How to Play Major I to Minor ii Progressions (in the Keys of A and E) | 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 this lesson, I’m going to show you how to switch between the I and the ii chords in the keys of A major and E major using shapes that you already know.

The Work

In the key of A major, the I chord is A major and the ii is B minor. Example 1 shows how to move from A to Bm starting on the open A chord, while Example 2a demonstrates how to move between the chords using two barre shapes. For three-note voicings derived from those shapes, see Example 2b. Note that the third is the lowest note of each chord—C# for the A and D for the Bm. Example 3 shows a somewhat less common way of connecting the A and Bm chords, with the third being the lowest note of the A.


Moving to the key of E major, the I chord is E and the ii is F#m. Example 4 shows a typical way of playing the E–F#m progression, starting with an open E chord. To do it using two barre chords, try Example 5a, and then explore three-note voicings derived from those shapes (Example 5b). Given that barre chords around the 12th fret can be impractical to play on acoustic guitar, use the compact shapes shown in Example 6. Note that the lowest note of the E chord is the third, G#.

The Result

If you’ve stuck with these lessons over time, you should now know how to play A, Bm, E and F#m chords and now how to switch between the I and ii in the keys of A and E major. One song that that makes use of the I–ii in the key of A is “Everyday I Have to Cry” by Jerry Lee Lewis. Next time, we’ll continue to work on some basic chord progressions.

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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