Who Else Wants To Learn About The 6-2-5-1 Chord Progression

The 1-6-2-5 chord progression is regularly used in gospel and jazz styles.

Most beginners who are just acquainted with primary chords can play basic progressions that cycle around chords 1, 4 and 5, but find it challenging to play cyclical chord progressions like the 1-6-2-5 chord progression.

If you belong to that league I’m talking about, then this lesson is for you. If you can invest the next ten minutes and all your attention, you’ll learn how intermediate and advanced players play the 1-6-2-5 chord progression with primary chords.

Let’s get started by reviewing the basic triads we’re familiar with.

“What Are Primary Triads?”

A triad is a collection of three related notes.

In the key of C major:

…the formation of triads on every degree of the scale produces seven triads…

The C major triad:

The D minor triad:

The E minor triad:

The F major triad:

The G major triad:

The A minor triad:

The B diminished triad:

Three out of seven of these triads have the same quality (major quality) with the key and they are the C major, F major, and G major triads, which are the chords of the first, fourth, and fifth degrees.

These major triads are known as primary triads because they define the key.

The C major triad is formed on C:

…the first tone (aka – “tonic”) of the C major scale :

…and consists of C, E, and G:

…which are the stable notes in the key of C. The C major triad is also known as the tonic triad because it is formed on the first degree of the scale (known to music scholars as the tonic.)

The F major triad is formed on F:

…which is the fourth tone of the C major scale:

…and lies a fifth below the tonic triad. The F major triad is also known as the sub-dominant triad because it is formed on the fourth degree of the scale (which is also known as the sub-dominant.)

The G major triad is formed on G:

…which is the fifth tone of the C major scale:

…and lies a fifth above the tonic triad. The G major triad is also known as the dominant triad because it is formed on the fifth degree of the scale (which is also known as the dominant.)

“In A Nutshell…”

Chords 1:

…4:

…and 5:

…can be used to provide basic accompaniment to melodies in the key of C and that’s why most beginners start out with primary triads before eventually learning seventh and extended chords.

Now that I’ve answered the question “what are primary chords?”, let’s get into our goal for the day by breaking down the 1-6-2-5 chord progression.

A Note On The “1-6-2-5” Chord Progression

According to Jermaine Griggs “…the movement of a series of chords creates chord progressions.”

In the key of C a chord progression can be formed by playing chords of various degrees of the scale. Using the C major scale:

…here are the eight degrees of the C major scale:

C is one

D is two

E is three

F is four

G is five

A is six

B is seven

C is eight

Attention: Although there are eight degrees in every key (whether major or minor), however, the numbers one to seven are used to represent chord progressions and this is because C is duplicated as the eight.

The use of numbers to represent the notes in a key creates a number system that can be used to describe a chord progression. For example, the 1-6-2-5 chord progression consists of a movement of chords from

C:

…which is the one, to A:

…which is the six, to D:

…which is the two, to G:

…which is the five.

Fleshing those root notes with triads, produces the 1-6-2-5 chord progression.

“Check it out…”

Chord one:

…the C major triad.

Chord six:

…the A minor triad.

Chord two:

…the D minor triad.

Chord five:

…the G major triad.

Although that’s the most basic way to play the 1-6-2-5 chord progression, intermediate and advanced players in gospel and jazz styles will only play the 1-6-2-5 chord progression with triads in very rare occasions and believe me, I haven’t seen such occasions!.

Intermediate and advanced players usually incorporate seventh and extended chords of various qualities into the 1-6-2-5 chord progression and that’s why the average beginner (who is only harmonically braced with the basic chords [chords 1, 4, and 5]) feels left out.

I’ve Got Good News For Somebody…”

I’ll be showing you step-by-step, how you you can play a spicier 1-6-2-5 chord progression using primary triads. Find out how this is done in the next segment.

How To Play A Spicier “1-6-2-5” Chord Progression Using Primary Chords

Using chords 1, 4, and 5 in the key of C major:

…which are the C major:

…F major:

…and G major:

…triads, you can play the 1-6-2-5 chord progression.

“Here’s How…”

The bass notes are 1 (C):

…6 (A):

…2 (D):

…5 (G):

“Pay Attention To The Chords…”

Chord 1

Over C:

…we’re playing chord 5 (the G major triad):

…to form the C major ninth chord (with an omitted third):

Chord 6

Over A:

…we’re playing chord 1 (the C major triad) in its second inversion:

…to form the A minor seventh chord:

Chord 2

Over D:

…we’re playing chord 4 (the F major triad):

…to form the D minor seventh chord:

Chord 5

Over G:

…we’re also playing chord 4 (the F major triad):

…to form the G dominant ninth suspended fourth chord:

“In A Nutshell…”

Here’s a quick summary of all the chords we’re playing…

Chord 5 over 1:

Chord 1 over 6:

Chord 4 over 2:

Chord 4 over 5:

I’m glad you can play the 1-6-2-5 chord progression using primary triads, but I also want to recommend that you also learn the name of the chords.

Final Words

The 1-6-2-5 chord progression is of the greatest possible importance in gospel and jazz styles.

One of the first jazz standards I learned in my earliest days as a jazz piano student was George Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm and the first four chords outline the 1-6-2-5 chord progression.

Also, as an experienced church musician, I discovered that tons of the worship songs we play in church can be played using the 1-6-2-5 chord progression.

Here’s a typical example using the worship song Thank You Lord in the key of Db:

Thank you (chord 1):

Lord (chord 6):

(I just want to…)

Thank you (chord 2):

Lord (chord 5):

Time would fail me to go into other practical applications of the 1-6-2-5 chord progression in this lesson. I’ll reserve it for another post where we’ll be continuing our discussion.

See you then!

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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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