This is the last of a 4 part series on 4 basic chord progressions that will get you far in playing some of your favorite songs, and you’ll begin to recognize the I IV V, the ii V, the I Vi IV V, and this one, the Vi V IV.
The Vi VI IV – one very versatile chord progression
This chord progression use the Vi (6th) chord which is minor, down a whole step to the V (5th) chord which is major and then down another whole step to the IV chord, also major. If you’re learning a song that does that, you have a Vi V IV!
This is really a natural minor progression. Let’s take a look at aVi V IV in C:
IV V VI
C D E F G A B C
A Minor to G Major to F Major.
Examples of songs using this chord progression:
Stairway to Heaven (the end, “as we wind on down the road…”)
Harden My Heart
Livin’ on a Prayer
Edge of 17
…and many more.
Minor Keys Revisited
The simplest Minor key type is the Natural Minor. There are no differences between it (the Vi – A here) and the relative Major (the I – C in this case). The notes and chords are the same. But the chord progression centers on A minor which gives is a more complex “moody” sound.
Keep in mind this can easily hop to the I major (C). Majors and Minors frequently go back and forth in a song. It can start in A Minor but the chorus could be in C Major.
What is fun with this chord progression is that there are cool ways to improvise over it. The Minor Pentatonic scale off the Vi (that is, A minor Pentatonic) is a natural for this and works very well.
Additionally, I use the Major scales, which in this case is C Major scales (or A Natural Minor scales, as they are the same thing). The reason why this works so well is while the A Minor pentatonic fits well, it lacks the root note of the IV chord, in this case F.
A Minor Penatonic
A C D E G
This is the chord progression in the final rockin’ part of Stairway to Heaven where Jimmy Pages comes out blasting with a descending run down A Minor Pentatonic but he “sticks” the final note of his phrase on the note F – which happens to be when the F chord is playing. His solo is largely based off the A minor pentatonic but was well aware that the F note could be used nicely to his advantage.
That’s the end of this series. There is much more to explore with chord progressions and the various ways to improvise (or write melodies) for them.
Drop me a line with your questions or new topics you’d like to see explore.
If You don’t know the Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player Should Know, you might get a bit frustrated.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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
12 (OR OPEN) E
But now let’s include sharps:
6th String FRET
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
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!
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.
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
Hammer ons and pull offs
Music reading – staff and tab
Soloing / Improvising
6 String guitar, 7 String guitar, bass
Whammy Bar techniques
Double Hammer On
Styles – Rock, Blues, Metal, Country, Jazz (I’ve played all those in various bands!)
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
Alternative Tunings like Drop D
Relative Positioning on the Guitar
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.
As promised, this blog will be about the different approach I take to Country playing vs Blues. At first it might seem like they have nothing in common but they oftentimes make use of the same Chord Progression.
Let’s look at the key of E:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
E F# G# A B C# D#
So a I IV V progression would be:
I IV V
EMaj AMaj BMaj
The most straight forward Blues approach is to use the E Blues Scale:
1 b3 4 5 b7
E G A B D
The blues scale makes use of the flatted third against an E Major chord. While that sounds like it might clash, the rhythm on blues often times leave the full chord out:
So the chords is E (6th string open) and B (5ths string 2nd fret) and then E and C# (5th string 4th fret). C# is the 6th of the chord and the rhythm alternates between the two.
This gives the soloist some room to stretch out. So the E Blues minor feel doesn’t clash with the chords.
Advanced Blues Soloing treats all the chords above as Dominant 7 chords:
E7 A7 B7
E7 is :
E G# B D
So all the notes are there in the Blues scale for the chord except the G# – the E Blues scale has a G. A very common lick is to coming the two – G -> G# -> resolve to E. This can be done on any of the 3 chords above, but you have to pay attention to which chord is being played.
Playing the dominant chord shapes on the guitar for each chord as it is being played is a nice exercise to get used to where the notes are. From there you can start to stretch out:
E7: E G# B D
A7: A C# E G
B7 B D# F# A
The B7 is most unlike the notes in the blues scale – when you start to outline them you’ll probably recognize the difference since you can’t get that sound in the blues scale.
So with Blues they accent the “minor” or “dominant” feel of the chords. Instead of that, Country accents the “major” sound of these chords. Again, most of that “boogie woogie” rhythm doesn’t include the 3rd of the chord (E and B, E and C# alternating) so the third is up for grabs.
Country really likes the sounds of major pentatonics against a major chord:
1 2 3 5 6
E: E F# G# B C#
Country really likes the G# or the major third of the chord, as well as the 6th – the C# – which is being played in that boogie woogie rhythm.
With this approach, similar to the Dominant 7 approach above, your notes will change with each chord.
1 2 3 5 6
E: E F# G# B C#
A: A B C# D E
B: B C# D# F# G#
This can get tricky if the chords are changing a lot, but your playing country is going to require that you know these 3 scales and how they overlap. At first you’ll hop from scale to scale (nothing wrong with that) but eventually you’ll want to smooth out your transitions the way the pros do and make a melody that fits in the scales as the chords change.
Send any questions or comments my way. You can also follow me on twitter fastfingers76
In home guitar lessons in the Tri-Valley area of California. This includes Pleasanton, Dublin, San Ramon, and Livermore. Other arrangements negotiable.