How to Play I–ii Progressions in C and G Major | Chord by Chord


Welcome to the latest installment of Chord by Chord, a series designed to build your understanding of harmony and the fretboard. So far, if you’ve been a diligent student then you have a bunch of different major and minor voicings at your fingertips. This week your focus will be on connecting two chords, the I and the ii, in both the key of C major and G major, using shapes you already know.  


The Work

In the key of C major, the I chord is C and the ii is D minor. Example 1 shows the most basic way to connect these two chords, by using your basic open voicings. In Example 2, you’ll find another common move—playing the C chord as a barre shape in third position and the D minor in fifth position. As before, you don’t have to play all five notes in each chord. Try just the notes on strings 2–5, for instance. That way, you can avoid playing barre chords. Example 3 shows you how to play the progression higher still up the neck. If you can, play the full six-note chord voicings before exploring partial shapes, like just the bottom or top four notes of each chord.

guitar notation for I–ii Progressions in C and G Major

Now let’s move along to the key of G major, in which the I chord is G and the ii is A minor. First try this progression with open chords, as shown in Example 4. Try the G chord as written, or use any of the open variations you learned previously. Then try the closed-position shape (not involving any open strings) in Examples 5–6. When playing through all of these examples, make sure that you can hear all of each chord’s notes clearly, and try to name the pitches as you go along. Work on switching between the chord shapes as smoothly as possible.

The Result

If you’ve been following along since the beginning, you should now know how to play C, G, D, Am, Em, and Dm chords—and how to switch between some of them. This week, you focused on the I–ii progression in the keys of C and G major. One song that makes good use of the I–ii in C is Lucinda Williams’ “Am I Too Blue,” which also incorporates another chord you already know, G. Practice these moves until next lesson, when I’ll show you how to switch between the I and vi chords, also in the keys of C and G.

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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