Master The 2-5-1 Progression On Bass: 3 “Must-Know’ Methods

Master The 2-5-1

 

In this bass lesson, you’re going to learn
how to solo through one of the most common chord sequences, the 2-5-1 progression using
3 separate must-know approaches. Hi, I’m Luke from becomeabassist.com and
if you want to have the confidence to improvise over this chord progression that I’m certain
you’ve heard before, stick around. I think you’ll like this one! [Video Intro] I can virtually guarantee that you’ve heard
the 251 progression before. It’s in so many different songs and across
so many different styles of music. You’ve got old school artists like the Jackson
5 or Queen using it, if you go back even further, you’ll find it in classical music, tons
of jazz – seriously – it’s everywhere in jazz music! But even more modern artists like Bruno Mars
or Ed Sheeran or Maroon 5 chuck it in their songs too. It just works! Because it’s so common, it makes sense to
know your way around it really well. That way, if you ever need to create a bass
line over this progression or make your own fills, you’ll know exactly what to do and
you can be confident that what you play is going to sound good.

 

This also applies if you need to improvise
over this progression and that’s what we’ll mostly be talking about in this video. Now just in case you don’t know, a 251 progression
is just a set of 3 chords that all come from the same key. The chords are built from the 2nd, 5th and
1st notes of the major scale. That’s where we get the numbers 2-5-1 from. So if we have a C major scale [plays C major
scale] our 2nd note will be here [plays notes] 1-2 – a D right here.

 

Our 5-chord is 1-2-3-4-5 some kind of G chord. And of course our 1 is just going to be the
C. So the roots of the progression in this key are D going to G, then landing on C. Straightforward
enough, right? And the final piece of the puzzle are the
qualities of the chords. The D chord is actually going to be a Dm7
chord, [plays Dm7 chord] the G chord will be a G7 or a G ‘dominant’ 7 chord, [plays
G7 chord] and finally, our C chord will be a major 7 chord.

 

[plays CMaj7 chord] By the way, these chords
don’t have to have the 7ths on them. They could easily just be a D minor chord,
a G major and a C major chord but they’re a bit more colorful with the 7ths on top. By the way, if you want to understand exactly
how these chords are formed and how they all relate, check out my free Ultimate Guide To
The Modes For Bass. If you do have any confusion about this, it’ll
clear it right up. So I’ll drop a link in the description under
this video for you. Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk
about 3 different approaches to improvising over this progression. There are others, but these are the big ones
– the ‘must-knows’. The first approach is probably the easiest
to get started and that’s to simply play ‘within the key’ using a pentatonic scale.

 

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So if we have this 2-5-1 progression – Dm-G7-C,
then our key is just going to be the 1-chord. In this case, the C – so we’re in the key
of C major. That means we can just plug in the C major
pentatonic shape and go to town. I’ve got a really simple 2-5-1 backing track
in the key of C here that we can use, so if we just stick to using the pentatonic, it
might sound something like this. [plays pentatonic over track] You can use
all the other positions of the major pentatonic too. [plays more pentatonic scale] All just the
pentatonic scale all over the bass. This approach works well enough for the most
part, but you’re essentially just using one sound over the 3 different chords. If you wanted to get a bit more advanced,
you can start assigning one sound for each chord and cycle through them that way. So what sounds or scales are going to work
over each of these chords? Well over your 2 chord, a Dorian scale is
going to be great, in this case our 2-chord is a D minor, so we’ll use D Dorian.

 

Over the 5 chord, a Mixolydian sound is going
to work great and for us, our 5-chord is a G7 so we’ll use G Mixolydian, and of course
over our 1-chord, we can use the plain old major scale. C major for us in this case. If you don’t know these scales, these are
actually what are called ‘modes’ of the major scale and if you need to know all the
shapes and how they work, where and how to use them, then you should really check out
my Ultimate Guide To The Modes For Bass. It’s totally free and it’ll give you the
whole picture and answer all the questions you have about these modes. To get it, just click the link in the description. As far as how to get started using the modes,
I recommend being very methodical with them. Just to get familiar with them, go up each
scale along with each chord.

 

So when the D minor 7 is playing, go up the
D Dorian, go up the G Mixolydian over the G7 chord and go up the C major scale with
the C major 7 chord. Makes sense, right? That way, you can hear exactly how the scale
relates to the chord. Let’s bring our track back and do exactly
that. So there’s our 2 chord – we’d play our
Dorian, then our 5 chord – Mixolydian for that one, then our 1 chord – the plain old
major scale.

 

Let’s try to play these ourselves starting
with D Dorian [plays scales with track] G Mixolydian – and the C Major scale. We can come down the C major as well because
it lasts for 2 bars. Let’s go again. [keeps playing modes] Do you see how this works? As we hear one chord, we play one specific
sound and when the chord changes, we shift to another sound. This is going to outline the harmony for us,
but it’s also going to give us a ton more options than just using one sound over all
three chords. Of course this is just the first step. When you get more comfortable with these modes,
you can start playing around with them instead of just going up and down, which can get dull
really fast.

 

 

So let’s try that – let’s play around
with the modes a little bit. [plays modes over track] Something like that. Notice that when I do this, I’m going outside
of the shapes and boxes that we were using before. It’s still the same notes, just played on
a higher or lower part of the bass. Again, this gives us more options and lets
you play the music you hear in your head. Chances are, the music that’s inside of
you isn’t going to be confined to a neat little box, so extending the scales and getting
to know them across your entire fretboard is always a good idea. So first we had the pentatonic that worked
well, but wasn’t really playing inside the chords – it was playing over them, then with
the modes, we got more specific about playing one kind of sound for every chord.

 

Now, let’s take that one step further with
the 3rd approach – using arpeggios to outline each of the chords. This means instead of using a whole scale,
we’ll only use the notes that make up each of the chords. For the Dm7 chord, our notes are D-F-A and
C. There’s a couple of options to play this. You can play it here [plays arpeggios] 10th
and 13th fret on the E-string, 12th fret on the A-string and 10th fret on the D-string. You can also extend this up to the 12th fret
on your D-string, then the 10th and 14th fret on your G-string as well. [plays arpeggio] For the G7 chord, you’ve got options as
well. The notes are G-B-D and F, and you can play
that here [plays root position arpeggio] But you can also go below that – remember the
F and D are also part of the arpeggio. [plays lower notes] And you can also start
on the G-string up here [plays arpeggio] It gives you a few more options.

 

And finally, for the C major 7 chord, our
notes are C-E-G and B, and you can play them here [plays arpeggio] Again, you can extend
this arpeggio all the way to this G up here [plays arpeggio] It gives you a nice spread
all across your fretboard. So how are we going to use these shapes? Again, let’s be methodical and systematic
about it. Let’s start off by simply going up and down
each arpeggio as it relates to each chord. Let’s grab up the track
and give it a crack. [plays arpeggios in order over track] Now
let’s keep the track going and try to use these arpeggios to make some music rather
than just go up and down. [plays arpeggios] This approach is actually kind of tricky,
right? At the start, it’s very possible that you’ll
sound like you’re just running arpeggios, but there’s a way to get them to sound way
more melodic and that’s to jump around between the notes of each arpeggio.

 

Going from one note to the next, then the
next is fine, but not the most musical way of using these arpeggios. Plus, once you start skipping notes, you get
a whole ton of wider intervals in your playing and they can be melodic as hell! If we were to do that, it might sound like
this. [plays melodic arpeggios] Now we’ve gone through 3 separate approaches,
and I’d encourage you to go through all 3 approaches and see which ones work for you,
but that doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to just using one.

 

In fact, experienced improvisers will use
all 3 approaches all the time and blend them together. Doing this gives your playing more variety
and keeps people guessing – makes sure they don’t get bored of your playing. If we were to do this over this 251 progression,
it might look like this. [improvises over track] You see what I’m doing there. I’m using some scale fragments, some arpeggios,
sometimes getting all pentatonic with it.

 

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There aren’t any rules here – you can mix
and match however you want to get the music that’s in your head to come out through
your fingers and onto your bass. That’s the whole idea, and it’s wicked
fun when it starts working for you! The key is to practice each individual approach
– even the ones that might not fall under your fingers naturally. If you really start getting your head around
these ideas, they’ll start coming out in your playing naturally. Once again, if you’re at all confused about
the modes – the scales we used in approach #2 – I’ve got to recommend my Ultimate Guide
To The Modes for you.

 

You’ll get the full picture of where the
modes come from, how they work, and where you can use them, but what you won’t get
is any of the confusing jargon that people use that just makes you even more confused. It comes with 2 videos plus a 16-page PDF
with all the tabs, notation and shapes for the modes. But it’s only for people who subscribe to
the email newsletter, so click the link in the description, sign up on that page and
I’ll send it straight to you – completely free. To recap though, you learned 3 separate approaches
for getting through the 251 progression on bass. You learned that the first one was to use
the major pentatonic scale of the 1-chord. If you’re in the key of G major, use G major
pentatonic, if you’re in Bb, use Bb major pentatonic etc. etc. The second approach was to use the modes of
the major scale. A Dorian mode over the 2-chord, a Mixolydian
over the 5-chord and your plain old major scale over the 1-chord.

 

You also learned that you can make music with
the arpeggios of the chords, and to make it sound more musical and melodic, you can play
the notes of each arpeggio out of sequence. Finally, you learned that you can combine
all the different approaches so your playing has variety and people won’t get bored of
you just playing the same thing all the time. Thanks so much for watching – I really appreciate
it. Go ahead and grab that Ultimate Guide To The
Modes if you haven’t already. I’d love to see you in there too. I’m Luke from Become A Bassist and I’ll
catch you soon..

 

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