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Play and Compose Your Own Chord Progressions

In this free guitar lesson you will be introduced to some music theory that will help you understand how chords relate to each other and how chord progressions are put together.

Let’s say that you want to compose a piece of music. Since most songs are based on chord changes, the first thing you need to do is select some chords to underlie your music. But which chords should you select? How do you know what chords go well together?

Knowing what chords go well together requires some knowledge of keys and scales. Let’s use the key of C and its related scale, the C major scale as an example.

C Major Scale

C Major Scale Chords
C Dm Em F G Am Bmb5 (a.k.a. diminished triad)

Scale tones are used to build chords by stacking groups of three in an every-other fashion. For example, C-E-G makes a C major chord. D-F-A makes a D minor chord, and so on. When you follow this pattern through the whole scale, you get all the chords you see above.

You can play the chords of C using either open position chords or barre chords. See the neck diagrams and guitar tab below for a few examples.

Because these chords are drawn from the same scale, they’re related to each other and so sound good together. You can combine these chords to make chord progressions.

Below you see a handful of sample chord progressions and song examples all drawn from the C scale. If these songs are familiar to you, then strum and sing along. It would be helpful to view the lyrics online and listen to a recording.

    • Chords C and F are used together in the verses to “My Girl” by The Temptations, “Melt With You” by Modern English, and “Angel of Harlem” by U2.


    • Chords C, F, and G are used interchangeably in “La Bamba” by Richie Valens (and also Los Lobos), “All The Small Things” by Blink 182, and “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” by Prince.


  • Chords C, F, G, and Am are used interchangeably in “Let It Be” by The Beatles, “No Woman No Cry” by Bob Marley, “Dy’er Mak’er” by Led Zeppelin, and “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers.

Not only can the chords of C be combined in any order, music can center on any one of the chords. In other words, you don’t always need to begin on C. “Mr. Jones” by Counting Crows uses a mixture of the chords, C, F, G, and Am, and actually begins on Am. “Maria, Maria” by Santana uses only the minor chords, Dm, Em, and Am, centering on Am.

Memorize the C scale and its chords, then create your own chord progressions. You can use any one of the chords in any position on the neck where a version of it is found.

Play Until Yer Fingers Bleed!
Mr. Desi Serna
Desi is the author of Fretboard Theory, Guitar Theory For Dummies, and Guitar Rhythm and Technique For Dummies. Visit his website at: http://Guitar-Music-Theory.com

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