For more years than I care to remember, I taught guitar in schools and colleges. So the examples here have been extensively road-tested!
Here are four well known songs, arranged in order of difficulty. They are all 8 bars long, which makes them easy to memorise - it's only the amount of info in a telephone number. The chords are in the key of C, but then some common added non-diatonic chords are added.
Non diatonic - chords that use notes not taken from the major scale.
Diatonic chords: C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, Bm7b5. Chords built on the notes of the major scale, and only containing notes from that scale. Easier to see on the piano keyboard, where you are just using the white notes.
First line: Stand By Me, then Sailing, I Will Survive.
By the last example, we are in more jazz territory. Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out. Specifically, this is typical of 1920s Bessie Smith material - but this sort of chord progression was also used by Paul McCartney in his more old-fashioned 20s revival songs. What John Lennon was likely to label as his "Granny Music"!
Every vertical line is one bar, or four strums on a chord. ./. sign just means "ditto" or the same.
Learning these chord progressions is good preparation for tackling Beatles tunes and most rock and pop ballads - the last one will help with more jazz -influenced songs, from the 1920s especially (notice the frequency of added 7ths in the chords.) Bar 5 in the last example is a diminished chord. The chord grids shown work like this:
Six vertical lines are the strings, with the 6th string, the thickest guage string, on the left. Horizontal lines represent the frets. Once you get used to this system, it's really easy to read chords on all standard music notation.
Four Simple Songs
As a general rule, each chord should have as its lowest or bass note the same as the chord name.
- A C chord should have the low C - fret 3 on string 5
- Same for a C7 chord
- So, don't play string 6!
- Am would have an A bass note - open string 5
- Again, don't play string 6!
- G chord: the lowest note is on string 6, fret 3
- F chord: the bass note is fret 3 on string 4
- Always be aware of where the bass note for each chord resides.
- This will give you a nice clean chord with no muddy sound.
Using a Capo
The first set of chords is for Stand By Me. If you can't sing it easily in this key, try using the same chords but with a capo. For instance, a capo on fret 2 will change the key from C to D (C to D is two frets...)
A capo in fret 4 would change the key to E (C to E is 4 frets...)
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Some players are slightly sniffy about using a capo, but I find them indispensible for many songs and arrangements, and transposing or changing the key of a song to suit different singers.Before you conclude that you can't sing, try moving the key of a song to suit your vocal range.
Another big advantage is that using a capo will often make it much easier to play chords cleanly as it can bring down the action of the guitar, as well as using frets with a smaller span as you move up the neck. Most acoustics will be easier to play with a capo and arguably it will really help the beginner make fast progress.
Used by The Beatles, James Taylor, Paul Simon and many more of the greats.
Second line of chords is for Sailing (Rod Stewart)
Third line of chords is I Will Survive, this is a really common progression that is partly used in a lot of other songs.
Chords in C - Music Theory
The chords in the key of C follow a regular pattern common to all keys. Using the notes of the major scale, C,D,E,F,G,A,B as the root note:
- Chords I, IV and V are major
- Chords ii, iii,vi are minor
- Chord vii is m7 b5
- Result: C Dm Em F G Am Bm7b5 are the diatonic chords in C
- E7 is a common addition, especially in Beatles tunes.