Easily the most common and recognisable chord transition in music is the 1-4-5 progression. You can hear its repetition in such songs as ‘Should I stay, or Should I go?‘ or ‘Mustang Sally‘ where, even if you aren’t in any way musically trained, you can just feel the sound that is coming up next, it becomes expected.
How does it work?
The 1-4-5 is translated as the 1st, the 4th and the 5th notes of a major scale (that is as long as it is a major 1-4-5, but lets not worry about that right now). So if we imagine if we take a ‘C’ chord and we call it 1, then ‘D’ would be 2, ‘E’ would be 3, ‘F’ would be 4 and ‘G would be ‘5’. Moving along, let’s take out the 1st, 4th and 5th, which are C, F and G. This is our 1-4-5 is C major.
C Major Scale = C D E F G A B C
Numerical Form = C is 1st, D is 2nd, E is 3rd, F is 4th, G is 5th, A is 6th, B is 7th, C is the octave
Take out 1,4,5 = C – F – G
1 4 5 = C -F – G
The 1-4-5 is heavily rooted in blues music, but with 7th chords instead of majors chords. So instead of C, F, G, you simply change the chords to C7, F7 and G7, as show below.
Making a song using 1, 4, 5 chords
The most common example of 1, 4, 5, progression is a 12 bar blues. This is where the 1, 4 and 5 rotate in a certain order to take up 12 bars of music. An example is shown below. (please note, although chords have been written out using guitar boxes, these chords can be played on any polyphonic instrument such as a piano, using the notes written underneath each chord box).
Here we see 16 year-old winner of the Dan Beattie Award, Conal Mooney, performing a 12 bar blues progression on a Gibson Les Paul Future through a Fender Stage 160 Amp.