Chord Progressions

Guitar Chord Progressions

Understanding chord progressions is essential to becoming a good player. Recognizing chord movement and playing by numbers can help you to:

Chart, learn and remember songs better
Apply scales properly
Play by ear
Compose your own music

Major Scale Triads

Chord progressions are based on the major scale. The major scale has seven notes and each one can be played as a chord. To build chords, each note is combined with notes three and five degrees ahead in the scale. For this reason, these intervals are called root, third and fifth. Combined, the three chord tones are called a triad. For a more detailed explanation with diagrams see Fretboard Theory Chapter 6 Building Chords and Progressions or Guitar Chord Progressions and Playing By Numbers DVD.

Root, Third and Fifth

When you apply this chord building concept to an entire major scale not all chords end up the same. For example, some chords have major thirds (two whole-steps or four frets above the root) while others have minor thirds (one and a half-steps or three frets above the root). This occurs because the distance between major scale tones varies (some notes are a whole-step apart while others are a half-step apart). Coincidentally, the fifth intervals are all the same with the only exception being the chord built on the very last scale tone. For a more detailed explanation with diagrams see Fretboard Theory Chapter 6 Building Chords and Progressions or Guitar Chord Progressions and Playing By Numbers DVD.

Playing By Numbers

This order of major and minor creates the following chord sequence: 1. major 2. minor 3. minor 4. major 5. major 6. minor 7. minor (flat 5)

Sometimes referred to as the “Nashville Number System,” this sequence is better represented by Roman numerals with major chords written in upper case and minor chords written in lower case.

I ii iii IV V vi vii

Keys

Different keys have different chords build from different notes determined by different key signatures (sharps and flats). What makes the number system so useful is that it remains the same regardless of key. For example, the first three chords in G major are G, Am and Bm, the first three chords in A major are A, Bm and C#m, the first three chords in C major are C, Dm and Em, but in all keys the first chord is major, the second is minor and so is the third. The number system can be visualized on the guitar as a pattern so that you don’t have to be concerned with key signatures and notes. Move this pattern around the neck and you’ll instantly be able to see all the chords for each key. For a more detailed explanation with diagrams seeFretboard Theory Chapter 6 Building Chords and Progressions or Guitar Chord Progressions and Playing By Numbers DVD.

Learn New Songs

Playing chord progressions and playing by numbers go hand in hand and the concept is easier on the guitar than most other instruments. You just have to know the right way to map things out on the guitar neck. You’ll be surprised to realize that many songs that appear to be quite different because of their position on the neck and chords used, are actually the same progression in terms of numbers. No more cluttering your mind with endless amounts of chord information because you’ll be able to recognize the numbers. Can you imagine how much quicker you’ll be able to learn and remember new songs?

Apply Scales

Charting chord progressions is essential to applying scales. If you want to truly understand and apply all the different sounds of the major scale including modes, then you must be able to recognize chord progressions. Failing to know this is the biggest mistake aspiring lead guitar players make (it affects all players who try to use scales including bass players). For a more detailed explanations with diagrams see Fretboard Theory Chapter 6 Building Chords and Progressions, Chapter 7 Applying Scales, Chapter 8 Modes, and Guitar Chord Progressions and Playing By Numbers DVD.

Play by Ear

How do some players know what’s coming next the first time through a song? Easy, knowing where to look is half the battle! When you can see clearly all the chords of a key, it’s easier to guess the change or even anticipate the movement before it happens. Since many songs are based on typical progressions, you’ll become very familiar with common changes. You’ve probably heard musicians calling out numbers on the bandstand, right? Now you can know what they mean and experience the benefits of the system for yourself. Not to mention, you can sit around and talk with real musicians without feeling like an idiot. For a more detailed explanation with diagrams see Fretboard Theory Chapter 6 Building Chords and Progressions or Guitar Chord Progressions and Playing By Numbers DVD.

Compose Your Own Music

Establishing keys, determining chord movement, applying scales and playing by ear are all necessary song-writing skills. Imagine what the number system can do for a songwriter! For a more detailed explanation with diagrams see Fretboard Theory Chapter 6 Building Chords and Progressions or Guitar Chord Progressions and Playing By Numbers DVD.