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Guitar Chord Progressions

Chord Progressions: An Easy Definition

Progessions are all about which chords work well together.  Let's use a quick example to explain... Let's take two chords, C and B. 

Guitar chord progressions theory will teach you that these two fella's are hardly ever used together in the same song, they don't gel or mesh together very well.  Try strumming the C chord on the guitar a bit and then switch to B - try to get a melody or song out of that.  It simply doesn't work does it (unless you want to play jazz, but let's not go there!!  This is because C and B are in used in different sets of progressions and playing them together one after the other, sounds dissonant.

On the other end, two chords like C and G work together beautifully and form the basis for many, many songs written in the key of C.  This is the beauty of chord progressions; it helps you to easily memorize which chords work well together, to form a song or melody.

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Guitar Chord Progressions
Guitar Chord Progressions are all about which chords work well together, and which ones don't.  A certain combination of chords will naturally 'sound right' to your ear and playing them in succession (one "progressing" after the other) will leave you with a musical accompaniment that can be used to play many different kinds of songs, and essentially go paperless.
Why you need to know this... no more sheet music!

The best reason to learn and memorize chord progressions is so that you can start playing songs by ear.  I recommend that most guitarists start learning to play by ear (i.e. without chords or sheet music in front of them) as soon as possible.

You've likely seen someone pick up a guitar and start playing a song that someone calls out, just off the bat.  It looks impossibly hard, but if you know chord progressions, it's easy as anything!


What you need to know to continue

The following few lessons are aimed at players who've mastered most open guitar chords.  At the very least you should be able to play (from memory) the nine chords listed on the Easy Guitar Chords Page.


On to the lessons...

I recommend you start with one and work your way up to lessons four.  Also, don't miss the free downloadable progression chart you can get at the final lesson.

The Basics of Understanding A Guitar Chord Progression

This section contains a little bit of theory on understanding chord progressions.  Chord progressions will ultimately help you to play by ear, which is vitally important for any guitarist hoping to play more songs, or even start writing them.  So  I've written this section in a simple and uncomplicated manner to help you get it without frustration.

On the previous, introductory paragraph I mentioned that certain chords simply work well together, while others don't.  Try playing, for example, the C and B chords after each other repetitively and you'll find it hard to think of any popular melody or song that you could sing using these two. 

But do the same with C and G and a few songs will likely immediately jump to mind.  C and G are in the same chord progression, while C and B most definitely are not.  By memorizing chord progressions you'll thus be able to play many songs by ear.


Which Chords Go Together?

I'm going to focus on progressions that use four chords (three majors and a minor).  And the best way to teach you 'four chord' progressions is to use the graphic below, called the circle of fifths.

Circle of Fifths - Learning Guitar Chord Progressions
Let's say we're playing in the key of C, that makes our first chord C (the root chord).

To find the other three we do the following:

Chords 2 & 3 are found to the left and right of the root chord (on the graphic).  That makes it
F and G

Finally Chord 4 (which is always our minor) is found by counting three chord to the right of our root chord, which in this case is A.  But, we're looking for a minor, which will make our fourth Chord A minor (
Am).
Downloadable Print Friendly Version
Another Example

If you're playing in the key of G, which four chords make out the progression?

Chord 1 - G (Root Chord)
Chord 2 - C (To the left of the root)
Chord 3 - D (To the right of the root)
Chord 4 - Em (Three down and a minor)
Circle of Fifths in G
Hundreds of songs with four chords...

Yes really.  For proof that I'm not exaggerating, have a look at this hilarious video to the left, by a band called Axis of Awesome, where they parody many popular songs using the simple chord progression taught above (with only four chords).
 
Certain kinds of chords simply go well together and form the backdrop for hundreds upon hundreds of popular modern (and ancient!) songs.  Chord progressions help us understanding which chord work together to form a progression that turns out a nice melody.

Now we're going to play three chord progressions for guitar to show how they work in practice.


Three Chord Progressions For Guitar

Progression 1 - Key of C

In the key of C, our root chord is
C, and our supporting chords are F, G and Am.  This is the simplest of all chord progressions.  In the video below I'm strumming the chords C, F, G & Am in succession.
Progression 2 - Key of G

In the key of G, our root chord is
G, and our supporting chords are C, D and Em.  This one is my personal favourite and will be especially helpful to very new players since all chords in this progression are easy open chords.  In the video below I'm playing G, C, D & Em in succession with a funky strumming pattern.
Progression 3 - Key of E

In the key of E, our root chord is
E, and our supporting chords are B, A and C#m.  But in this video I'm doing something different.  Instead of playing regular open chords, I'm playing abbreviated barre chords (without actually barring any strings).  This can only be done in the key since the top and bottom strings of the guitar are tuned to E.  Listen to the cool effect that these chords have.
Do I have to play the progressions in this order?

In other words, am I allowed to change the order of the chords within the progression?  The answer is absolutely.  You can mix and match and swap and change the chords within a progression and there's no set way in which to play them.  That is after all what creativity is all about!

In the rest of the lesson below, I'll be teaching you a few chord progressions that work especially well within country music.
The strong connections and shared history between different styles like rock, blues and country, come to the forefront when you study chord progressions.  The truth is that many of the sets that classify as "country chord progressions" could just as easily be used in rock or even pop music.
In that sense then there aren't that whole of a difference between standard chord progression and country chord progressions.

However, there are certain kinds of chords that country singers love to use and within their tradition they often find hundreds of ways to vary similar themes.

What's good to remember about country music is that, like Blues, it's often simple and fuss-free.  It never tries to impress with fancy musical impresarios, and the best and most well known country songs often use three simple open chords!


Three Corded Country Twangin


A country song usually consists of the basic three chord progression that can be found by again referring to the circle of fifths diagram below.
Circle of Fifths - Learning Guitar Chord Progressions
Downloadable Print Friendly Version
Country songs are often played in the keys of C or G, and finding the other two chords of our three chord progression, simply consists of looking to the left and right of the root chords.

So in the key of C, we'll also use F (to the left), and G (to the right).

In the key of G, we'll therefore use G, C & D.
Another aspect of country guitar chords is that it often involves seventh chords.  For a whole list of seventh chords I recommend you have a look at one of the guitar chord charts on this site.

Finding the chord to be played as a seventh is equally effortless:  It's usually the chord to the right of the root (on the circle of fifths graphic above).  So for a song in the key of C, the G will often be played as a G7. 

Seventh chords work well as intro chords leading up to the root.  If you play a G7 on guitar your ear will expect a chord to follow, which is always the root (C in our example).


Country Chord Progressions Example

In the video below, I'm playing a simple country melody in the key of C.  I start off by playing G7 and using it as a introductory chord, so that the root (C) is expected to follow.  I also play a melody using C & F.  Have a listen...
NOTE: On the video above I'm dong a little trick with my middle finger by hammering it on the strings as I strum the chord.  You can read more about hammer on's at the Guitar Techniques page, but if your a newer player this might prove too difficult for now, in which case I recommend that ignore it.



How to remember and memorize these country chord progressions and others?  A chart will do the trick and I have one handy for you. 

Proceed to the next lesson for your free downloadable and print-friendly chord progression chart.