BY KATE KOENIG

Welcome to the latest installment of Chord by Chord, a series designed to build your understanding of harmony and the fretboard. Up to this point, I’ve taught you a bunch of different triads and seventh chords, and some progressions with two chords as well. This time you’ll begin learning some longer progressions.

The Work

We’re going to start out with a little theory, so that you can see how things are built. But if you find this intimidating, not to worry, just skip ahead to the chords. The most important thing is that you learn how they sound in progression—and how they feel under your fingers. Example 1 shows the G major scale. This lesson’s chord progression is the I–ii–V–I; the uppercase Roman numerals stand for major chords and the lowercase for minor. To figure out the chord progression in G, you’ll build it from the G major scale. As shown in Example 2a, adding two thirds to the note G will get you a G major chord (G B D). Example 2b repeats the process starting on the note A for an Am chord (A C E), and Example 2c does the same with a D major chord (D F# A).


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the I–ii–V–I guitar chord using open chords in G major

Example 3 gives us the I–ii–V–I using open chords in G major, while Example 4 uses closed chords. Switching between the G and Am chords in Ex. 4 is pretty simple, but going between Am and D is a little trickier. I recommend visualizing the shape of the D chord before you get there; this can help you land in the correct position. Also, remember that you don’t have to play all of the strings—try strumming just the bottom four, for instance. 

In Ex. 4, the roots of the G and Am chords (the notes G and A, respectively) are on the sixth string, and the root of D (D) is on the fifth string. But in Example 5, the root is on the sixth string for all three chords. Meanwhile, Example 6 contains shapes that make use of just the top three strings—higher voicings that are great for when you’re playing with a bassist, or another guitarist who’s strumming fuller voicings.

The Result

You should now know how to play a I–ii–V–I using various voicings in the key of G major—a progression that can be heard on the popular favorite “Gentle on My Mind.” When Johnny Cash recorded the song with Glen Campbell, he used a capo at the second fret, and I do likewise in the video. (Note that the capo causes the music to sound in the key of A major.) Next time I’ll show you a I–IV–V7–I, also in the key of G.