The 3-5-1 Piano Riff

Jordan Leibel  /  Songwriting / May 25

The Ultimate Online
Piano Lessons Experience

Click Here »

Don’t let the math intimidate you. The 3-5-1 Riff is an amazing way to take your triads and move them into a whole new space of creativity, taking a simple shape and flowing all the way down the keyboard.

If you’ve ever seen a pianist play a huge run across their entire instrument and wondered what the steps were to get them to that level of proficiency, well this is it.

The 3-5-1 riff takes just two chords of your choosing. For the purpose of this lesson’s demonstration, I chose a D major chord and an A major chord. You can also consider this a I-V chord progression, with the I being the D major and the V is the A major.  

So the first step is to just play these two chords down the whole piano as solid chords. The goal of this exercise is to help your hands learn how far apart the D major chord is from the A major chord.  

Once you’ve become familiar with the distance between these chords, it’s time to look at the pattern I’m playing, the famous 3-5-1.  

Notice how the lick starts on the 3rd note of the chord, then plays the 5 and then the 1. The fingering is exactly the same as the notes you play:  3-5-1!  

So that covers your first chord, D major. Now it’s time to move onto the A major chord. To do that, lead with your finger 3, landing on the C#.  

Once you land on C# with finger 3, you’re all set up to play this same pattern again but this time in A major position. It’ll feel very similar since both chords feature white keys on 1 and 5 and a black key on the 3.

So that’s the whole phrase! At this point, it’s all about slowing it down and gradually building up that muscle memory through repetition until you can flow down the whole keyboard in one motion. Remember to see finger 3 as your guiding finger. It’s the one that links the two chords together! 

Best of luck! You can do it!


Jordan Leibel is passionate about songwriting, improvisation, and helping you become a creative musician! He’s worked as a composer for film, commercial, and theatre projects as well as a session musician and producer for recording work.

Go from absolute beginner to playing
your first song in four easy lessons!

By signing up you’ll also receive our ongoing free lessons and special offers. Don’t worry, we value your privacy and you can unsubscribe at any time.