surround it.

But before we get into all of that, permit me to give you a quick breakdown on the 2-5-1 chord progression.

A Breakdown Of The 2-5-1 Chord Progression

Every major or minor key consists of eight scale tones which can also be called scale degrees. For example, the key of C major:

…consists of the following eight notes – C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C.

The movement of chords from one degree of the scale to another produces a chord progression. For example in the key of C major:

…the movement from Chord 1 (which is the C major triad):

…to chord 6 (which is the A minor triad):

…produces a “1-6 chord progression.”

The 2-5-1 Chord Progression – Explained

The 2-5-1 chord progression is basically a chord movement from chord 2 to chord 5, then to chord 1 in any given key.

In the key of C major:

…the movement from chord 2 (the D minor triad):

…to chord 5 (the G major triad):

…then to chord 1 (the C major triad):

…produces the 2-5-1 chord progression.

Attention: The numbers – 2, 5, and 1 – are derived from the chords used in the chord progression.

“In A Nutshell…”

Playing the following chords:

  • Chord 2
  • Chord 5
  • Chord 1

…in any key, produces the 2-5-1 chord progression.

The Major And Minor 2-5-1 Chord Progression Types

There are basically two types of 2-5-1 chord progression – the major 2-5-1 chord progression and the minor 2-5-1 chord progression.

The major 2-5-1 chord progression is the 2-5-1 chord progression in the major key, while the minor 2-5-1 chord progression is the 2-5-1 chord progression in the minor key.

The Major 2-5-1 Chord Progression

The major 2-5-1 chord progression is produced by progressing through the following chords in the major key:

Chord 2

Chord 5

Chord 1

…which we already did earlier in this segment.

The Minor 2-5-1 Chord Progression

Progressing through the following chords in the minor key:

Chord 2

Chord 5

Chord 1

…produces the minor 2-5-1 chord progression.

“Believe It Or Not…”

A vast majority of musicians are not very familiar with the minor key the same way they’re familiar with the major key. Consequently, we’ll take it slowly with the minor key.

In the key of A minor (using the A harmonic minor scale):

…chord 2:

…is the B diminished triad – a product of the second, fourth, and sixth tones of the A harmonic minor scale.

Chord 5:

…is the E major triad – a product of the fifth, seventh, and second tones of the A harmonic minor scale.

Chord 1:

…is the A minor triad – a product of the first, third, and fifth tones of the A harmonic minor scale.

Here Are A Variety Of Approaches To The 2-5-1 Chord Progression

The 2-5-1 chord progression can be approached in a variety of ways:

  • Using triads
  • Using seventh chord
  • Using extended chords

The 2-5-1 Chord Progression Using Triads

The 2-5-1 chord progression can be played using triads — which are basically chords that consist of three notes.

“Check Out This 2-5-1 Chord Progression Using Triads…”

In the key of F major:

…the major 2-5-1 chord progression can be played using the following triads:

Chord 2:

…the G minor triad.

Chord 5:

…the C major triad.

Chord 1:

…the F major triad.

The 2-5-1 Chord Progression Using Seventh Chords

Check out what the major 2-5-1 chord progression sounds like using the following seventh chords in the key of F major:

Chord 2:

…the G minor seventh chord.

Chord 5:

…the C dominant seventh chord.

Chord 1:

…the F major seventh chord.

The 2-5-1 Chord Progression Using Extended Chords

Advanced players use extended chords to sophisticate the 2-5-1 chord progression. Here’s an example of a major 2-5-1 chord progression using extended chords in the key of F major:

Chord 2:

…the G minor eleventh chord.

Chord 5:

…the C dominant thirteenth [add ninth] chord.

Chord 1:

…the F major ninth chord.

Final Words

I strongly believe that you have a basic understanding of what the 2-5-1 chord progression is.

In subsequent posts, we’ll take this study a step further by learning common 2-5-1 chord progressions that every gospel pianist/keyboardist must not be without, and most importantly: how to play 2-5-1 root progressions on the left hand.

See you in the next lesson!

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Chuku Onyemachi

Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. I started teaching musicians in my neighbourhood in April 2005. Today, I'm humbled to work as a music consultant with HearandPlay Music Group for musicians in Africa and beyond.

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