Chord Progressions

Chord Progressions

This lesson will teach you progressions in several styles so you can learn from known progressions and styles.  This lesson will cover the 50’s progression, the Let It Be progression, jazz progressions, blues progressions, and more This lesson is loaded, so let’s get started!

The 50’s Progression

I like to start with the 50’s progression because it is recognizable, playable in open position, and it only requires 4 chords.  I’m going to give you a few examples using the major and minor CAGED chords and F chord thrown in.  I’m going to give you three versions.  These progressions are still used today.  You can use the infographic below to help you remember all three variants.

50s Progression Infographic

I-vi-IV-V

This is the classic 50’s progression in the Key of C.  It is very popular and still used today.

50s Chord Progression

I-vi-iv-V

The Sleep Walk by Santo & Johnny variant switches the IV from a major to a minor chord, which is symbolized by the lower-case numerals.

50's Chord Progression Variant

I-vi-ii-V

This is a variant of the 50’s progression that I prefer.  Notice that it uses a ii-V-I.  We’ll talk about that in the Jazz Progressions section.

50's Chord Progression Variant

Pachelbel’s Canon

Usually this is played in D, but it translates to guitar more easily in the key of G.

Pachelbel Canon Infographic

Pachelbel's Canon Chord Progression

Let it Be Progression

This is an extremely popular progression.  It was used by the Beatles’ Let it Be.  You’ll hear it in Don’t Stop Believin’, House of the Rising Sun, and more.  It is a I-V-vi-IV.

Let It Be Chord Progression Infographic

I-V-vi-IV Progression

Flamenco Progression (vi-V-IV-III)

Descend down the fretboard using these chords for a flamenco sound.  Notice that it uses a major III instead of a minor iii.

Flamenco Progression

Jazz Progressions

There are a lot of Jazz progressions.  Often, they are modified and expanded upon.  I will present two of the most commonly used Jazz Progressions.  You will notice that similar sequences were used in the 50’s progression.  The big difference is that Jazz musicians use seventh chords and other harmonies to add complexity.

Jazz Progressions Infographic

ii-V-I

Perhaps the most common progression in Jazz is the ii-V-I.  It was even part of one of the 50’s progressions, but this progression uses seventh chords.

ii-V-I Chord Progression

vi-ii-V-I

This is also commonly used among other chords in Jazz.  By itself, it is one of the 50’s progression variants.  The difference is that Jazz uses seventh and extended chords more often.

vi-ii-V-I Chord Progression

iii-IV7-ii-V-I

This one is interesting.  I label it as the iii-IV7, but the iii-IV7 is really a ii-V of the 2nd degree (which is minor).  that leads into the ii-V-I

iii-IV7-ii-V-I Chord Progression

You can spice it up a bit by switching the first chord to a minor7b5.  This implies the use of the harmonic minor scale (if you want to improvise over it).

iii7b5-IV7-ii-V-I Chord Progression

iii-vi-ii-V-I

You can start this one with a I-ii-V first, but the key is that you are expanding on the vi-ii-V-I.

iii-iv-ii-V-I Chord Progression

i-ii-V+-i

Try this minor progression with a ii7b5 and an A+7 (augmented 7).  This one will feel a bit unfinished.  Finish with a C major instead of a Dm7 if you want a finished sound.

i-ii-V+7-i Chord Progression

Blues Progressions

I am going to present two blues progressions.  The basic 12 bar blues using dominant 7 chords and the minor blues, which is often played slowly.  One of my favorite slow blues songs is Red House by Jimi Hendrix.   There are many variants that build upon this form.  I won’t go into all of them, but this should give you a start.

12 Bar Blues

This example is in the key of C, with C7, F7, G7. It is commonly played with a shuffle eighth note feel.
12 bar blues in C

Quick Change Blues

Note: I’m notating the rest today and should be done by 1/31/16  ~ Patmac

Change the second measure to a IV7

I7-IV7-I7-I7-IV7-IV7-I7-I7-V7-IV7-I7-V7

Minor Blues

We just change the I and IV to a minor chord. The key is A minor.  Feel free to use minor 7 for the minor chords.

Am-Am-Am-Am-Dm-Dm-Am-Am-E7-Dm-Am-E7

You probably noticed how often the V-I change is used.  The resolves strongly to the I chord.  This really gives it that completed feeling.  If you end on a V chord, it feels unfinished or tense.  This is something you should learn to hear.   Tension and resolution is a core part of how chord progressions work.

Conclusion

I hope you had a lot of fun learning these progressions.  Many of them are formed using diatonic harmony.  I will be adding a lesson on the topic soon.  Until then, you can learn about diatonic harmony in my book, Guitar Lesson World: The Book.

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5 Comments on Chord Progressions

  1. I have scanned through this, I like it as for what I am looking for. I made a copy of it, to study. I am past beginner stage, but not in advanced stage on the guitar. I’m in hopes this will help me for a while. Thanks for the help.

  2. I still have to check it out more but the fact that you mentioned 50s music got me sucked it since I’m a fan of the classics (1950s-1990 roughly). Today’s music doesn’t have the rich harmonies that they used back then, and the wisdom they had in the 50s to be able to harmonize such beautiful music doesn’t become a lost art… So, thanks for sharing the info.

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