Intermediate Chord Progression

Discover the most common variations to a chord progression

The blues, the x and m variations

In beginner chord progression, we learned about diatonic chord progressions (chords built off the major scale).

Here at intermediate, it’s now time to study the most common variations.

The standard diatonic chords paired with the most common variations like IVm, IIIx and bVII is what makes up all chord progressions in popular music.

All these variations are very common and originate from the Blues, where we temporarily move between minor and major.

Let’s take a look at how the blues did this and how it’s influenced the melody in not just blues, but all popular music we hear today.

We start off with chord I and IV, which, in a blues environment are dom7 chords.


The most important variation that started it all – The I7 chord

When the Blues first began to evolve, being accompanied by a guitar, the instruments were of low quality with very high string action.

Therefore, the early blues musicians tuned their guitars to open major chords such as E, D, G and A. A bottleneck slide was then used to swap between the different chords in order to form a progression for the singer to tell their story over.

Instead of chord I being a major chord, or when extended, a maj7, Blues musicians decided that a dom7 chord was a better idea.

What’s more, they simply moved that whole pattern to fret five to get the IV chord and did the same thing there, so A7D7 for example.


Open position A7 chord

A7

Back in standard tuning and the clue to what this has done to modern songwriting can be found in the chord shapes.

Notice that the 3rd is a C# (2nd string, 2nd fret)

A singer would naturally choose to phrase using chord notes since they feel the most comfortable to sing.

Over the A7 chord, a singer naturally choose the notes A, C#, E or G.


Open position D7 chord

D7

When we move to the next chord, the IV7, or in the key of A, a D7, we can see that the b7th interval is a C, not a C#.

In relation to the A chord, this is a m3rd.

Moving from A7 to D7 is not harmonically correct, Beethoven and Mozart would have been furious –  It should be Amaj7Dmaj7!

The D7’s b7th interval, the C, is a semitone away from the A7’s major 3rd interval, the C#.

By switching between the two dom7 chords we have created a movement between A major and A minor.

Moving like this between minor and major sounded so good that it soon started being employed everywhere.

In fact, any of the diatonic chords can be switched from minor to major as a result of it!


Sign Up Now

A monthly subscription with access to all acoustic and electric step by step lessons, each one designed to bring your guitar playing skills to the next level.

Including detailed, but bite-sized explanations on how the music theory of each song is applied to the neck.

To sign up now, go to Monthly Subscription


Watch these videos

Songs with a IIx chord


Originally, chord II is a minor chord that belongs to the Dorian mode. When turned into major we call it a IIx chord, this means that the chord has temporarily changed, we haven’t changed key.

Should you be in C major then D (or D7 if extended) would be your IIx or IIx7 chord.

Very often, the IIx7 is followed by a V7 chord which is followed by chord I, creating a variation on the classic IIVI progressions.

In the beginner and intermediate acoustic songs you’ll find IIx in these songs:

  • American Pie – The IIx is found in the chorus
  • I’m Yours – The IIx comes in the tag and the instrumental part
  • Robin Hood – The IIx is found in the chorus and outro
  • Sunny Afternoon – The IIx is found in the chorus

Among the advanced songs, the IIx is found even more frequently.


Watch these videos

Songs with a IIIx chord


Whenever you change chord III, a minor chord, into a major chord you get the IIIx. This is by far the most common variation.

Let’s look at the key of C major. Here we have an Em as chord III, change that to a IIIx and we get an E chord.

The main purpose of this chord is to steer more heavily towards chord VI, let’s look at why.

  • Am chord: A C E
  • Em chord: E G B, the G – A is a tone apart
  • E chord: E G# B, The G# – A is a semitone apart

The closer the intervals are to each other, the stronger the pull.

To learn the characteristic sound of the IIIx we need to look among our beginner and intermediate acoustic songs.

We can find the characteristic IIIx in these songs:

  • Angie – The IIIx chord is the second played during the verse
  • Empire State Of Mind – The first chord of the bridge is a IIIx
  • One More Cup Of Coffee – Verse and the chorus has IIIx chords
  • Rewind – The pre-chorus starts with a IIIx

There are many more examples of the IIIx chord among the advanced and master songs.


Sign Up Now

A monthly subscription with access to all acoustic and electric step by step lessons, each one designed to bring your guitar playing skills to the next level.

Including detailed, but bite-sized explanations on how the music theory of each song is applied to the neck.

To sign up now, go to Monthly Subscription


Watch these videos

Songs with a bIIIx chord


If you change your III chord into a major chord and then flatten it a semitone you get your bIIIx chord. This chord holds extreme tension since most notes inside it is outside of the key.

Let’s look at the notes in C major: C – D – E – F – G – A – B

The III chord is an Em (E – G – B), the bIIIx, an Eb chord has the notes Eb – G – Bb.

Only the G is still a part of the original key of C.

You’ll find the bIIIx chord in these intermediate, advanced and master songs:

  • Beautiful – If seen as in Ab, the last chord of the verse is bIIIx
  • Starman – Very briefly at the end of the verse we find a bIIIx
  • Take Me To The River – The bridge has a bIIIx chord
  • Tenderness – There’s a bIIIx among all the chords

It’s easy to spot when the bIIIx appear, extreme tension!


Watch these videos

Songs with a IVm chord


The IVm completely throws the feel of our normal IV chord out the window.

The IV chord has a striving feeling, whereas the IVm has a slow down effect on almost any progression, especially when it is used after a normal IV chord.

Many songwriters secret weapon, the IVm is easily spotted by chord progression enthusiasts.

If you want to be able to recognise the sound of IVm you have to find her in songs. You’ll find the IVm chord in these songs:

  • Baby Won’t You Please Come Home – The outro has a IVm
  • Blackbird – The verse contains the IV – IVm movement
  • Dream A Little Dream – At the end of the verse we get IV – IVm
  • Over The Rainbow – Twice we hear the IVm in the chorus

There’s plenty more IVm chords in amoung the songs in the step by step courses.


Sign Up Now

A monthly subscription with access to all acoustic and electric step by step lessons, each one designed to bring your guitar playing skills to the next level.

Including detailed, but bite-sized explanations on how the music theory of each song is applied to the neck.

To sign up now, go to Monthly Subscription


Watch these videos

Songs with a VIx chord


Another great trick for songwriters is to turn the usually sad chord VI into a major chord, this gives any song a surprise lift.

When extended I used to think that it’s always into a dom7 but recently I have been proven wrong (see below).

Usually, if it’s VIx, it’s just a major chord, rarely extended to dom7.

Check out these examples and see how you expect something sad to happen, but get happy!


Chord VIx in songs

You’ll find the VIx chord in these songs:

  • Dream A Little Dream – The VIx appears in the verse
  • I Wish – The second chord of the bridge is a VIx
  • Sunny Afternoon – The VIx is the first chord of the chorus
  • Tenderness – The VIx appear in the outro

With it’s upliftig sound, the VIx is a great surprise chord, perfect when you want to change direction in a song.


Watch these videos

Songs with a bVIIx chord


You have to look long and hard to find a VII chord in a song, but change it into a major chord and flatten it and all of a sudden it’s everywhere!

Perhaps the reason we so easily take to the bVIIx is because moving up a 4th from to another major chord is something we just like to hear.

So when a IV chord goes up a 4th and hits another major chord it just makes sense. In C major this would be F (IV) to Bb (bVII).

If you really want to go to town on this concept, start on IIx7 and just move up a 4th: D7 (IIx7) – G7 (V7) – C7 (I7) – F7 (IV7) – Bb7 (bVIIx7).

Sounds pretty common to me!


Chord bVIIx in songs

You’ll hear the distinctive sound of the bVIIx in these songs:

  • Angels – Towards the end of the chorus, a bVIIx chord appears
  • Beautiful – If seen as in Eb, the second chord is a bVIIx
  • I Can’t Stand The Rain – The first chord of the chorus is a bVIIx
  • Take Me To The River – A constant use of the bVIIx in this song

You’ll learn more about chords, scales and how to crack the fretboard code when you take the intermediate guitar course.


Related Pages


Course

Learning how to play guitar is best done through playing and learning from songs.

The intermediate songs require you to learn barre chords and pentatonic scales. This will be revolutionary for your understanding of the guitar fretboard.

To see all lessons in the intermediate course, go to Intermediate Guitar Course


Exercises

All those open position chords you learned in the beginner course now become barre chords and pentatonic scales.

You’ll map out the entire fretboard at this stage. Chord progressions become easier to see once played as barre chords and little licks will start appearing in your playing.

Preview the exercises from the course here: Intermediate Guitar Lessons


Tunes

Learn how to play famous intermediate songs.

‘1234’, ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’. ‘American Pie’, ‘Angie’, ‘Babylon’, ‘Beautiful’, ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’, ‘Dreadlock Holiday’, ‘Empire State Of Mind’, ‘Fast Car’, ‘Hey There Delilah’, ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’, ‘I’m Yours’, ‘Kiss Me’, ‘Last Request’, ‘Mad World’, ‘Red’, ‘The Scientist’, ‘Starman’, ‘Sunny Afternoon’, and ‘Whistle For The Choir’.

To preview each song, go to Intermediate Acoustic Songs


Sign Up Now

A monthly subscription with access to all acoustic and electric step by step lessons, each one designed to bring your guitar playing skills to the next level.

Including detailed, but bite-sized explanations on how the music theory of each song is applied to the neck.

To sign up now, go to Monthly Subscription