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 went over the the I–IV–V7–I progression in the key of G major. This time, we’ll add the vi chord for a I–vi–IV–V7–I in G.

The Work

You should already be familiar with the I, IV, and V7 chords, so to get the vi chord, just start on the sixth note (E) of the G major scale (Example 1) and then add the notes G and B for an Em or vi chord (Example 2).


Example 3 gives us the I–vi–IV–V7–I in G using open chords. The progression is played with barre shapes in Example 4. Instead of going up to the seventh fret for the Em, you could play that chord as open. Example 5 shows yet another way to play the I–vi–IV–V7–I, this time higher up the neck. Remember that you don’t need to play all five or six notes of each barre chord.

Example 6 depicts a version of the progression using chords on just the top three strings. The Em chord contains all open strings, making it easier to get to the C chord that immediately follows—a good trick when it comes to switching between chords. Note that the progression ends with a G voicing that’s higher than the first one, which makes for an interesting contrast.

The Result

You should now know how to play a I–vi–IV–V7–I progression using assorted voicings in the key of G major. To hear it in context, check out Merle Haggard’s “I’ll Always Know.” (Though the song uses chord shapes in the key of G, a capo at the third fret causes it to sound in Bb.) In the next lesson we’ll stay in G major for an even longer progression, the I–vi–IV–viidim–V7–I.