The Chord Guide: Pt III – Chord Progressions

John LennonChord progressions are the canvas on which musicians paint their masterpieces, and it’s a canvas which is a piece of art in itself. A chord progression can be subtle and in the background or it can be blatant and up front; it can be simple and catchy, or it can be technical and complex, it can stay in one key or it can change like the seasons. In any of these cases a chord progression is what drives the song as it literally shapes the music that accompanies it. Chord progressions are like a cozy home where melody and rhythm can kick their feet up. All the songwriting giants, like John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Bob Dylan, to name a few, have/had a tremendous knowledge of the art of the chord progression. I’m not going to promise you tremendous knowledge, but I will offer you a good head start in the way of making your own music – in an easily digestible chunk to boot. In a nutshell, I don’t mean this guide to be a comprehensive guide on the theory behind chord progressions – that guide will come later, I assure you.

This guide is meant to inject an interest in songwriting in new and old guitarists alike, I hope that at some point after reading this you will pick up your old guitar, blow off the dust, and join me in playing music. Music is the universal language of the human soul; it speaks more volumes about us than a library full of words ever could, so learning to communicate in this language is a wonderful ability to have. Read on, assimilate everything, and start making your own music! Play for yourself, and others will listen, not the other way around – music is a journey, a personal voyage. I hope you have a blast playing these chord progressions! If you like, you can download a print friendly word document version of this post.

Chord Progression Guide

This handy little guide will help all musicians create their own catchy chord progressions on the fly! Included are two chord charts (one for major and one for minor) and a list of common progressions that you can make, referring to the charts to help you. Note, I/IV/V is highlighted in bold as it’s such a popular chord progression, this way you can easily see chord progressions you can play without having to squint at the chart.

Chord Chart

Major Chord Chart

Above is a chord chart for the 7 most used keys. To create a progression, simply follow a chord progression formula (I is always the key of the progression). For example, a very popular chord progression formula is I-IV-V (highlighted in bold on the chart), in the key of C, the chord progression would be C/F/G, in the key of D the progression would be D/G/A. Another extremely popular chord progression, arguably the most popular (used in hundreds of songs), is the I/V/vi/IV (one-five-six-four). In C the chords would be C/G/Am/F and in G it would be G/D/Em/C. While most chord progressions start with the key of the song (I), this is not always the case, for example the very popular jazz chord progression ii-V-I in the key of C would be Dm/G/C or Dm7/G7/Cmaj7. Even though the progression doesn’t start on the C major chord, it is still in the key of C as all the chords in the progression originate from it’s scale. Note that the vi (6th) note is always the relative minor of the major scale. So for example, in C major, the vi is Am, while in F major the vi is Dm.

Chord Chart

Minor Chord Chart

Above is a chord chart for creating minor chord progressions. As I mentioned before, the vi is the relative minor of any major scale. For example, you’ll notice that all the notes in Am are the same as those iin C major in the first chart, and all the notes in Dm are found in F major and so on. This is very useful to know as you can so you can mix and match major and minor progressions and stay in the same key.

You can substitute the chords in the charts for different chord types, for example to play a chord progression using 7th chords you can – substitute all of the minor chords for minor7 chords, substitute the major chords (I/IV) for major7 chords and substitute the V chord for a dominant 7th chord. If you don’t know these chords, or just need a quick reminder, here’s a list of all of the common open chords, and here is one for the barre chords.

Now for what you have been waiting for: a list of common chord progression formulas which you can use to start writing songs straight away! You can even make up your own chord progressions, or you can substitute major minor chords for 7ths of 9ths, so feel free to experiment! Note: I have transcribed all of the major chord progressions into the key of C to make it easier for you to simply start practicing as soon as possible, as even the absolute beginner knows, or should be learning, the open chords in C major. But if you wish to play these progressions in a different key, which I’m sure you eventually will, you will have to do the work of converting them yourself – don’t worry, it’s one of the easier and more useful things you’ll ever have to learn to do!

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