​Become a more creative guitar player!

What You Should 
​Know About ​Guitar Chord Progressions!

​​In this article, we'll explain some of the secrets and tricks that will help you master any chord progression on the guitar. You'll learn how to memorize and play any chord progression based on major and minor triads on the guitar, based on their shapes! Let's jump right into it!

So, you want to learn more about chord progressions and how they apply to the guitar.

Chord progressions are essential for any song. They provide huge benefits that no songwriter/composer wants to miss. You probably know already how to play most of the commonly-used chords on the guitar. For that reason, let's focus on different aspects.

"​It's all about pattern recognition, the structure of musical ideas,

and the expression of emotions in music."


What exactly are chord progressions?

Definition: A chord progression is a sequence of chords. Most often, those chords live on the steps of a scale and create a harmonic function against the root tone, which is scale tone 1.

In Western culture, most of the scales that we use for chord progressions consist of 7 scale tones. It's common practice to notate those chords using Roman numerals, uppercase letters describe major chords and lowercase letters minor ones.

Additional to the Roman numerals, you can also define the various scale degrees by their Diatonic names, which are used to create cadences.

Cadences are specific chord progressions such as "IV to I" or "ii to V to I." and are essential building blocks in Western music. Please refer to the videos below to hear how they sound like and how they connect.


Different Chords on the Guitar create different Shapes!

The guitar is a beautiful instrument for creating chord progressions. We want you to focus on shapes as this will help you to play various chords over all the different root tones.

Let's begin with a simple chord progression using only the top 3 strings of the guitar. That's an effortless way to remember the first shapes! Also, you want to make sure that your fingers get used to these positions - develop your muscle memory.

In the video below, TC demonstrates the various shapes on the guitar. Take some time and practice those chords as well.


Expanding on Shapes by moving up the Scale

So far, we've covered the shapes of three basic major triads, but don't underestimate their relevance in chord progressions and songs! Actually, you can get pretty far with these three chords only, however, let's expand our knowledge by moving up the Ionian scale over a D root tone as this brings in some minor chords and even a diminished one.

And again, let's watch TC demonstrate the various triads on the guitar.

Do you realize that all major triads follow the same shape? And so do all the minor triads. Now you start seeing how much value shapes bring to the table when it comes to cadences and chord progressions.

Here are some examples of common chord progressions based on scale steps:

  • ​ii -- V -- I​
  • ​IV -- V -- I
  • ​vi -- ii -- V -- I
  • ​iii -- vi -- ii -- V -- I

Understanding how the Guitar Neck works

You might wonder why we stick to the highest three strings of the guitar!? Everything that we've covered so far can be played on the lower strings as well. The only thing that changes, however, is the position of your hand and the emotional quality of the sound! The thicker the guitar string, the more mellow the tone.

In case you want to practice the various positions from the video, here's exactly what to do.


Chord Progressions in Open Harmony​

Up to this point, we wrote all triads in close harmony (CH), which means that all of the three notes are contained within one octave. If we take the middle note of the triad and drop it down an octave, we move into open harmony (OH). Now, the three tones that build the triad spread over the range of one octave. That's why we call this open harmony.

Let's listen to TC, demonstrating the difference in sound when switching from CH to OH. You can hear how the quality of sound gets more transparent as it spreads over a wider range.

Next, let's apply the concept of OH to all of the triads that we created by moving up the scale. The space between the notes not only helps us to establish clarity and transparency but also opens the door for little smaller movements that we can insert to create smooth transitions between the chords.

And once more, here is how it sounds like on the guitar.


We even have a BONUS TRICK for you!

Now that you know how to move up and down the scale-step triads, here's a little trick that sounds amazing: Let's have the actual triads and the physical scale-tone movement go in opposite directions! Sounds confusing? Here's an illustration of what that means:

It works either way, ascending and descending, as TC demonstrates in the video. Being able to move the triads in both directions gives you control in the arrangement. Experienced guitar players can take control of the physical movement of the chord progression. And we want you to be able to do that as well!


Summary​

One of the most practical things on stringed instruments is that they create shapes that you can move across the neck quickly. Once you've mastered those shapes, you can play any chord progression. 

Here's a quick summary of what you've learned in this article:

  • ​How to play and remember any minor and major triads based on their shape
  • ​How to take control over the tone by picking different positions on the guitar neck
  • ​How to create transparency by moving into open harmony
  • Bonus: How to decouple the direction of scale steps from the physical direction in which you are moving (that's essential for creating transparency in an arrangement)

​Advice

We encourage you to take some time and play through all of the examples on this page several times. Start slowly at first. Speed is not the goal but a tool.


Make sure that you remember the various shapes of the chords as these are your essential building blocks for progressions later ... and most importantly, have fun! :D


Thomas Chase Jones​

​​​TC is one of the most successful composers in the area of animation and has a great passion for the guitar. ​He co-founded the Music Interval Theory Academy in 2016. Since then, he dedicates all of his time to helping other musicians and composers grow!