Learn How to Play a I–ii–V–I Progression in A Major | Chord by Chord

In this guitar lesson you'll learn how to play a I-ii-V-I chord progression in the key of A major on the acoustic guitar.

Welcome to the latest installment of Chord by Chord, a series designed to build your understanding of harmony and the fretboard. In a previous lesson, we worked on the  the I–ii–V–I in G major. This time we’ll do the same chord progression, but in A.

The Work

Example 1 shows the A major scale, and Examples 2a–c spell out the I, ii, and V chords: A, Bm, and E, respectively. Again, the uppercase Roman numerals stand for major chords and the lowercase for minor. 


Example 3 shows the I–ii–V–I in A using mostly open chords, except for a second-fret Bm. Oppositely, Example 4 is made of all barre chords, but the I (E) chord is played open. You could alternatively play the E chord at the seventh fret, as shown in Example 5. Lastly, Example 6 contains three-note shapes on the top strings, ideal for playing with bass, another guitar, or keyboard covering the low end.

chord by chord, tab and notation for I-ii-V-I (1,2,5,1) chord progression

The Result

You should now know how to play a I–ii–V–I progression using various open and closed voicings in the key of A major. An excellent example of this progression in context can be heard in “Everyday I Have to Cry” by Jerry Lee Lewis. In the next lesson, I’ll show you a I–IV–V7–I progression, also in the key of A.

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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