How to Play I–vi 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. In the previous lesson, you learned how to connect two chords, the I and the ii, in both the key of C major and G major. This time, you’ll do the same, but with the I and the vi—again with shapes you should already know.


The Work

In the key of C major, the I chord is C and the vi is Am. Example 1 shows the most basic way to connect these two chords, with open chords. For closed voicings, see Example 2a, with the C chord as a barre shape in third position and the Am in fifth position. For a more streamlined sound, try playing just the top three strings, as shown in Example 2b. Then play some other barre chords higher on the neck (Example 3).

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

Moving on to G major, G is the I chord and Em is the vi. Start with open voicings, as depicted in Example 4. Remember, you can play that Em with your second and third fingers, as shown in notation, or your first and second, as I do in the video. For barre chords in the middle of the neck, check out Example 5. In Example 6, you’ll find an efficient way of moving between G and Em on strings 1–3. First play the G and, keeping that shape held, then just add the ninth-fret E with either your third or fourth finger, whichever is most comfortable.

Example 7 uses barre chords higher on the neck. Note that you can also play an Em barre chord at the 12th fret, but this isn’t practical on acoustic guitar. As an alternative you could use just the top three strings at the 12th fret, adding the open sixth string as the root note (E)—see Example 8.

The Result

Now you should have one of the most common moves in popular music under your fingers—the I–vi progression. A song that makes use of the I–vi in G major is Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” which also includes other chords you already know: C, Am, and D. Practice this until the next lesson, when you’ll learn a new chord type, diminished.

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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