Over the last 10 years of teaching guitar, I have spoken to hundreds of students who face the same problems with writing chord progressions.
Many simply don’t know where to start and others find themselves just aimlessly stringing chords together in the hope that something fits.
I have come up with a simple way to help people breakthrough and get to writing great sounding progressions with ease.
In this lesson, you’re going to learn how you can take some basic theoretical principles and write major chord progressions in any key you want.
Starting out on guitar can be a frustrating experience and sometimes it might feel like there are a lot of hurdles in your way. One hurdle that many players face is learning how certain chords work together.
Let’s take the guesswork out of writing major chord progressions. You can also check here to help you better understand chord progressions.
Before you get started you need to learn a little basic theory. Don’t worry if this is all new, it will sink in very fast and before you know it, it will feel like a very natural process.
The theory you’re going to learn relates to the Major Scale and how this can be used to create chord progressions.
The great thing with this concept is that you can apply it in any key you want, more on that later.
Let’s start by looking at the major scale in the key of G:
That is the first octave of the scale. We only need one octave for this. Now that we know the shape, we need to know the notes of the scale and give each one a number, known as an interval:
The major scale is going to be your blueprint for guitar theory. Now that you know the intervals, we need to fit a specific chord type to each of these intervals.
This piece of theory is very useful to remember because this is what will allow you to move this to other keys later on in this lesson.
Now you have 7 notes of the major scale and 7 chord types associated with each note.
This never changes. Whatever key you place this is, the intervals and chords associated with that interval remain the same. The only thing that changes is the notes of the major scale based on the key you play it in.
Chord Progressions by Number
Now that you know the scale, it’s also useful to understand that intervals can also be used to write out chord progressions. This is a simple way of spelling out a progression without committing to a set of notes, making it easier to transpose to other keys.
Here are some common progressions you might see:
- I IV V – Often used in Blues and Rock
- I V VI IV – Great for Ballads and Anthemic Rock
- II V I – Perfect for Jazz
- I VI IV V – Ideal for classic Love Songs
- I V IV V – Great for upbeat pop songs.
Chord progressions are often notated in Roman Numerals as shown here.
This is where understanding how the scale and its intervals fit together. Each interval in the progressions listed above is a specific chord type.
For example, I IV V is the 1st, 4th, and 5th chords of the scale. In the key of G, they are all major chords. Therefore, the chords used would be G, C, and D.
If you were doing this in another key, you would use the same theory but the chords would be different.
Let’s look at these 5 progressions in 4 common keys. The strumming pattern for this example is just straight quarter note (One strum per beat). You can apply your own rhythms to fit your vision for what you’re writing.
G Major Chord Progression
The G major scale starts from the 3rd fret of the Low E string. This is the root note of the scale. When you play a scale in other keys, we take the scale shape and place it on a new root note. As you’ve already learnt G major, it makes sense to start here:
The chords of G Major are:
G Major – I IV V
A I IV V progression in G Major uses the 1st, 4th, and 5th chords. These are G, C, and D
G Major – I V VI IV
A I V VI IV progression in G Major uses the 1st, 5th, 6th, and 4th chords. These are G, D, Em, and C.
G Major – II V I
A II V I progression in G Major uses the 2nd, 5th and 1st chords. These are Am, D and G.
G Major – I VI IV V
A I VI IV V progression in G Major uses the 1st, 6th, 4th and 5th chords. These are G, Em, C, and D.
G Major – I V IV V
A I V IV V progression in G Major uses the 1st, 5th, 4th, and 5th chords. These are G, D, C, and D.
E Major Chord Progression
To keep the scale shape the same, it’s easier to use the E Major scale rooted at the 12th fret to work out the notes and chords that you need.
The chords of E Major are:
E Major – I IV V
A I IV V progression in E Major uses the 1st, 4th, and 5th chords. These are E, A, and B
E Major – I V VI IV
A I V VI IV progression in E Major uses the 1st, 5th, 6th, and 4th chords. These are E B, C#m, and A.
E Major – II V I
A II V I progression in E Major uses the 2nd, 5th, and 1st chords. These are F#m, B, and E.
E Major – I VI IV V
A I VI IV V progression in E Major uses the 1st, 6th, 4th and 5th chords. These are E, C#m, A and B.
E Major – I V IV V
A I V IV V progression in E Major uses the 1st, 5th, 4th, and 5th chords. These are E, B, A, and B.
D Major Chord Progression
The 10th fret of the E string is a D note, so take your scale shape and root it from the 10th fret to get D Major:
The chords of D Major are:
D Major – I IV V
A I IV V progression in D Major uses the 1st, 4th and 5th chords. These are D, G and A
D Major – I V VI IV
A I V VI IV progression in D Major uses the 1st, 5th, 6th, and 4th chords. These are D, A, Bm, and G.
D Major – II V I
A II V I progression in D Major uses the 2nd, 5th, and 1st chords. These are Em, A, and D.
D Major – I VI IV V
A I VI IV V progression in D Major uses the 1st, 6th, 4th, and 5th chords. These are D, Bm, G, and A.
D Major – I V IV V
A I V IV V progression in D Major uses the 1st, 5th, 4th, and 5th chords. These are D, A, G, and A.
F Major Chord Progression
You can find an F note on your 1st fret on the E string. You’ll be adding some open strings to this one:
The chords of F Major are:
F Major – I IV V
A I IV V progression in F Major uses the 1st, 4th, and 5th chords. These are F, C, and A#.
F Major – I V VI IV
A I V VI IV progression in F Major uses the 1st, 5th, 6th, and 4th chords. These are F, C, Dm, and A#.
F Major – II V I
A II V I progression in F Major uses the 2nd, 5th, and 1st chords. These are Gm, C, and F.
F Major – I VI IV V
A I VI IV V progression in F Major uses the 1st, 6th, 4th, and 5th chords. These are F, Dm, A#, and C.
F Major – I V IV V
A I V IV V progression in F Major uses the 1st, 5th, 4th, and 5th chords. These are F, C, A#, and C.
How to Apply This in All Other Keys
As you can see from looking at these common progressions in 4 different keys, the logic is the same for each.
If you can understand how the Major scale works as a series of chords and intervals, then you will be able to piece together chord progressions in any Major Key.
There are 12 major keys in total across the guitar. You can work out the notes for each key by taking the major scale shape that you learned, starting it from a specific root note on the low E string, and checking what notes you are playing.
There is an element of needing to know the fretboard notes to get the most out of this concept. If you can learn the notes on the E, A, and D strings, that will give you enough knowledge to be able to work out your chord families in each key.
This handy fretboard diagram will help:
The notes in red are natural notes and the notes in blue are your sharp notes.
A great tip to start memorizing the fretboard is to pick a note on the Low E string, play your major scale in that position, and read out the notes from the fretboard diagram.
Now, try to recite it from memory.
Once you’ve done that, pick another key that starts just a few frets away. Do the same thing.
Did you notice any cross over? You will find certain keys will share the same notes but on different intervals in a scale.
You can also start to train your memory to remember the order of the chords by remembering this simple order:
Major > Minor > Minor > Major > Major > Minor > Diminished.
This is the order of the 7 chords of any major key. The I chord will ALWAYS be a Major chord, likewise, the VII chord will ALWAYS be a Diminished Chord.
You probably won’t be using Diminished chords too much as they often appear in jazz and they don’t make for great chords to strum along with. If you can remember this simple chord formula, and you can apply that to the 7 notes that appear in any major scale in any key you will be able to really open up the fretboard and start to create major key chord progressions in every single key.
This handy lookup table will also help you learn the notes of all 12 major keys.
You can also use the same table with the chord types listed as a quick reference guide.
|I - Maj||II - Min||III - Min||IV - Maj||V - Maj||VI - Min||VII - Dim
|A Maj||B Min||C# Min||D Maj||E Maj||F# Min||G# Dim|
|A# Major||A# Maj||C Min||D Min||D# Maj||F Maj||G Min||A Dim
|B Major||B Maj||C# Min||D# Min||E Maj||F# Maj||G# Min||A# Dim
|C Major||C Maj||D Min||E Min||F Maj||G Maj||A Min||B Dim
|C# Major||C# Maj||D# Min||F Min||F# Maj||G# Maj||A# Min||C Dim
|D Major||D Maj||E Min||F# Min||G Maj||A Maj||B Min||C# Dim|
|D# Major||D# Maj||F Min||G Min||G# Maj||A# Maj||C Min||D Dim|
|E Major||E Maj||F# Min||G# Min||A Maj||B Maj||C# Min||D# Dim
|F Major||F Maj||G Min||A Min||A# Maj||C Maj||D Min||E Dim|
|F# Major||F# Maj||G# Min||A# Min||B Maj||C# Maj||D# Min||F Dim|
|G Major||G Maj||A Min||B Min||C Maj||D Maj||E Min||F# Dim
|G# Major||G# Maj||A# Min||C Min||C# Maj||D# Maj||F Min||G Dim
When writing your own progressions, you can use one of the 5 common progressions here, or create your own. If you stick to the chords and their specific types within each key, you cannot go wrong.
This will speed up your songwriting and remove the guesswork from working out which chords go together.
Now it’s time for you to go forth and create something magical!