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Home > Scales / Progressions > Major Scale Progressions

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Major Scale Chord Progressions

This lesson is part of a larger series of major scale related lessons, so make sure you've at least been through the introductory major scale lesson.

Understanding how major scale chord progressions are built will allow you to play the scale over a sequence of chords in a given major key. I'll provide a chart of the most common major scale progressions at the end of this lesson, but I encourage you to spend some time getting to know the theory behind it all.


Major scale chords

The first thing we need to do is build a chord scale around the intervals of the major scale. This means we take each degree of the scale and use them as root notes for our major scale chords as follows:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I ii iii
IV V vi vii

The upper case numerals represent major chords (I, IV, V), lower case minor chords (ii, iii, vi, vii). So, by making sure you know the intervals of the major scale, you'll automatically know the intervals of this chord scale.

If the tonic (I) chord was D major, for example, the other chords would be built accordingly, based on the D major scale intervals...

I ii iii
IV V vi vii
D Em F#m G A Bm C#dim

From this, we could build progressions in the key of D major, using various combinations of the other chords in the scale. This means that the D major scale would be compatible over the entire progression.

For example...

I IV V
D G A

Click to hear

That's a very common major key three chord progression in which the D major scale could be used. We could also use it if just two of those chords were being played back and forth - I IV I IV etc.

And we don't have to start the progression on the tonic chord...

ii V I
Em A D

Click to hear

As the E minor and A major chords are taken from that D major chord scale, we could even play the D major scale over a progression that just uses the ii and V chords back and forth and it would still be compatible!

By learning the sound of these chord intervals across several keys, you'll train your ear to pick out these major scale compatible chord movements.

If the tonic was Bb major, we could use the Bb major scale around any progression built from its scale...

I ii iii
IV V vi vii
Bb Cm Dm Eb F Gm Adim

From the 2 5 1 example earlier...

ii V I
Cm F Bb

Click to hear

So, spend time trying to apply this chord scale, based on your knowledge of the major scale's intervals, in different keys.

The tonic chord defines the key of the progression, and therefore any progression pulled from it.

The tonic chord also defines the key of your major scale solo, as the root note of the tonic chord should be the same as the root note of the major scale.

The roman numerals are just to show you the chord relationships without specifying a key. It's the interval movement that gives these progressions their sound, no matter what key they're in.

For example, Cmaj / Fmaj / Gmaj is the same as Amaj / Dmaj / Emaj. Both these are 1 4 5 (I IV V) progressions in two different keys, the first in C major, the other in A major. Both will sound the same, just in a different pitch ("higher" or "lower").


Major scale chord progressions chart

The chart below shows you some common major scale chord progressions in different keys. The idea is to really get to know the sound of these chord movements in as many different keys as possible so you don't have to rely on your solos being in the same key all the time.

Strum these chord sequences on your guitar. Even just playing the bass notes of each chord along the low E and A strings will help train your ear to these interval movements.

Remember that these progressions can be reordered (for example you could play I V ii instead of ii V I - same chords). You should also try modifying them, adding other chords from the scale. I just use the basic open chord or barre chord forms for getting to know these interval relationships.

Key I IV V
ii V I I V vi IV I iii IV
A A  D  E Bm  E  A A  E  F#m  D A  C#m  D
B B  E  F# C#m  F#  B B  F#  Ab  E B  Ebm  E
C C  F  G Dm  G  C C  G  Am  F C  Em  F
D D  G  A Em  A  D D  A  Bm  G D  F#m  G
E E  A  B F#m  B  E E  B  C#m  A E  Abm  A
F F  Bb  C Gm  C  F F  C  Dm  Bb F  Am  Bb
G G  C  D Am  D  G G  D  Em  C G  Bm  C

Of course there are sharp and flat keys as well, but the main thing is you experiment with these major scale chord intervals and how these relationships sound. Spend time mastering this, and you'll be able to write chord progressions for major scale soloing. Also, you'll be able to identify a chord progression suitable for using the major scale over.

Was this lesson helpful? Please let others know, cheers...



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Related

Major Scale Positions

Major Scale Exercises

Learn More Guitar Scales

Learn More About Guitar Chord Progressions





         
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