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The Magical Chords Of Stevie Wonder

Ayla Tesler-Mabe  /  Lessons / Feb 4

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No matter which way you look at it, Stevie Wonder is a musical magician. His mastery of melody, harmony, rhythm, chords, and everything else in between is on a level beyond many musicians’ understanding. So how can you capture a little bit of Stevie’s magic for yourself? Well in this lesson, Ayla Tesler-Mabe adapts his keyboard-based approach to chords to the guitar. Specifically, we’ll be looking at one of the most important chord progressions in jazz, the 2-5-1 progression.

The 2-5-1 Chord Progression
This chord progression is created by taking the 2nd, 5th, and 1st chord of a major key and playing them in this specific order. In the key of C major, these chords are D minor, C major, and G major. 

If you’d like to learn more about how chord progressions are created, check out this guide: The Top Guitar Chord Progressions

The first step to making this chord progression jazzier is to make these all 7 chords. So our C major becomes a C Major 7 (Cmaj7) chord, our D minor becomes a D minor 7 (Dm7) chord, and our G major becomes a G Dominant 7 (G7) chord. Playing a 2-5-1 progression with these 7 new chords instantly gives it more flavor. 

This chord progression is all about building tension with the 5 chord before resolving to the 1 chord. Stevie Wonder liked to use very tense variations of the 5 chord to make the resolution even more satisfying. 

The G9sus4 Chord
One of the 5 chord variations that Stevie liked to use was the G9sus4 chord. To play this, simply lay your finger across all the strings at the 10th fret. It’s actually easier to play than the G7 chord and sounds much tenser because of the extra “color” notes that are added.

The F/G Chord
There’s another variation of this same chord that you can play in an open position. It simply gives you a different timbre. This G9sus4 chord is played by creating the top of a standard F major chord shape then adding a G in the bass. Another easy one!

Making It Interesting
The next trick we’ll look at in this lesson has to do with adding some bass movement to the progression. Many piano and keyboard players like to move the bass around while playing one chord, so we’re going to emulate this on our guitars. Follow along with the video to get the hang of this movement.

Lastly, we’ll look at two other ways to handle the 5 chord in a 2-5-1 progression for more advanced guitar players. These will require a little more stretching to get the hang of. The first one is playing a G13 (b5, b9) chord before resolving to the C major 7 chord. The second way is to split the 5 chord in two and play Gm Aug (eb/G) into G7 (b5, b9) before landing on your C major 7 chord. You can find these chord shapes in the video.


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