Chord Progressions For GuitarBy Bill Tyers

You may be surprised to learn that most Modern Popular Music is based on a few basic chord progressions. The quickest way to build a huge memorised song-list is to understand a few basic principles of music theory. So lets dig a little under the hood and see if we can unlock some little secrets which will help you get a handle on playing songs on your guitar.

Firstly some questions:

What is a chord?

A chord is a series of musical pitches taken from the prevailing scale that are sounded simultaneously. For the sake of this lesson we will focus on the major and minor chords. Both chords are built on the first, third, and fifth note of the scale. The difference being the third of the major chord is two full tones above the root note, while the third of the minor chord is only one and a half tones. For more in depth details on chord building see this page.

What is a Chord Progression?

A chord progression is a succession of chords that combine to create movement and define a key center. Little has change during the last 600 years with the same chordal progressions forming the framework for most western music. The one component that has changed throughout musical history - the one that defines a particular musical genre - is style.

Why use The Roman Numerals System?:

Professional musicians often use a musical shorthand called the Roman Numeral System to convey chord progressions during a jam session. Rather than - C-Dm- G - the call would be - I-II-V. The information in this form is much more useful because it can be applied to any key instantly.

Coming to grips with this system is rather simple. As we know, a scale is made up of eight notes in alphabetical order - note eight is only a repeat of note one. For example the scale of C major consists of the notes - C D E F G A B C - Therefore we count each note from one to seven, and call each note a scale degree. As an example the note of E would be the third degree - the note of A would be the sixth.

The chart below has the scales of C A G E D down the left side and the corresponding scale degrees across the top. For the sake of clarity only the guitar friendly keys have been included at this stage.

Notice that chord degree seven is a diminished chord and uses the superscript o as its symbol.

Scale Degree Relationship Chart:
C Dm Em F G Am Bo
A Bm C#m D E F#m G#o
G Am Bm C D Em F#o
E F#m G#m A B C#m D#o
D Em F#m G A Bm C#o
Only the guitar friendly keys have been included in this table

If you as a guitarist associate chord progressions to scale degrees, then the mystery of chord progressions will disappear.

Throughout this lesson we will use both chord names and scale degree to identify chords.

In Lesson 2 we will work through the most common chord progressions in contempory music.


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