Are there any scales that work well over this progression? My Mistake!! I was thinking of the song Breezin' by George Benson!!


5 Answers 5


I think maybe a quick overview of Diatonic Harmony would be helpful and make the numbers make sense.

As you may know, a major scale has the same intervals no matter what note you start on. From the root note, the interval are: whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, and half step. If you start on C, for example, and follow those intervals, you get C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I'll repeat the key point: the intervals are the same for every major scale. So no matter what key you're in, the third note in the major scale in always two whole steps away from the root note, the fifth note is always one-and-a-half steps from the third note, etc. etc.

So now imagine building a chord by stacking thirds on the root note, i.e. build a chord using the 1st, the 3rd, the 5th, and the 7th notes in the major scale. You get a Major 7th chord. If you're in the key of C, you'll get a C Maj7. If you're in the key of Eb, you'll get a Eb Maj7, etc. Because the intervals in the major scale are the same no matter what key you're in, the chord that you get from stacking thirds on the first note of the major scale is always a Major 7th chord. This is called the I chord.

Okay. So now imagine building a chord by stacking thirds on the second note of the major scale (in C Major, that would be D - F - A - C). Again, because the intervals in the major scale are always the same, you know that you'll always get the same type of chord---in this case a Minor 7th chord. Because it's the chord you got by stacking thirds on the second note of the scale, the chord is called the ii chord (we use roman numerals to number the chords, and we use upper case for major chords and lower case for minor chords).

Continuing in this way, we get the following diatonic (meaning: derived from the same key) chords:

  • I: Major 7th Chord
  • ii: Minor 7th Chord
  • iii: Minor 7th Chord
  • IV: Major 7th Chord
  • V: 7th Chord (aka Dominant 7th; a major triad with a flatted 7th on top)
  • vi: Minor 7th Chord
  • vii: Minor 7th w/ flatted 5th, aka Half-Diminished Chord

This way of understanding harmony is tremendously helpful to guitarists in particular. We play an instrument that makes it really easy to transpose chords---you just move the shape up or down the neck to the appropriate fret. All the chord shapes work the same way. Here are two examples to illustrate the point:

Example 1: Pick a key, any key---how about, say, Bb. The notes in the Bb scale are Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, A. The sixth note is G, so if I build a chord on G, but staying within the key of Bb (i.e. using only notes from the Bb Major scale), I'll get a G Min7. I don't even have to think about what notes go into that chord or what the intervals are; because it's the vi chord, it's a minor 7th, guaranteed. So when I'm playing in the key of Bb and the chord progression calls for a vi chord, all I have to do is find a G and use one of my Minor 7th chord shapes.

Example 2: Imagine I'm on stage and the bandleader says "Rhythm Changes in Eb: 1, 2, 1 2 3 4" and we're off. No problem. I don't have to figure out all the notes to every chord, because I know that the numbers for Rhythm Changes are I - vi - ii - V, etc., so I already know that means a Major 7th, Minor 7th, Minor 7th, Dominant 7th. All I have to figure out are what the root notes of those chords are for the key of Eb (in case you're wondering: Eb, C, F, Bb) and use the appropriate chord shapes. Also, because all of those chords are diatonic, I know that any notes in the Eb scale will sound good over all of them, so when it comes time for my solo, I find an Eb scale on the guitar and go to town.

  • Am I missing something? Why is everyone assuming that this is a major progression?
    – yossarian
    Commented Jan 23, 2011 at 19:24
  • 5
    Because it's idiomatic in the diatonic major scale and that's its foundation. Used in any other scale, some modifications would have to be made. In the diatonic natural minor, for instance, it would be i - VI - ii° - v at the most basic level. Of course, you'd still call it 1-6-2-5 but, really, the 1-6-2-5 everyone recognizes is the major diatonic.
    – Jimi Oke
    Commented Jan 23, 2011 at 23:42
  • 1
    The capital "I" indicates major; the lower case "i" indicates minor. The OP asked about "I-iv-ii-V" which the "I" indicates is a major key.
    – Kirk A
    Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 12:06

The 1-6-2-5 progression is, well, the I – vi – ii – V progression! In C major, that would be C – a – d – G. In G major, it would be G – e – a – D. It's native to the diatonic major scale, but it certainly works across a number of scales (with modification in some cases). This progression is also the foundation of the turnaround in blues.


It could be a progression:

Key CMaj

I iii V VII CM Em GM Bdim

Then you could work within CMaj scale and do modes over each chord.


Lets have a review about what exactly those Roman Numerals mean. They Indicate the scale degree on which the chord is build and also what sort of chord we have to do with and also the inversion.

The Four Main chord types you will have to do with in your harmony work is...

  1. Major (Major Third / Perfect Fifth)
  2. minor (Minor Third / Perfect Fifth)
  3. Augmented (Major Third / Augmented Fifth)
  4. Diminished (Minor Third / Diminished Fifth

These facts are indicated in the following manner.

  • Major Chord --> Capital Roman Numeral
  • Minor Chord --> Lower Case Roman Numeral
  • Augmented Chord --> A small plus sign next to the Roman Numerals.
  • Diminished Chord --> A small degree sign next to the Roman Numerals.

The Roman Numerals themselves tells you on which scale degree the chord is build. They work in relation to the scale you are operating in. Lets say you are in C Major for this example.

I (i) --> Tonic (1st note of scale --> C) II (ii) --> Super Tonic (2nd note of scale --> D) III (iii) --> Mediant (3rd note of scale --> E) IV (iv) --> Sub Dominant (4th note of the scale --> F) V (v) --> Dominant (5th note of the scale --> G) VI (vi) --> Sub Mediant (6th note of the scale --> A) VII (vii) --> Leading Tone (7th note of the scale --> B)

You also will want to know what note is at the bottom of the chord. This is the issue of inversion. They work as follows. You count from the bottom note to where you get note.

So for a chord in root position you may have for instance the notes CEG so you start counting and you get notes at (C)-d-(E)-f-(G) --> 1 3 5.

Hence a triad in root position is indicated with a 5 and 3 below it.

For a chord in first inversion we would have the notes (from bottom) E G C So we start counting again and get notes at (E)-f-(G)-a-b-(C) --> 1 3 6.

This is why a triad in first inversion is indicated with a 6 and 3 below it. Sometimes just a 6.

Then lastly you have Second Inversion which in our example will give us the notes G - C - E. We start counting and we get notes at (G)-a-b-(C)-d-(E) --> 1 4 6

This is why a chord in second inversion would be notated with 6 and a 4 below it.

There is also chords with other notes added to them but this should do you well as an introduction to chord theory.


This progression is very common and does not deviate from the chords that naturally occur in the major scale. Hence, you could use the major scale on the I chord over everything. You may want to emphasize chord tones as you go but there is no need to modulate.

In the key of C for example you would have C --> Amin --> Dmin --> G (or G7). And C major would work. The other modes that correspond to these chords would be as follows.

Over Amin play A natural minor

Over Dmin play D dorian

Over G play G mixolydian

There is a naturally occurring set of chords and modes that can be derived form the major scale in any key. Listing them on degrees (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) = (Do, Re, Mi, etc...) in the order Degree. Mode, 7th chord.

  1. Ionian (or major scale), I Maj7

  2. Dorian, ii-7

  3. Phrygian, iii-7

  4. Lydian, IV Maj7

  5. Mixolydian, V7

  6. Aeolian, vi-7

  7. Locrian, viii-7(b5)

Even though each mode has a distinct character they are all in the same key. For example G mixolydian is just C major starting on G and following the usual steps. The 7th chords listed are naturally occurring in the Major scale starting on 1st degree.

That being said you can choose to deviate from this to add a little more flavor to solos. In Rhythm changes you usually see I --> VI7 --> ii-7 --> V7 which hints at modulating to a minor (melodic or harmonic) on the ii chord. And functionally the ii serves the same purpose as a IV chord so this progression is very similar to that of Heart and Soul, I --> vi --> IV --> V.

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