How to Make Your 1564 Chord Progressions Less Boring

David Bennett  /  Chord Progressions  /  Oct 20, 2023

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The 1564 chord progression is an essential tool in pop music. You can find it everywhere, and yet it never gets old. That’s because artists keep finding new ways to use this progression and make it their own.

If you want to spice up your 1564, look no further than this lesson with pianist and YouTuber David Bennett, an expert in all things chord theory!

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Level 1: Root Position Chords

> The 1564 Chord Progression, Explained

Let’s quickly review the basic chord progression first. The 1564 progression is built on the first, fifth, sixth, and fourth degrees of the scale. In major keys, this can be notated as “I-V-vi-IV”—where the uppercase letters represent major chords and the lowercase letter represents a minor chord.

In C major, that’s C-G-Am-F. Here are these triads in root position:


Keyboard diagram of a C major triad in root position.


Keyboard diagram of a G major triad in root position.


Keyboard diagram of an Am triad in root position.


Keyboard diagram of a F major triad in root position.

Level 2: Voice Leading

Voice leading refers to how we move between chords using different arrangements (“voicings”) of the notes in each chord. The goal of voice leading is to make chords move as smoothly and with as little movement as possible.

We do this by using inversions. Inversions are when we re-arrange the order of notes in a chord. 1st inversion is when we flip the bottom note of a chord stack to the top.

The next step is to find notes in common between two chords. For example, if we’re moving between a C major triad and a G major triad, our note in common is G. You can then keep your finger on G by moving from a C major root position triad to a G major 1st inversion triad:

Level 3: Inverted Pedal Tone

This sounds fancy, but it’s really not! All we’re doing here is adding a consistent note that appears in all the chords so they sound more cohesive.

A great note to add is G because it’s already the note-in-common between the C and G major chords. But what about Am and F? Well, turns out that if you add a G to those chords, they sound great too!

By using G as a pedal tone, we’ve now essentially created a C-G-Am7-Fadd2 progression.

Level 4: Passing Chords

To make our transitions even smoother, we can add passing chords between chords to create a harmonized flow between them.

A great type of chord to use in this situation are sus chords. Sus (“suspended”) chords are when we substitute the third in a chord with a 2nd or 4th. Try adding a Gsus4 between the C and G chords and an Fsus2 at the end of the progression. The Fsus2 serves as a way to connect the tail of our progression back to the beginning. Neat!

BONUS: Diminished Passing Chords

A cool type of chord to add between chords is a diminished chord. For example, try inserting a G#dim between G and Am. Sounds cool, doesn’t it?

Why does this work? It’s because in the A minor harmonic scale, G#dim is the diatonic chord built on the seventh degree. So, going from G# to A feels very satisfactory and resolving.

Level 5: Left Hand Harmony

Finally, let’s not forget our left hand! So far, we’ve just been using it to play the root notes of each chord. But let’s experiment a little. Try playing B instead of G under the G chord. And instead of playing F under the F chord, try G, which is a non-chord tone. You can play this on the second beat of the F chord measure to sound less crunchy.

Screencap from video of David playing 1564 chord progression with notation.

By doing this, you’ll get a nice descending bass line. That non-chord tone (G) under F also gives the progression a more complex sound.

We hope you enjoyed these 1564 upgrade ideas. Try using a mix of them and don’t forget to get creative with rhythm too. Try these at your next jam session or in your next song!

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Charmaine Li is a Vancouver writer who has played piano for over 20 years. She holds an Associate diploma (ARCT) from the Royal Conservatory of Music and loves writing about the ways in which music—and music learning—affects the human experience. Charmaine manages The Note. Learn more about Charmaine here.

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