Today we’re going to talk about a ubiquitous chord progression in jazz called the “major 2-5-1” progression. This, along with the minor 2-5-1 progression, which we’ll cover in another post, is probably the most important chord progression you will ever learn in jazz. The major 2-5-1 progression is a sequence of three chords in the same key centre built on the 2nd, 5th and first degree of that major scale. If music theory turns you off, don’t worry! You don’t need to understand the theory of it to start playing this, you just need to keep your ears open. If you’ve listened to a lot of jazz music, I guarantee you that you have already heard tons of 2-5-1 progressions, even if you didn’t know what they were called. So bear with me, I promise it will be worth it!
In the video above, I go through a short example of a major 2-5-1 in the key of C. In this key, the chords are: Dm7 – G7 – CMaj7. The chord diagrams are shown below. You can almost always play a C6 chord instead of CMaj7. Depending on the melody happening at the time, there may be one major chord that is preferable to the other.
In the second half of the video, I play other inversions of the Dm7 and C Maj7 chords so that the root is on the low G string. I only do this so that you can hear the root motion and the chord at the same time. But you probably saw the big leaps I had to make in order to play those voicings. It’s usually quite impractical to play like that, and it will usually be unnecessary if you have another instrument playing the roots. The purpose here is simply to show you inversions that allow you to hear the bass in the root. Don’t feel like you need to learn these voicings, I show them below only in case you are interested:
No matter what inversion you choose to play, don’t forget to always start off any new chord sequence by simply playing the roots. Then you sing them, then you play the chords. You probably think I sound like a broken record by now, but it’s really that important.
Here is a little challenge I’d like to issue to you: can you name some more tunes that contain a major 2-5-1? Leave a comment below with the tunes on your list and we can compare notes! I’ll get things started with a couple that I cover on this blog: Cheek To Cheek and Blue Moon. And while we’re on songs starting with the letter ‘B’, there is also But Not For Me. Amongst the countless recordings of it, I think I like the versions recorded by Ella Fitzgerald and Chet Baker the best. Each is wonderful in a very different way!