Five Important Chord Progressions To Master
I often encounter guitarists who may have been playing for a few years yet who don’t have a batch of music that they really own.
Don’t let this be you—there’s way too much great music out there not to have a bunch of it completely within your command at a moment’s notice.
Since you’ve got to start somewhere, in this lesson I’ve chosen five essential chord progressions that I now task you with mastering. It’s time for you to rise to this occasion and work as hard as you need to so you get to the point where you can play these progressions in your sleep if need be.
Each of these progressions occurs in about a million songs. You’ll find them all over once you start looking for them.
The videos in this lesson parallel the text, so feel free to read, watch, both or neither!
To begin, let’s take the progression that graces Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry among other songs:
C G/B Am F
C F C G
In the first line, we’ll play a descending bass line with accompanying chords to take us from C major through G/B to A minor. Then, we head over to F major.
In the second line, we run through the major chords in the key of C—from C major to F major, back to C major and then over to G major to finish.
Basically, if you can’t play these chords at any speed in any rhythm, you’re in serious guitar trouble.
Learning these chords cold will enable you to play oodles upon oodles of fantastic songs. Go ahead and embrace the opportunity and learn these chords and play them until you have dreams about them and never want to hear them again.
A quick aside about how to practice this sort of thing: recognize that mastery comes in phases. To take these chords from where you are just getting used to them up to where you can play them passably might require a leap from 0 to 50%. To get the chords from there up to where you can play them well in time might be the equivalent of going from 50 to 80%, and that leap will take just as much work as the initial 50% leap took you.
But thereafter, to get from 80% accuracy to 95% accuracy will demand again the same amount of intensity and diligence.
However, it’s that last 5% from 95 to 100 that will demand everything you’ve got and then some. And, what’s more, only that last 5% will take you to where you can play these chords in any order backwards or forwards with full feeling and total fluency.
If you’ve never perfected anything on the guitar to that point, then let me welcome you to the next level—it is so very worth it, and this first chord progression absolutely deserves that sort of attention.
Next, let’s do another progression in the Key of C:
Am G F F G Am
This progression incorporates the same chords but in a different order. You may recognize All Along the Watchtower as you play this progression. The second F to G move happens quicker than the first side of the progression. Work that speed into your practice.
F may give you fits whether you’re playing the full-bar version or the partial-bar version. If so, check out this lesson. Ideally, you’ll want to play the full-bar F to really make this progression pop.
Now, let’s head over to the Key of G for one of the most popular chord progressions in all of folk music:
G C G D
G C CD G
These chords take us through the major chords in the Key of G. Back and forth we go from G to C to G to D, then back to G for the second half, which goes from G to C and then, after a little hold on the C major chord, we bounce to D and then back to G.
The faster you can blast through these chords, the better.
There are lots of hidden extras in this progression that you could tease out, like playing with the bass notes to connect the different chords or seeing what kinds of colors you can bring out in the trebles.
But, for now, for you, just make sure you can accelerate through this progression without a single lick of trouble.
Since we’re in the Key of G, let’s stay here and add our next progression. This one will use a descending bass line from the root chord to the relative minor much like we did in our first progression in this lesson:
G D/F# Em
C D7 G
So, we begin on G major, and then we walk down the bass to F# while playing a D chord on the top strings. Then, we complete the walk-down to E minor.
Next, we transition over to C, then to D7, which leads us inexorably back to our G major chord.
As oft-used as this progression is, it still sounds fantastic, and if you can’t play it with your eyes closed, then you still have some work to do.
And now, let’s finish up in the key of A.
I’m focusing predominantly on major chords for these progressions since major chords do tend to dominate in most popular musical traditions.
For the key of A, let’s play:
A D E
A F#m Bm E A
This progression begins by rolling through the major chords in the key of A—from A to D to E.
For the second half of this progression, we mix things up a bit by heading from A to the relative minor F# minor. From there, we head to B minor and then quickly over to E before returning to A major.
The B minor to E move is very key—you can also substitute B major for B minor to use a secondary dominant leading to the E major and thence to A major. For that matter, you can substitute E7 for that E major after the B minor if you wanted to.
Again, just to reiterate, the key here is to make these progressions your own at such a deep level that nothing in them challenges you anymore. If you have even the slightest hesitation at playing through any of these, work as hard as you can with as much focus and attention as you can bring until you have these progressions completely in hand.
At that point, as you go about your natural process of learning the songs that you love most, you’ll notice that everything you do on the guitar becomes easier, faster and more fluid.