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What In the World Is a 1, 6, 4, 5 Chord Progression?

I used to hate being around more experienced musicians and not being able to understand what they were talking about.  For instance, I was playing at a church for worship and the guitar player mentioned adding a “blue note” to a song.  I had heard about blue notes before, but really didn’t know exactly what it was (BTW, a blue note is simply a note played to add some dissonance or tension to the chord or melody.  Think of a b3rd being played in a major chord.  It’s used all the time in blues).  Thankfully, I didn’t have to reveal my ignorance at that time!

Another area that was cryptic for me was using numbers when describing chord progressions.  I would hear “Let’s play a 1,4,5 blues, or “just use a 3,6,2,5 turn-around on that tune”.  Huh?  Perhaps this is how you feel when you hear these kind of things being said in your circle.  If so, I’d like to help clarify the number thing for you.  It’s pretty much all about the numbered order of notes in the major scale.

For example, the C major scale is C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C.  If we number those notes we have C-1, D-2, E-3, F-4, G-5, A-6, B-7, and octave C-8.  If we are playing in the key of C major, then we will be using the same letter notes and corresponding letter chords.  Look at a song that is played in the key of C.  Unless it’s a jazz song with a bunch of chord substitutions and key changes you will find that the chords being used are C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, and sometimes B half dim.  Let’s see how this applies in a familiar worship song.

Here are the chords to Chris Tomlin’s Good Good Father in the key of G.  Before we look at the chords in the song, let’s be reminded of the notes in the key of G: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G.  The corresponding chords will be G, Am, Bm, C, D, E, F#m7b5, G (the F# is simply a minor 7 with a flatted 5th also called half-diminished).

So, here are the chords:

*Good Good Father
Written by Pat Barrett and Tony Brown

G                                                       G

Oh, I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like
G                                                 G

But I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night
C                   G/B

And you tell me that you’re pleased
Am7         D

And that I’m never alone
Chorus:

                                 C
You’re a Good, Good Father
G                         Am7                 D

It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
C

And I’m loved by you
G                 Am7                 D

It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

Bridge:
C                             Em7
’cause you are perfect in all of your ways
Am7                         G

You are perfect in all of your ways
C                             Em7     D

You are perfect in all of your ways to us

*Please note that I intentionally included one verse, chorus and bridge and left out variations on the chords for the sake of simplicity.  The purpose of this article is to explain the relationship between chords and numbers.

Chords and Their Related Numbers

As we did with the key of C above, let’s now look at the numbers of the chords in the key of G: 1-G, 2-A, 3-B, 4-C, 5-D, 6-E, 7-F#. Here’s the basic rule for playing in a major key.  The 1, 4 and 5 chords will always be major and the 2, 3 and 6 chords will always be minor, the 7th chord is half-diminished (not commonly used).  Go back to the chord chart, does this song follow these rules?

The beauty of this system is that if your worship leader needs to change the key during rehearsal (I doubt that ever happens with your worship leader), you can simply apply the numbers rule and navigate the change with more understanding.  Yes, this might take you some time to master, but once you do, you’ll see how easy it is.  This is the idea behind the famed Nashville Number System.  Here’s how this same song would be charted using the numbers:

Good Good Father

1                                                     1

Oh, I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like
1                                                 1

But I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night
4                   1/3

And you tell me that you’re pleased
2          5

And that I’m never alone
Chorus:

4
You’re a Good, Good Father
1                         2                 5

It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
4

And I’m loved by you
1                  2                  5

It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am
Bridge:
4                               6
’cause you are perfect in all of your ways
2                            1

You are perfect in all of your ways
4                            6      5

You are perfect in all of your ways to us

 

What’s a 1,4,5 Blues in G?  It’s a blues pattern with G, C and D.   If it was in C the chords would be C, F and G.

I hope this has been helpful for those of you who were confused by the number system.  Shoot me an email or comment with any questions.

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “What In the World Is a 1, 6, 4, 5 Chord Progression?

  1. Thanks , Ive been wanting to know about the Nashville Numbers for a bout a year now a friend of mine (a professional musician and song writer showed me a chart of the NN couldnt really tell me what it was all about . your explanation helped a lot. Im enjoying your lessons about bass playing also, they have helped me get better with my bass.

    1. Hey Thomas! Glad to know the article and videos have been helpful. Let me know if you have any other questions or tutorial requests. Mike

  2. Thanks so glad I Found ya the light turned on
    EPIPHANY

    1. Awesome! Thanks for the comment Abel. Feel free to contact me with any questions. Mike

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