Category Archives: Music Lessons


Greetings, all!

As the Labor Day weekend approaches, you might have more time for practicing.  This is the 3rd installment in the 4 basic chord progressions you should know.  Knowledge of these chord progressions will help you build your library of known songs because so many songs use these progressions so they will accelerate learning.

PT 1 focused on the I, IV, V.  P2 focused on the ii, V.  Today we focus on the I, vi, IV, V.

This chord progression was used a lot by any songwriter in the 1950’s or early 1960’s that wanted to write a ballad.  Angel Baby was just a I vi IV V repeated over and over.

In fact, it’s used so much, wikipedia (an online encyclopedia of sorts that I support) has an entry on it here.

You may notice that the I vi IV V is just like the I IV V but with the vi chord thrown in.  This one chord makes a big difference.  Playing this chord progression will get your ear used to the sound of going from the I (major) to the vi (minor).  The I and the vi have a unique relationship to that of the rest of the key.

Taking a look at the key of C:

1      2      3       4      5      6      7

C      D      E      F      G      A      B

I                           IV   V      vi

CM                   FM  GM  Am

As stated above, this chord progression is used for a lot of ballads.  While not a pure I vi IV V chord progression, the sweet, gentle intro of Free Bird (well before the wild guitar duel) starts with G, D/F#, to Eminor.  That’s a I, V, vi in G.  (The D/F# simply means a D major with the F# in the bass)

Key of G:


1      2      3       4      5      6      7

G      A     B      C      D      E     F#

I                           IV   V      vi

As a side note, whenever I have a chord progression with a minor chord in it (ii V in the last post, I vi IV V in this post) that opens up my solo or song writing melodies to the use of the Major Scale.  I would still stick close to my G major Pentatonic (5 note scale) in this pattern, but I could throw in some other notes to from the 7 note Major scale.

Next lesson will focus on a new progression that is used largely in hard rock songs that really open up solo possibilities.


Hey Shredders,

This is part 2 of this series.  In the first part, we discussed the I IV V progression.  Today  we discuss it’s cousin – the ii V.

The ii V progression is used a lot in jazz.  Because of that, you often see it using the “7th” chord variations.  I’ll explain that.

In the key of C, we have:

1     2      3      4      5      6      7

C     D     E      F      G      A     B

So our I, IV, V  (from last lesson) would be:

C major        F major  G major

These are the three major triads in a major key.  The chord built off the one (C) is major, the chord build off the 4th note (F) is major and the chord build off the 5th note (G) is major.

The 2 chord (ii) is D.  It is minor.  In fact, the 2 (ii), 3 (iii), and 6 (vi) are all minor.  D minor, E minor, and A minor.  The 7th chord (vii) is diminished (that’s a separate lesson!).

Above I called the ii V chord a “cousin” of the I, IV, V.  To see why we need to know what notes are in the chords themselves.

Chords are build in 3rds.  That means you start on a note (1), skip a note (the 2nd) and go to the following note (3rd).

1     2      3      4      5      6      7

C     D     E      F      G      A     B

So I highlighted C (1), E (3), and then the next third up G (5).  If you play any C major chord – open string or bar, you’ll find these three, and only these three, notes in that chord.

This 1-3-5 formula applies to all notes in the key.  So the IV chord is F-A-C:

1     2      3      4      5      6      7      8 or 1

C     D     E      F      G      A     B      C

This is where some students get confused.  “But C is one (1, or I) in the key of C!  How can F be one??”

If you think of a family, your Mom or Dad could be C.  D, E, F and so one would be children.  So C is the parent to those notes.

But that also means the child notes have a relationship to the other notes.   They are siblings.  When F has a relationship to A, we count F as 1 and A as the 3rd up from F.  C then is a third up from A.

If this is confusing, think of it this way :

When we build a chord off a note – any note – that first note is ONE.

Once you get comfortable with that notion, if we get back to our ii V progression, D minor to G, let’s take a look at the notes in D minor, again looking as D as 1 since we are building a chord off it:

1     2      3      4      5      6      7

C     D     E      F      G      A     B

The notes D, F, A are the notes that make up a D minor chord.

The notes F, A, and C made up F Major.  So D minor can be substituted for F major in many places.  They both have the notes F and A in them.

Not only is the ii V used in jazz a lot, it’s also the basis for the song Evil Ways by Santana.

The 7th 

So above it is stated the 1-3-5 is the formula for a chord.  If we continued that pattern, the next note in the series would be 7.  1-3-5-7.  Are those really used?  The answer is an astounding yes!  In hard rock not so much, but all over the place in jazz, folk, ballads, etc.

So if we made D minor a D minor 7 in our ii V progression, we would have:

1     2      3      4      5      6      7      8 or 1

C     D     E      F      G      A     B      C

D-F-A-C.  What did F Major have?  F-A-C.  So now with D minor 7 we have all the notes of an F major but with a more “jazzy” feel, which is used also in latin and samba music.

ii V often progress to a I chord.  D minor 7 to F major to C Major.  I’ve had many assignments based off of this chord progression.

So we have I, IV, V for a more rock or blues feel.  ii, V for a jazz, ballad or folk feel.

Next lesson will point out yet another well used variation on these chords.


4 Chord Progressions Every Guitar Player Should Know – PT 1

Hey all –

As I teach guitar students many various songs, I try to point out what chord progression the song is built from.

What is a chord “progression”?  Just a fancy sounding term that means a series of chords that make up a song.  But some are used over and over again.  Spotting them early can help you figure out a song by ear.

Songs Come From Chord Progressions

I’m re-reading the book Life by Keith Richards and their pianist used to call the Rolling Stones “My little 3 chord wonders”.  Even though he meant it affectionately, many songs are just 3 chords.  Let’s look at the most used 3 chord progression:


The I-IV-V (or the “one, four five” is how we say it) is a major chord (Or at least a root-fifth of the chord) played on the 1st note of a major key, the 4th note, and the 5th note of a major key.

The key of C is all natural notes (i.e. no sharps or flats):

1   2   3    4    5    6    7

C   D   E   F   G   A   B

With the 1 (I) being C, the 4 (IV) being F and the 5 (V) being G, that is a I, IV, V in C.  The order of the chords being played will depend on the song, so don’t get hung up on that.  You can write a song that goes G, to F, to C (V – IV – I in order) but we still call it a I-IV-V progression.


So the most popular keys for guitar are actually, G, E and A as they can use open string chords, which are what most students start with.

1    2    3   4   5   6   7

G   A   B   C   D  E  F#    I, IV, V is G, C, D

E   F# G# A  B  C# D#  I, IV, V in E is E, A, B

A   B  C#  D  E  F#  G3  I, IV, V in A is A, D, E

This is extremely helpful in transposing songs.  Transposing is taking a song and changing it’s key.  This sounds hard, but you, the reader, can see all you need are the notes in a key, find the first, fourth, and fifth out of it, if you know how to play those chords, you’re good to go.

Say for example you are in a band and the song is a I, IV, V in E – so E, A and B.  Your singer is really straining to hit the high notes and says something like “Hey guys, these high notes are killing me – can you bring it down a bit?”

Sure!  It’s a I, IV, V progression.  Looking at E as I (or 1), we need to bring E “down” by not starting on E any more.  The note before E is D# or Eb but guitar players don’t like those keys, so let’s do D.  D is a whole step, or 2 frets lower than E.

So we had a I, IV, V in E.  We now need a I, IV, V in D.  Looking up your Key of D we have:

1    2    3   4   5   6   7

D  E   F#   G  A  B C#

Our song would now be D, G, and A major chords, the 1, 4, and 5 of D.

The effect of this is that all the chords have gone down a whole step in pitch.  E went down to D.  The IV of E, which is A, then down to G.  And the V of E, which is B, went down a whole step to A.

This is easier to see in Bar Chords than open string chords.  If you’re playing E (root E on 5th string 7th fret) you’ll now play D (root D on 5th string 5th fret).

A on the 6th string 5th fret goes to G on the 6th string 3rd fret.

B on the 6th string 7th fret goes to A on the 6th string 5th fret.

A Note on Roman Numerals

Chord progressions are always written as Roman Numerals.  We talk about chords in terms of numbers so that the I chord can be anything in the musical system.

When you start playing with woodwind players (flute, sax) or trumpet players, be prepared to have “flat” keys thrown at you.  Many of my students join a Jazz Combo class in high school or college.   Forget the key of D, you’ll be in F, Bb or Eb (favorite keys for horns).  Just remember the secret is know where I(1) is.  Key of….Bb?  Ok!  Bb is I.  Look up (or better yet memorize) your major keys so you know the progression will be Bb, Eb, and F major.

Wrap Up

So that concludes this first installment of chord progressions you should know.  One could write an entire book on the I-IV-V since it is used heavily in folk (Happy Birthday song), rock (Johnny B Goode), country rock (Already Gone) and blues (almost all of them).

Get to know the I IV V in these keys: E, G, A, and D.  Open chords can be used in all these keys.

Next, get to know the I IV V using bar chords.  You’ll see a pattern on the neck this way (much easier than open string chords) and can see the chords in a way that changing keys makes more sense, like change from E to D above.  Ah, I move each chord down a whole step.

You might catch some grief from the pianist who has to change their whole layout on the keyboard to go from a Key with 4 sharps (E) to a key of 2 sharps (D) because “Hey man, all you have to do is move your hand up and down the neck to change keys”.  A saxophonist once said that to me.

Well, he’s right on one level.  But the guitar holds other challenges the sax guy doesn’t have.  We’ll just leave it at that.

Stay tuned for the 2nd installment of this series.  Have a safe and happy 4th of July, 2017!!

Shreddy out



Hey Everybody !   This is TOP 10 THINGS EVERY GUITAR PLAYER SHOULD KNOW (PART II), points 6 through 10.

If you didn’t read the previous post – TOP 10 THINGS EVERY GUITAR PLAYER SHOULD KNOW (PART I) – definitely go back there and begin with that. The goal of that blog entry and this one is to establish a base line of understanding the guitar well enough to do just about anything you want to be able to do on the instrument.  In fact, just in the first 5 of the top 10, you’ll know more than most people out there that have a guitar propped up in the corner of their bedroom.

With these last 5 items about guitar playing, you will definitely be well positioned to go into any direction (Metal, Rock, Top 40, Jazz, Blues) that you wish.

6.  Know your “Bar” Chords off the 6th String

Root on 6th String Major Chord Form

This is the Major form ->

Bar (also known as “barre”) are chords that do not rely upon the open strings for any of their notes. Because these are movable forms, you need to know which note is your root note.

The root note names the chord.  G Major – the root note is G.  G minor – the root note is still G.  G 13 b5 +11??  Guess what….the root note is STILL G.

Since these are “6th string” based forms, your root is covered by the first finger on the 6th string.  As you move the guitar form up and down the neck, the root note changes and so does the name of your chord.  If this form shown here was on the 3rd fret, the 3rd fret on the 6th string is G.  So this is G Major (or we sometimes say just “G”).

Root on the 6th String Minor Chord Form

This is the minor form ->

Note the only difference between Major and Minor is the 2nd finger being present or not.  To go from A Major (5th fret) to A Minor you just remove the 2nd finger.  Viola.  No other changes are needed.



7. Know your “Bar” Chords off of the 5th String

The 6th string forms are GREAT – until you need a D Major.  Then you’re going to find yourself squeeze up at the 10th fret.  While it can be done, there is an easier more practical way.

R5 Major Form

You’ll see to the right a pretty standard way to play the Major chord with the Root being on the 5th string (Say for D Maj  you would have your first finger on the 5th fret).

Note fingers 2,3 and 4 crammed in here.  I never play it this way.

You should play this form with the 3rd finger barring along the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd string and touching the 1st only to make it stop ringing (mute).  Again, a lot of guitar playing is silencing what you don’t want and sounding what you do.  On this form you don’t play the 6th string either.

HINT: inch your 1st finger up (towards your 6th string) until it touches it.  6th string dead.  1st string dead.  You’re ready to hammer it out.

R5 Minor Form

Now for the minor form.  There are two common variations of this.  One is to bar the first finger (as pictured) and let the first string sound.  That is perfectly reasonable but I rarely play it like that.  Instead I again mute the 1st string and inch my first finger towards the 6th string and mute them both.

I make exceptions from time to time but lets stick to the basics.  There are many more ways to play chords on the guitar, but these bar forms are most commonly associated with Rock/Metal/pop/Blues.

8. Know your Power Chords

Okay – this may be a bit of a “trick” item but it’s good to know these terms.

Power Chords are the same forms as the chord diagrams above with one big difference: only the bottom 2 strings are played – the rest are muted.  So if you know your G Major on 3rd fret, only play the 6th string 3rd fret and 5th string 5th fret.  1st and 3rd finger.  That’s a G POWER CHORD.

Same thing on 5th string.  D is on 5th fret with 3rd finger barring 7th.  Change to 5th string 5 fret only and 4th string 7th fret only.  That’s a D POWER CHORD.  They are easier than their full blown parents and necessary if you’re going to do metal or hard rock.

So with the rest of the chord “gone” – is it major or minor?  Assume major in most cases.  The truth is it can be anything you want because it’s not there.  Look for more detail on that in a future lesson.

9. Know your Major Pentatonic Scale

majorpentatonicSlideThis is a very easy scale.  Pent means 5 so it’s only a 5 note scale.  There are many ways to play it but this sliding version is one I use a lot.  This happens to be in the key of G (So this is G Pentatonic).  I use 1st finger on the 1st note, which is the root G, then my third finger on the 5th fret and slide it to 7th.  Next string is 5th fret and 7th.  4th String is 5th fret, 7th fret (with 3rd finger) and slide to 9th.  And so on.

You might think this is too country or you might think it’s not enough country.  Either way you’re both right.  But if you enjoy the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd then you’ve heard this scale.

There are other ways to play this scale but this is the best one to start with.

10.Know your Minor Pentatonic Scale

This is your ROCK scale.  Your Blues scale (Ok, minorpentatonictechnically it’s not the blues scale unless you add one note – that is again an aside for another lesson), and your Metal scale, although  metal guys often dip into their Phrygian modes when they feel like it.   Many guitarists have made their mark on the musical world with this scale.

The first note is the root.  So if you play this on the 5th fret you are playing the A (6th string 5th fret) minor pentatonic scale.

And another HINT: if you play this scale on the 12 fret (E minor pentatonic) you’re playing the SAME notes as the G sliding pentatonic above.  Lyndyr Skynard meets Jimmy Page.

Where to go from here

The skies the limit.  At this point you can find notes, chords (open string and bar), power chords and you know your pentatonic scales.  If you’re already at this point and want to to figure out what are the next steps, my next entry will discuss that.

Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player Should Know (PART I)

If You don’t know the Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player Should Know, you might get a bit frustrated.

Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player
Don’t lose you’re cool!

Whoa!  Before your guitar looks like this, GET HELP!!  The Top 10 things every guitar player should know is in this (and the next) blog entry!!  Knowing these 10 things will enable you to grow as a musician and a guitar player at a much faster rate.

It is impossible to just grab the guitar and play like [fill in the gap] but with a little bit of time and effort and the right direction, you can get very good very fast. Following the Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player Should Know will accelerate your path to get there.  Let’s get started.

  1. Know your open String notes and how to tune

I don’t touch on this for a long time with my students because tuning can be daunting for a student.  It was for me.  It took a long while before I could tune.  Then I could only tune to other guitars, not keyboards.  Yes, I was that bad.  But I learned.

You might think this is unnecessary given the ease of access of tuners today.  By all means use one, I do.  But knowing the strings E, A, D, G, B, E and self tuning are critical things to know.  You need to develop your EAR, which takes time and practice.  The chart below shows how to tune the guitar to it’s other strings.

Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player
Self Tuning


2. Know the “typical” open string chords

Not only are these the “beginner” chords, you simply cannot play many songs without them.  Open string chords are not just chords for people learning.  They have their own “ringing” quality.  They are different.  In fact, it’s why some people use capos to, in effect, move the end of the guitar up the neck so they keep playing these chords in the same way but higher pitched to suit their voice or the song.

Chords you should know are:

  • E Major
  • E Minor
  • G Major
  • C Major
  • D Major
  • D Minor
  • A Major
  • A Minor

There are more but that will get you very far.   I’m talking 8 chords to happiness here!

If you’ve played a bit, you’ll see some chords missing that you might think should be in that list, like F Major.  I cover that in Part II of this series.

NOTE:  chords that are Major chords are often referenced by their letter name alone.  D Major can be called just “D”.  Minors must always be noted as minor.

One last thing on this topic.  The student really needs to commit these chord forms to memory.  The first chord I teach is D major to any beginning student.  I once taught this young man (a very nice guy) who  just wouldn’t learn it.  And when we got to learning songs his refusal to memorize the chords slowed his progress because I would say “ok, this song starts on D major” and he’s always ask “What was D again?”

Don’t be *that* guy!

3. Know the Musical Alphabet

We’re not talking a lot here, only 7 notes.  But you need to know how those notes are spaced.

The distance of 2 frets on the guitar – say 6th string 3rd fret to 6th string 5th fret – is a whole step, sometimes called a full step or full tone.  It’s just 2 frets.  1 to 3, 2 to 4, 3 to 5, etc.

The distance of 1 fret on the guitar – like 6th string 3rd fret to 6th string 4th fret is a half step.  Or a semi step or semi tone.

So are musical alphabet is the following:

A   B   C   D   E   F   G   [then back to A]

7 notes!  Now here’s how you find them:

A -> B is a whole step.  6th string 5th fret to 6th String 7th fret

B -> C is a half step. 6th string 7th fret to 6th String 8th fret

C -> D is a whole step.  6th string 8th fret to 6th String 10th fret

D -> E is a whole step.  6th string 10th fret to 6th String 12th fret.  Your guitar may stop at the 12th fret.  So we’ll pick up E now at the 6th string open.

E -> F is a half step.  6th string open (no fingers on it – let it just ring) is E.  F will be on 6th string 1st fret.

Open strings confuse people, but think of it this way.  The nut is that white thing at the end of your fretboard:

Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player
Guitar Nut

You know where the first fret is.  Looking at the picture here it is to the left of the nut.  Think of hitting an open string as if your finger was to the right of the nut.  If you’re going to go up one fret for a half step, you’ll now be on fret number 1, which is where F is.

F -> G is a whole step.  6th string 1st fret to 6th String 3rd fret

G -> A is a whole step.  6th string 3rd fret to 6th String 5th fret

You will have then completed the circle A to A.

4. Know what Sharps and Flats are

If you asked in #3 above “what about the notes in between the frets we played – like 6th string frets 2 and 4 and 6?”  This is the answer to that.

Simple but not “easy”.  A sharp (#) raises a note a half step.  So in our mapping of the natural (not sharped or flatted) notes in #3 above, we have:

6th String FRET

1    F

3   G

5   A

7   B

8   C

10   D

12 (OR OPEN)  E

But now let’s include sharps:

6th String FRET

1    F

2   F#

3   G

4   G#

5   A

6    A#

7   B

8   C

9   C#

10   D

11   D#

12 (OR OPEN)  E

Now for the “weird” part.  if you understand that sharps (#) raise a note a half step or one fret, what about the notes that are already a half step apart?  B to C and E to F are only half steps.  So that must mean there is no such thing as a B# or an E#?

No, there ARE B# and E# notes.  How do you play them?  Right where C and F are (8th fret and 1st fret respectively).

So yes, B# IS C natural.  E# IS F natural.  One note with 2 names is called enharmonic.  Not extremely important to know that word but extremely important to know what it means.

A Flat (b) lowers a note one half step.  So Fret 2 on the guitar (which was F# above) is now Gb.  We lower G on the 3rd fret one half step to be Gb on Fret 2:

6th String FRET

1    F

2   Gb

3   G

4   Ab

5   A

6    Bb

7   B

8   C

9   Db

10   D

11   Eb

And there’s  your musical alphabet.

5. Know the notes on the 5th and 6th Strings

Now a purist is going to say you should know all the notes.  Why are the 5th and 6th string more important?  Easy – it’s chords.

The open string chords mentioned above all look different.  E Major looks nothing like A Major which looks nothing like C Major which looks nothing like D Major.

That all changes with bar (sometimes called “barre”) chords.  Remember the picture of the nut above?  Well your fingers become a new, movable nut.

All bar chords come in “6th String” and “5th String” versions.  You can play the full version of the chord, or just the “bottom” part of it for “Power chords” which metal is extremely fond of.

From knowing that the 6th string open is E and the 5th string open is A, you can figure out where the notes are.  I recommend learning the natural notes first.  If you know A, B, C, D, E, F and G on both strings quickly by sight you are well on  your way to learning a plethora (or TON) of songs!

Knowing these chord forms is the 6th thing that every guitar player should know, but that’s in Part II of this blog.

You are half way there to knowing the Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player should know!

Guitar Lessons in Bay Area CA

Hello, and welcome to Fast Fingers Guitar Lessons!  I offer online and in home guitar lessons to the local community.  I currently teach in Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin and San Ramon on the weekends, and during the week in Santa Clara and San Jose.

Guitar Lessons
Let’s ROCK!!

Lessons can be 30 or 60 minutes, depending on the age of the student and their goals.

I’m a big believer in understanding music – not just playing songs.  My goal is not to make just a guitar player out of you, but a real musician.


Lessons include (but not limited to):

  • Songs – we can learn what you want along with signature solos
  • Alternate Picking
  • Hammer ons and pull offs
  • String Bending
  • Music reading – staff and tab
  • Scales
  • Music Theory
  • Soloing / Improvising
  • 6 String guitar, 7 String guitar, bass
  • Whammy Bar techniques
  • Double Hammer On
  • Legato
  • Arpeggios
  • Styles – Rock, Blues, Metal, Country, Jazz (I’ve played all those in various bands!)
  • Ear Training
  • Music Analysis – what key is this in?  How would you solo here?
  • Composition – sounds scary but it’s not.  We start simple and work our way up
  • Chord analysis
  • Alternative Tunings like Drop D
  • Relative Positioning on the Guitar
  • Fretboard visualization
  • Cycle of 4ths and 5ths
  • Analyzing the styles of great players like Randy Rhodes and Jimi Hendrix

So if you’re ready for a new adventure, email Spencer today!  I have openings on week nights and on Saturdays.

A bit about me:

I’m Spencer Clark and I’ve been in music nearly all my life.  I play guitar (6 and 7 string), bass, and some keyboard.  I have a degree in music from West Valley College in Saratoga, CA. and worked my way through college earning other degrees by playing in bands and teaching.  I taught for 12 years at Guitar Showcase in San Jose.  I was teaching guitar lessons since I was a teenager out of my parent’s house.