Guitar and Piano chord progression
Chord progressions for guitar or piano
The type of chord progression we're looking at here is very common in music. It was popular in the 1700s thanks largely to a Herr J.S.Bach and it's still going strong now (Tears in Heaven is one example.)
The good news is that once you've learned it you can apply it in literally dozens of songs. I'll list some of these below. The slash symbol means chord, different bassnote, or C with a B bass for example. The chord picture grids are shown below.
C C/B Am Am/G F - Play each chord twice
NB:Your first finger stays on string 2, fret 1 the whole time.
Need help with basic guitar chords? You might find my other hub guitar chords 101 useful. It's got pictures of most essential guitar chords.
There is also a new hub called Guitar - advanced and jazz chords.
It works equally well on piano. Below is a video clip of this sort of progression on piano, played by our Norah. No, not Norah Batty. I'm a Norah Jones fan to some degree, and this is one of her best recordings, with some great harmony and understated piano parts.
Those of you with a curious disposition might notice:
- We're using chords from the C harmonised scale, which is C Dm Em F G Am Bdim C. Every one of these chords is built using the notes of the C major scale, on a note from that scale. Check that you understand this as it's very important.
- We're connecting chords smoothly by using steps from the C major scale, C D E F G A B C
Chord progressions in C and D
Descending bassline and chords
This is called a diatonic progression, because it only uses diatonic notes, the notes of the major scale. In the key of C that would be CDEFGABC. So we are connecting up the chords in the key of C with bassnotes from the major scale. This works well for songwriting, and owes a lot to JS Bach. (Air on a G string is possibly one of the earlest examples of the progression, and still one of the best.) It gives the chord progression a logic and predictability that is comforting -which is probably why it has been used so often.
Some variation on this descending bass idea is used in the following songs:
Don't Think Twice, it's Alright
No Woman No Cry,
Tears in Heaven,
A Whiter shade of Pale,
Shoot the Moon,
Only livin' boy in New York,
Tip: try to emphasize the bass note, hitting it a little more than the rest of the chord. (Guitar) Another Tip: Using a capo at fret 3 will really brighten up the tone, and also make the stretches much easier. An important aspect to the sound of Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor and other greats.
On piano or keyboard use an octave bass note in your left hand to fill out the sound. Think about voice-leading - move the least number of notes from chord to chord in your right hand, and try to use the sustain pedal to smooth things out, lifting it between chord changes. I only mention this because in beginner piano lessons it's often something that comes up.
Now, let's move this progression to another key, also known as Transposing.
Transposing is not too difficult, because although the notes have different names, the pattern of chords and intervals remains the same in every key.
In the key of D we'd have D, D/C# Bm7, Bm7/A, G, D/F#, Em7, A7 as a typical descending bass chord progression. You'll find elements of this in many James Taylor songs, such as Fire and Rain, Anywhere Like Heaven, Jack Johnson's Better Together and many other songs.
More by this Author
Guitar lesson on jazz chords. Theory of jazz chords and their applications, with practical tips.
Guitar Lesson on guitar chords in Open G tuning. Rolling Stones guitar style, Keith Richards guitar chords. Rolling Stones guitar parts, Guitar and Open G tuning.
Guitar chords lesson on latin jazz chords, Bossa Nova chords.