How to Play a C-G Progression | Chord by Chord


Welcome to the latest installment of Chord by Chord, a series designed to build your fretboard familiarity and understanding of harmony. In previous lessons you focused on single chords, but this time you’ll be working with two chords you already know—C and G—to play a very common progression in popular music.


The Work

Example 1a shows the most common way to play a C–G progression, that is, with open voicings. For a smoother sound, you can play the C chord a G on string 1, rather than the open E (Example 1b). To switch between these two chords more easily, you could also try fretting the G chord with your third finger on string 6, second on string 5, and fourth on string 1. Keep your fourth finger held down when switching between the C and G chords.

guitar notation for the C-G progression

The next few examples are based on C and G chord shapes in third position. When you play Example 2a, keep your index finger barred across strings 5–1 at fret 3; that will make it efficient to switch between the two chords. Examples 2b and 2c use three-note voicings derived from the fuller chord in Ex. 2a. Notice that the lowest note isn’t always the root. In Example 2b, the bottom note of the G chord is the third, B, and in Example 2c, the lowest note of the C chord is the fifth, G.  Also, note that while I play the C chord in Ex. 2c with my first, second, and third fingers, you could instead use your second, third, and fourth fingers, or barre strings 2–4.  

Example 3 shows a C–G progression with an eighth-fret barre voicing for the C chord and a tenth-fret barre for the G chord, and Example 4a moves the G chord to the seventh position. Closing things out, Example 4b contains voicings on the top four strings, derived from the shapes in Ex. 4a.

For all of these examples, use as little motion as possible when switching between chords, and remember to make sure that you can clearly hear each note. The goal is to have all of the shapes in your muscle memory, and to be able to change chords in rhythm with ease.

The End Result

C–G progressions can be heard in songs like “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” by Cat Stevens, “Let It Be” by the Beatles, and “No Woman, No Cry” by Bob Marley and the Wailers. Stay tuned for next week, when I’ll show you how to connect G and D chords.

Kate Koenig
Kate Koenig

Kate Koenig is a singer-songwriter, music teacher, and music journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. They have been a regular contributor to Acoustic Guitar since 2017.

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