This is the first lesson in the basic guitar chord progressions series.
It'll show you how easy it is to write meaningful chord
progressions using those basic
guitar chords (also known as
open position chords) you learn as a beginner, so make sure you've been
those basic chords lessons first.
The chords we're about to look at have been used in some of the most
loved rock and pop music out there. Songwriting doesn't have to be
Simply having a "hook" or a memorable/catchy harmony is all it
needs. That, and good vocals of course, but we're focussing on guitar
Let's begin with some basic chord progression theory...
the key of your chord progression
When musicians talk about key,
they are most often referring to the chord that your song is built
around - a tonal center. I won't get too in depth with the theory
behind this right now as it's covered in the songwriting theory
lessons, but the easiest way to understand key is to pick a major or
minor chord and begin your song on that chord. Later we'll build
relationships that reaffirm
this key center.
Starting on a major chord,
such as C major below, will most often set the mood for a happy,
positive, upbeat progression...
Whereas starting on a minor
chord, such as E minor below, will typically set the mood
rather melancholic, downbeat or tragic piece...
In music theory, we call this chord the tonic,
often abbreviated to the numeral I.
More on this another time!
major/minor split personality is important to get an ear for. However,
I should point out that it's easy to become dogmatic over how major and
minor, both chords and keys, differ in the emotional response
they yield. It's clearly one of those "meaning of life" questions that
cannot be satisfactorily concluded as "minor = sad, major = happy".
The important thing, from an objective point of view, is that the distinction between
major and minor key progressions is clear in your mind. It will become
clearer as we progress...
chord progressions using natural relationships
A chord progression is simply a sequence of chords. Most songs make use
of several chord changes and this is what gives the listener the
feeling of being taken on a journey. Since our tonic chord is "home",
the other chords can be seen as the journey "away from home".
Eventually, you'll want to return back home!
Now, there are certain movements between the tonic chord and other
chords that naturally work to reinforce that key center. Below is a
table, using chord fingerings from the basic
chords series, showing you
these chord pairings. The second chord is known as the V (5) chord.
Don't worry about what that means now, just listen to how it naturally
works with its tonic chord.
You can probably hear how "natural" these movements sound, and that's
why this I - V relationship has been used in music for centuries!
Obviously, you don't have to use this movement at all, but it's there
if you need it, and the more you play the more you will get a sense of
when it's "right" to use it. That's intuition!
There are other natural movements we can use between our tonic major
chord and other chords (we'll cover minor key later).
Such as the Tonic
Again, just like the I - V relationship, these chords are naturally
related (more on why they are another time). Get to know both
relationships as both offer different sounds.
Just from what we've learned so far, we can create simple I - IV - V
chord progressions (or I - V - IV).
As we'll learn in a later part, you don't always have to start the
progression with the tonic chord.
Let's just look at a couple more important relationships, the first
involving what is
known as the ii
chord, which is naturally a minor chord. The ii chord is a perfect
example of how minor chords can work within a major key progression, as
part of the journey...
And finally, let's look at the I
relationship. The vi
chord is naturally a minor chord (hence the lower case numeral). When
using open chord fingerings, there are only two tonics we can use for
So, by keeping all these relationships intact with the tonic chord you
can create very simple progressions (although some of the most loved
music out there uses these simple relationships). You don't have to use
chords, and we'll look more at song structure in a later part.
By using these relationships in all, or part of your progressions, you
naturally reinforce that tonic "home" chord.
Here are some 3 and 4 chord ideas to get you started.