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Welcome to the latest installment of Chord by Chord, a series designed to build your understanding of harmony and the fretboard. In the last lesson, we looked at the I–IV–V7–I progression in the key of A major. This time, we’ll insert the vi chord for a I–vi–IV–V7–I, also in A.

The Work

You should already be familiar with I, IV, and V7 chords, so to get the vi chord, just start on the sixth note (F#) of the A major scale, as shown in Example 1, and then add the notes A and C# for an F#m or vi chord (Example 2).


Example 3 shows the I–vi–IV–V7–I using open chords, except for an F#m barre form in second position. See Example 4 to play the progression using all barre chords, starting with an A in fifth position.

Remember, you don’t need to play all six strings for full-sounding chords. Example 5 shows the progression using four-note voicings, all with the root on the fifth string. Note that the 12th-position A chord is most playable on a 14-fret guitar. End with some three-note voicings on the top three strings, which have a nice, uncluttered sound (Example 6).  

chord by chord progression tab and notation

The Result

You should now know how to play a I–vi–IV–V7–I using assorted chord shapes in the key of A major. A good example of this progression in action can be found in John Lennon’s recording of “Stand By Me.” Work on the I–vi–IV–V7–I until next lesson, when we’ll continue with more chord progressions.