What Is Behind the 1-4-5 Rule?

author: Rockin_Louie date: 04/02/2014 category: guitar techniques
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What Is Behind the 1-4-5 Rule?
I've had several students ask me "What is behind the 1-4-5 rule?" For this, you have to understand how basic music theory works. "Ugh… what is with everyone trying to ram music theory down my throat? Just teach me how to play guitar!" Well, in this lesson, if you can't listen to a song on the radio, pick up your guitar, and start playing along, maybe guitar isn't for you. 

Everyone thinks learning to play guitar means to learn how to play chords first. While that's a good approach, how do you know where and when to use them? I teach scales first… especially the C scale seeing as it has no sharp or flats.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1

In the C scale, you have 7 notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. If you consider these numbers from 1 - 7, C would be 1, D would be 2, and so on. Knowing the names of the notes in the scale, we can now develop chords by using the 1-3-5 method. To make a C major chord, you take C, E, and G (1-3-5 notes of the scale). If you take the 2-4-6 notes of the scale (D-F-A), you would get the D minor. Again, if you take the 3-5-7 notes (E-G-B), you would get the E minor chord. Continuing on, you would eventually end up with what is called the "C major chord progression."

How does this help with the 1-4-5 rule? Well, now that we have chords to play, we can actually play a song. How many songs do you know of that are purely solos or melodies? Not many, I'm sure. The 1-4-5 rule allows you to take the first, fourth, and fifth chord from a chord progression and make a song out of it. Don't believe me? Play the C chord, followed by the F chord, then the G chord. Almost sounds like "Twist and Shout," or "Labamba." Or, try playing G-F-C-G

While no songwriter really sits down and says "Okay… I need to use the 1-4-5 rule to write all my songs, and I'm in the key of C, so I need to use C, F, and G," it does form the basic building blocks of many songs you hear. 

What about minor progressions? It's the same thing. If you know the relative minor of C is A minor, you can figure out almost any song in the key of A minor. Your 1-4-5 would be A minor, D minor, and E minor. All the same chords as in the key of C. No, you do not need to stick with 1-4-5, but it will help you learn to play almost any song you can think of, or create your own.

I hope this helps. And remember: a little music theory goes a long way.
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