Have you ever heard musicians calling out numbers on the bandstand and wondered what the numbers meant? Do you know why 3 chord songs are often referred to as “1 4 5”? Watch this short video and I’ll explain the most common chord progression in popular music.
1 4 5 Chord Progressions
The numbers 1, 4, and 5 refer to degrees in the major scale. For example, in the C major scale, the 1st note is C, the 4th note is F and the 5th note is G. In the key of C, C, F, and G are all played as major chords. Any song that makes use of these chords is considered a type of “1 4 5” chord progression. For example, “La Bamba.”
When you move from chord 1 to chord 4 or 5, you can move up or down in pitch to the chords. For example, you can move from chord 1, C, to chord 4, F, by moving up in pitch from C at the 8th fret on string 6 to F at the 8th fret of string 5. Or, you can move down in pitch from C to F by playing F at the 1st fret of string 6. Likewise, you can go up or down from C to G.
Anytime you play in a major scale and use the chords built on the 1st, 4th, and 5th degrees, you make a 1-4-5 chord progression. For example, in the key of D, chords 1, 4, and 5 are D, G, and A. Think “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles.
In the key of A, chords 1, 4, and 5 are A, D, and E. Think “Stir it Up” by Bob Marley.
Even though these songs are in different keys, the interval structure between the chords is the same. In other words, the musical distance from 1 to 4 in the key of C is the same as the music distance from 1 to 4 in the key of D and 1 to 4 in the key of A. They all move up a 4th.
You get to know intervals like 4ths by familiarizing yourself with their sound and by playing them on the fretboard. The more songs you play that include a 1-4 chord change, the better you’ll recognize the chord change regardless of key. The same is true with the 5 chord, and this is one way that musicians play by ear.
As you might imagine, there are other chords in a key and they are represented by other numbers. But before you dig into more theory, make sure you’re not getting ahead of yourself. If you’re unable to play complete songs using open chords, power chords, and barre chords, focus your attention on getting those types of playing essential skills in order first.
If you have no trouble playing complete songs, then you can take your playing to the next level by learning some practical music theory, like more of what I talk about in this video.