Now I’m going to cover the last of the theory for this course. Again, understanding this is a long-term goal but I do want you to understand the meaning of a chord progression, and why I have chosen the 1-4-5 as our progression for the final stage.

What’s a Chord Progression and Why 1-4-5?

Simply put, a chord progression is a series of chords played one after another. You could call any group of chords a progression, however, when relating to the tonal key system (the major being the 1st and parental key) certain rules apply. These rules were an evolutionary process and would have been created after the discovery of what people thought sounded best. Ultimately, one can and does break these rules, but knowing them helps.

As with all the theory here, you don’t have to know this to play the exercises in the final lesson, but I just want to explain the reason I chose the 1-4-5 progression is that it’s the most popular and most fundamental for training your ears. Once you learn what the 1-4-5 sounds like (which you will after practicing the drills in the next lesson) you’ll realise you’ve been listening to this your whole life, and when listening to the radio you’ll instinctively know whether it’s a 1-4-5 or not (very often it will be). This will help you immensely in learning songs by ear and even writing your own.

A good example of a 1-4-5 progression is the blues. The blues pretty much exclusively uses this progression, and ultimately evolved into rock and roll, taking along the same basic structure. So after you’ve practiced the final drills and have developed a better ear for the 1-4-5 progression, you should check out some blues and old school rock and roll, listening out for what I’ve just explained.

Also, some good examples of pop songs containing these chords (not necessarily in the same order) are; Learn to Fly-Foofighters, Bad Moon Rising-Creedence Clearwater Revival, Yellow Leadbetter-Pear Jam, I Wanna Be Sedated-The Ramones, Wild Thing-The Troggs, Stir It Up-Bob Marley, and Sweet Home Alabama-Lynyrd Skynyrd. The list could go on forever, but you get the picture.

How is the 1-4-5 Created?

Note: To understand this fully, you should study the Scale and Chord Construction lessons, so you know what fig.31 and an interval mean.


Fretboard diagram showing triads in the key of C minor

You might recognize fig.31 from the Chord Construction lesson. I explain what it means there so I won’t repeat myself. I also talk about intervals in the aforementioned lesson, but these intervals didn’t happen by chance; they were created because they sounded good to the ear, and this has to do with the science of sound and what we call the ‘harmonic series’. Without going into the science of the harmonic series, I want to explain the first three intervals are as follows; Perfect Octave (1), Perfect Fifth (5), and Perfect Fourth (4). So as you can see the significance of these intervals is due to nature herself.

I want you to take notice of the numbers (roman numerals) on the very bottom row; these relate directly to the chord above it, and so in the case of C Major our 1-4-5 progression consists of C-F-G. Obviously there are other combinations you can create (1-5-6-4 being extremely popular), but if you can just focus on the 1-4-5 progressions I present next, you’ll be well prepared to play on with other progressions as you’ll have the skill to keep time and change chords on time.


Fretboard diagram showing triads in the key of A minor

We also do exactly the same thing with the minor key (fig.32). Again, I explain how we create the minor scale (which is the basis for the minor key) in Chord Construction, but it’s the same principal with figuring out what chords create the 1-4-5 progression; the only difference being that the chords are now all minor. So using A Minor as an example, our 1-4-5 for that key would be Am-Dm-Em.

Note: When playing in a minor key, the ‘5 chord’ more often than not changes to a major chord as the resolve back to the ‘1 chord’ sounds stronger. In the next section I’ll get you to play this progression, so once you know it, substitute the Em to E and listen out for the difference.

As I’ve said many times throughout this course, the theory aspects can take a long time to get your head around, and what I’ve covered, although a start, only scratches the surface. At this point, the important things you should focus on are fingering and remembering your open chord shapes and keeping time with your strumming hand. In the next lesson, we’re going to put everything together and have you strumming and changing chords to four 1-4-5 progressions, ultimately giving you a solid foundation from which to build upon for the rest of your life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *