Learning how to play a 1-4-5 on guitar

The 1-4-5 chord progression is probably the most used progression in all of modern music. From classic rock and blues to pop, country, and R&B – no genre is exempt.

But, you might wonder – what exactly is it? why does it matter? and how do I apply it in my own music?

Fortunately, we’re here to answer all that for you. So grab your axe and turn on your overdrive, ’cause we’re about to get down with the One, Four, and the Five!

(Also, check out our list of popular 1-4-5 chord progression song examples…)

Editor’s Note: We will be using both standard numbers and Roman numerals in this article to identify Chord degrees. Mostly because you will see them expressed both ways online (depending on who is writing them) and I’d like you to get used to them being used interchangeably. Technically, Roman numerals are the proper way to express chord degrees.

What Exactly Is A 1-4-5 Chord Progression?

A 1-4-5 chord progression (traditionally written as I-IV-V) is a song section that uses only chords derived from the First, Fourth, and Fifth notes of the Major scale. This is a very powerful tonal combination used in countless number-one hits.

Some of those hits include Wild Thing, Johnny B. Goode, and even Beverly Hills by Weezer. There are also countless songs that utilize the 12-bar blues format, which is firmly grounded in the 1-4-5 chords.

The 1-4-5 is best described using this example:

Understanding The 1-4-5 Chord Progression

Let’s look at the key of C Major. The notes are the key of C Major are C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. As you can see in the table below, this would make our 1-4-5 progression C-F-G.

C Major | Scale DegreeIiiiiiIVVvivii°
CDEFGAB

To further illustrate this concept, look at the C Major scale as it’s played on the guitar. Start with your root note (C) being your 1st degree. Then count to note 4 in order, which makes your 4th degree F. The next note in the scale is G, which is your 5th degree.

The 1-4-5 within the major scale

With this information, since we’re playing in C Major, we’ll be using all major chords. Starting in the open position, we may select to play the following Chord voicings for our 1-4-5 progression:

C is your first degree of C major.
F is your fourth degree of C major.
G is your fifth degree of C major.

Using a combination of these chords will always produce a harmonious sound. They sound good together because they are all strong Major chords from the same key, and they work well together to create a bright and happy overall tone. 

This chord structure can be played in any key while keeping the same feel, so long as the chord order remains unchanged. The following chart will outline the 1-4-5 chord positions in every Major key.

The Complete 1-4-5 Chord Progression Chart

In the chart below, we have provided you with the I-IV-V (1-4-5) for every key. You can also download a free full-color illustration of this here.

Song KeyI ChordIV ChordV Chord
AADE
BbBbEbF
BBEF#
CCFG
C#C#F#G#
DDGA
EbEbAbBb
EEAB
FFBbC
F#F#BC#
GGCD
Ab AbDbEb
Each progression can be played in major or minor.

While you might not always have a chart like the one shown above, there are two more cheats to find your 1-4-5. This next chart is called the Circle of Fifths.

The Circle of Fifths – A Shortcut To I-IV-V

The Circle of Fifths is a visual representation of both the 12 Major and 12 Minor keys. This diagram shows the relationship between the tones and how they relate to each other in musical theory.

While there are many quick reference points you can use the Circle of Fifths for, here we’re just going to show you how to find the Forth and Fifth degree of your root note.

We’re going to stay in the key of C Major for consistency. Have a look at the diagram below. You’ll notice that Major keys live on the outside of the circle, while minor keys live on the inside of the circle.

If we’re in the key of C Maj, we already know that your 1 Chord is C. So, first, locate the C Major note at the very top. Travel one note to the left (counter-clockwise) and you’ll arrive at F. That is your 4 Chord.

Now, starting again at C, travel one note to the right (clockwise) to G. That is your 5 Chord. So, your 1-4-5 is C-F-G.

This remains the case for every note on the outer circle. Go ahead and give it a shot with a couple of other keys. Try G for instance and then A. Each time, reference the chart above to compare.

Circle Of Fifths

Circle of Fifths For Minor Keys [I-IV-V]

Your minor keys, within the Circle of Fifths, live inside the circle. Let’s use the A minor key as an example.

Locate your A minor at the top of the inside circle. Travel one note to your left and you will see that your 4th Chord is D minor. Going back to A minor, travel one note to your right. Here, you’ll see that the 5th Chord is E minor. So, your 1-4-5 in the key of A minor is Am, Dm, Em.

Again, this concept will stay the same for every minor key. Give it a try!

The Guitarist’s Cheat Code For Finding The I-IV-V For Any Key

Playing the guitar is, in many ways, just about finding repeatable patterns to use all over the fretboard. This concept is not different.

Back to C Maj! Now, if you don’t already have it, you should grab your guitar here if at all possible. Place your finger on the 8th Fret of the 6th string. In standard tuning, this will be C – which we’ve determined is your I-Chord.

Move your finger below one string to the 5th string. You should still be on Fret-8. Notice that this is now F. If you remember correctly, F is your 4th degree (or IV-Chord) of C.

Finally, move up two frets to the 10th Fret of the 5th string. This will be your 5th degree (or V-Chord). Simple as that, you’ve found your 1-4-5 in the key of C.

So, just remember “Down 1 and right 2”.

Identifying your 1-4-5 chord progression with the root on your 6th string.o

There is one more pattern, and that one is for identifying your I-IV-V from the root on your 5th string. For instance, if you were playing in C Major from the 3rd fret (as we were earlier in the lesson).

If you move your finger one string up, you’ll end up on the 3rd fret of the 6th string. This is G, which we know from previous examples, is your V Chord.

Now, move your finger 2 frets down (to the left). This lands you on the 1st fret of the 6th string, which is F. And, you guessed it, F is your IV chord.

Identifying your 1-4-5 chord progression with the root on your 5th string.

This trick will work from any key and anywhere on the fretboard (until you get to the B-string, which shifts things up 1 fret).

The I-IV-V pattern on guitar.

Conclusion

The 1-4-5 chord progression has been used in numerous chart toppers and will certainly continue to generate catchy hits for many years to come. Understanding its application is key to developing your knowledge of musical theory.

Use the references in this article to locate your I-IV-V chords in several keys. Try writing a song with one of your new progressions.

Once you walk through it a few times, this concept will be with you forever. Now that you know where these chord degrees are, there are only a few more notes to add around these patterns.

Soon you’ll know where all 7 chord degrees are in every key without even having to think about it!

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2 Comments

    1. If I’m misunderstanding your question, please let me know. A good way to look at it is to start by figuring out what the notes are. So, if I use one of the methods above knowing that I’m in the key of D, I can quickly deduce that the IV chord is G Major and the V chord is A Major. You can easily do this by one of the methods above. If you don’t want to use barre chords, you can use any major chord shape, as long as it is D, G and A (major in your case). For instance, you can use Open Chords, Power Chords, or Inverted Chords as long as they are rooted in D, G and A.

      As far as learning the shapes, that’s a separate exercise you would have to practice if you haven’t already. Here is a link to our chord generator page. This will specifically help you with any shapes.

      Does this help at all? If not, just let me know and I’ll elaborate.

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