The song Cheek To Cheek by Irving Berlin is a great example of the major 2-5-1 progression, because the second section of the song is basically made up of repeating 2-5-1’s. For simplicity, I’m labeling this second part of the song as the “B” section, so-called because it comes after the “A” section tat starts Heaven, I’m in heaven, and my heart beats so…. The “B” section starts at bar 33 with the lyric I would love to go out fishin’ in a river or a creek. If you need a reminder of what a major 2-5-1 is, check out What’s a major 2-5-1? Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with the theory behind this. What matters most is getting the sounds in your ears. The theory can come later.
Let’s listen to Cheek To Cheek recorded in the key of F. In this key, the chords for a major 2-5-1 are: Gmin7 – C7 – F. I recorded this version some years ago on my second album Tales… My Mama told me – the B section starts around 0:50. Have a listen to that section to see how the progression sounds as you follow along with the chart excerpt below:
Let’s look at the chords for the B section of Cheek to cheek. Here is an excerpt in the key of F, which is the key of the recording you just heard. Now, we say “2-5-1” but when writing down the progression, without reference to a particular key, it is usually denoted by Roman numerals. In other words, ii-V7-I. Lowercase numerals denote a minor chord.
In the example here, the “two” chord is Gmin7, because it is built on the second degree of the F major scale. The “five” chord is C7 (starts on the fifth degree of the F scale). And of course the “one” chord is FMaj. We used F6 here.
On the ukulele
Once you tune your ears to it, you’ll start noticing how often this progression appears in jazz standards. Practicing it in different keys will help you get to know the fretboard, and it will really help you to become more confident in working through song charts, something we singers have to do all the time.
Now let’s look at how to play this on the ukulele. First, let’s look at the simplest ways of playing Gmin – C7 – F. If you’ve done some basic ukulele, you may already know these chord voicings:
Play through these in time over the chord changes in the chart excerpt above (hold the F chord over a whole bar and ignore the D7b9 for now). You should sing the roots as you go to get the sound of the root movement in your head. Once you have the sound of the 2-5-1 in your ear, start working on playing the progression: Gm7 – C7 – F6 – D7b9:
You’ll notice that the Gm now has a seventh added. And instead of a three-note chord, the F major triad, we have added the 6th degree of the F scale (a D). If you don’t yet know the names of all the notes on the fretboard, don’t worry about that for now. Just see if you can hear the different quality of chords between the simpler voicings we played earlier and these jazz voicings. Don’t forget that I’ve provided you with some simple exercises that you can use each week to get to know the fretboard better. (See “Vocal warm ups on the first four frets” and “Playing the roots” – Part 1 and Part 2).
And, if you get into the habit I’m encouraging here on this site of singing the bass notes in your head as you play through these chords, you will start to hear the patterns of jazz standards and internalize them faster than you might expect! We’ll cover the minor 2-5-1 progression in a separate lesson. In the meantime, I hope you will have fun with major 2-5-1s! When you’re ready, you can start by learning the first pattern of major 2-5-1 drills.
I’d like to thank the wonderful musicians who accompanied me on Cheek to cheek in the excerpt above from “Tales… My Mama Told Me.” Personnel: Diane Nalini on vocals, Steve Kaldestad on tenor saxophone, Martin Pickett on piano, Tim Nolan on bass and Steve Brown on drums. The sound and mix engineer was Curtis Schwartz. Mastered by Matt Denny. Copyright 2002 Earthglow Records.