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Acoustic Lesson 11B - Basic Chord Progressions

In lesson eight we talked about key signatures and how they effect or determine the chords and scales we use. In this lesson we are going to focus on playing some basic chord progressions that we briefly discussed in lesson eight but before we pick up the guitar lets talk a little about chord progression theory. Progressions are just the repetitive series of chords that make up the structure of the song. These chords share notes and most chord progressions are usually associated with a scale and the notes of each chord are usually taken from that scale. Some progressions are simple like those of folk and pop music while others are longer and more complicated like those found in jazz (this is not always true). 

In chord progressions we use roman numerals to notate the chords position in our key signature. For example the first chord of the key is the I chord. The fourth is the IV and so on. Major chords are marked by an uppercase roman numeral and minor chords are marked by a lower case roman numeral. And the symbols o and + are used to notate diminished and augmented chords respectively. Chords that are not on the scale can be indicated by placing a flat/sharp sign before the chord.  The chord’s position corresponds with the scale used and also dictates if the chord should be major or minor. For example a chord built on the vi of G would contain the notes E, G, B and therefore be minor. The chords available off of a major scale would be I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, and vii o. Not all of these chords will be used in the progression of a major scale song. In fact most popular songs only employ four or less chords from the scale. The most predominate chords are the I, IV, V, and iv. You may have noticed that allot of songs on the radio sound similar and maybe even sound like the same song, this is because popular music often uses the same chord progressions. Let’s work our way through some of the most popular progressions.

Let’s try a I, V, vi, IV progression in the key of G. This is a common progression that can be found in countless songs. “No Woman, No Cry” by Bob Marley is an example or another would be Blink 182 “What’s my Name Again,” if that’s more your style.  Played in 4/4 time it would look and sound like this.

Here is another popular progression. It sometimes called the fifties progression but it still used allot today.  This I - vi - IV - V progression can be found in Green Days “Jesus of Suburbia” or Nena’s “99 Red Balloons”. Here it is in the key of E in 6/8 time.

There are many other common chord progressions so try to so take some time to come up with some on your own. Practice the ones discussed in this lesson and become familiar with them. Inevitably when learning to play a song you will find some element of this lesson in every one of them.


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