1 2 4 Progression

5 min read Jun 17, 2024
1 2 4 Progression

The 1-2-4 Progression: A Cornerstone of Jazz Harmony

The 1-2-4 progression is a fundamental chord progression in jazz music, known for its versatility and ability to create a sense of motion and resolution. It's also incredibly common in popular music, with artists across genres utilizing its catchy and adaptable nature.

The Building Blocks: I-ii-IV Chords

The progression consists of three chords:

  • I Chord (Tonic): The root chord of the key, providing a sense of stability and home.
  • ii Chord (Minor): A minor chord built on the second degree of the scale, creating tension and anticipation.
  • IV Chord (Major): A major chord built on the fourth degree of the scale, providing a sense of resolution and movement towards the tonic.

Understanding the Progression

The 1-2-4 progression moves through a series of harmonic relationships:

  1. I to ii: This movement creates a half-step resolution from the root of the I chord to the third of the ii chord, creating tension and anticipation.
  2. ii to IV: The ii chord resolves to the IV chord, creating a whole-step resolution from the third of the ii chord to the root of the IV chord. This movement provides a sense of resolution and movement towards the tonic.

The Magic of the Progression

The 1-2-4 progression is so effective due to a number of factors:

  • Melodic Motion: The progression encourages strong melodic lines, particularly as the melody often moves from the root of the I chord to the third of the ii chord, and then to the root of the IV chord.
  • Emotional Impact: The progression can evoke a variety of emotions, ranging from melancholy and longing to joy and anticipation.
  • Versatility: The 1-2-4 progression can be used in various tempos and styles, from slow ballads to upbeat swing tunes.
  • Accessibility: The progression is relatively easy to learn and play, making it accessible to musicians of all skill levels.

Examples in Popular Music

The 1-2-4 progression is found in countless popular songs across genres:

  • "Yesterday" by The Beatles: A classic example of the 1-2-4 progression in a ballad setting.
  • "Fly Me To The Moon" by Frank Sinatra: A jazz standard utilizing the progression in its iconic melody.
  • "My Girl" by The Temptations: A soul classic that showcases the progression's versatility.
  • "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd: A rock anthem featuring a memorable 1-2-4 progression.

Beyond the Basics

The 1-2-4 progression can be extended and elaborated upon:

  • Seventh Chords: Adding seventh chords to the progression can add complexity and depth.
  • Substitutions: Using substitute chords can create variations and interesting harmonic twists.
  • Inversions: Inverting the chords can alter the melodic and harmonic landscape.


The 1-2-4 progression remains a powerful and versatile tool for musicians, composers, and songwriters. Its simple structure and harmonic movement continue to inspire creativity and provide a solid foundation for countless musical creations. Whether you're exploring jazz harmony or creating your own original music, understanding the 1-2-4 progression is a valuable asset.

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