R&B’s Most Used Chord Progression

The 251 is one of the most recognizable chord progressions in Jazz, Gospel, and of course, R&B. Anyone that wants to learn R&B production must also get to grips with the 251 chord progression.

In the video above, I explain what the 251 is and how it works. But if you like to read…

What do the numbers mean?

The numbers refer to the chords used in the chord progression. You see, every note in a scale has a number or a “scale degree”. See the example below.

We’ve simply taken a major and minor scale and given each note a number from 1 to 7, in the order they present themselves.

Once we understand these scale degrees, we can use these numbers to call out chord progressions. With the root of each chord corresponding to a scale degree.

Music has long used numbers to denote chord progressions. However, some chord progressions are so common, and I guess short, that they are more shared.

And this is the case with the 251. Most chord progressions, in R&B at least, use more than three chords. But in R&B, the 251 often functions as part of a chord progression or as passing chords.

How it works

Think of the 251 as a chord progression inside another chord progression. It’s a lot easier to think of it and figure out different 251s that way.

When playing a 251 progression, the (2) chord and the (5) chord derive from the major or minor scale of the (1) chord.

In the video, we’re in the key of C. However, we use a 2-5-1 chord progression to land on F major. So, we take the 2, 5 and 1 from the key of F: G – C – F. The 2 and 5 scale degrees are the same whether a key is major or minor so, that’s not something we have to consider.

However, landing on a major chord, we’d often play a minor (2) chord and a major (5) chord (or perfect 5th chord for the music theory police).

Of course playing the chords in their root positions like this doesn’t sound the best. Check out our video on 7th chords for better voicing.

What about if the landing chord is minor? Check out this video here to learn more.

More like this