The 1-5-6-4 Chord Progression

Lisa Witt  /  Songwriting / Sep 21

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The 1-5-6-4 chord progression is a simple chord progression that will unlock 100’s of familiar songs. I am going to teach you how to play this progression and how to understand the chord number system so that you can play it in any key!

To begin, let’s take a look at how the number system works when it comes to chording. The numbers represent degrees of the scale. They are sometimes shown using standard numerals (1-5-6-4) and sometimes shown using Roman numerals I-V-vi-IV.

Each chord gets a number

The 1 (I) represents the first note in the key we are playing in. So if you are playing a song in the key of D, the 1 would be D. All you have to do is build a chord based on the first note of the scale of the key you are playing in to build a 1 chord. In this case, we will play D-F#-A (major chord).

The 5 (V) chord can be found using the same logic. In the key of D, you count up 5 from D which lands you on A. Now all you have to do is build a chord that begins on A and follow the rules of the key signature of D major. The notes of the A chord are A-C#-E

The 6 (vi) is a minor chord. In the key of D you count up six and it lands you on B which played as a chord is B minor (sad sounding). These notes are B-D-F#

The 4 (IV) chord is four notes up from D which bring us to G. This is played G-B-D.

Put these chords together and you get a progression!

To recap the I-V-vi-IV progression in the key of D means you will play the chords D-A-Bm-G. The exciting thing about the number system is that it will allow you to play this progression in ANY KEY! Simply use the numbers to find the corresponding chords in any key you like. If you were to use this logic in the key of C you would use the chords C-G-Am-F. If you used this in the key of F you would play F-C-Dm-Bb. 

Now you know how to play the most popular chord progression of all time, in any key. Have fun exploring this progression and be sure to challenge yourself to play it in as many keys as you can.

Can you guess what songs I’m playing and singing in the video?

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for 19 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others.

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