Discover the most common variations to a chord progression
The blues, the x and m variations
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Chord progressions – The X and M variations
In the beginner course and on the page, beginner chord progression, we learned about diatonic chord progressions (chords built off the major scale).
In the intermediate courses, we study the most common variations.
The standard diatonic chords, paired with the most common variations like IVm, IIIx and bVIIx is what makes up all chord progressions in popular music. You can learn more about these in the Guitar Conspiracy.
All these variations 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 has influenced chord progressions in not just blues, but all popular music we hear today.
The most important variation that started it all
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 A7 – D7 for example.
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.
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 Amaj7 – Dmaj7!
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 the feeling of 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 or major to minor as a result of it. In many ways, popular music is this very clash between the blues and the diatonic chords.
To read and memorize this type of information may be interesting, but it is unfortunately in many ways pointless. You must connect names like IVm to sounds by playing real songs. Otherwise, this information has no real value.
Learning guitar and improving your ear can only be done through actually playing songs. Taking notes of music theory from the songs you know is what you will develop from.
You simply must learn about chord progressions, with all its possible variations, by playing real songs.
Acoustic Guitar Lessons
Hey There Delilah – Step 1
Use the TAB loops to master these two relatively simple sections of the song.
Go to Hey There Delilah Step 1.
Mad World – Step 1
This composition is in Dorian, which means chord II is our home.
Go to Mad World Step 1.
Whistle For The Choir – Step 1
In this step, we go through all the areas you can play this song in for the key of A.
Go to Whistle For The Choir Step 1.
Blowin’ In The Wind – Step 1
What you’ll hear is in the key of D, however, you must think as if in the key of C.
Go to Blowin’ In The Wind Step 1.
Kiss Me – Step 1
First up are the intro, instrumental, verse sections which all use the progression: Maj – maj7 – dom7 – maj7 on a loop.
Go to Kiss Me Step 1.
Babylon – Step 1
It’s Babylon by David Gray and of course, it does have a hammer-on and pull-off lick in it.
Go to Babylon Step 1.
Fast Car – Step 1
Complete this step and you’ll realize that just working out the original part is not enough if you want to learn how to actually write something like this.
Go to Fast Car Step 1.
Angie – Step 1
Use the TAB loops to practice each section individually.
Go to Angie Step 1.
American Pie – Step 1
Let’s put Don McLean’s American Pie under the microscope, we start with the chorus.
Go to American Pie Step 1.
A Change Is Gonna Come – Step 1
Out of all 8 steps, this is by far the most difficult. It is also the most complex lesson so far in this course.
Sunny Afternoon – Step 1
To achieve this we play the sweeping exercise using 12/8, shuffle, and swing rhythms.
Go to Sunny Afternoon Step 1.
Dreadlock Holiday – Step 1
A few chords in this one guitar arrangement are not correct. Find out what we can learn from this.
Go to Dreadlock Holiday Step 1.
I’m Yours – Step 1
To understand this we start by studying the nursery rhyme Itsy Bitsy Spider, which is actually more complex than I’m Yours.
Go to I’m Yours Step 1.
Red – Step 1
The tempo has been lowered from 92 to 78 BPM and the overall feel is very different from the original.
Go to Red Step 1.
Starman – Step 1
Following this, we also work on the verse which has an unusual order of common chords from the key of F. TAB loops are available for everything.
Go to Starman Step 1.
I Can’t Stand The Rain – Step 1
To learn from it we study the intervals, play it in five areas of the neck as well as consider hammer on’s, bends, slides and pull off’s.
Electric Guitar Lessons
Rescue Me – Step 1
Before we look at how to play each section in detail, let’s have a listen to the complete song and study a Bars and Beats chart.
Go to Rescue Me Step 1.
You Can’t Hurry Love – Step 1
Sixteen years later, Phil Collins recorded it in a different key and again put it back at the #1 spot, this time in the U.K.
Go to You Can’t Hurry Love Step 1.
Can I Get A Witness – Step 1
Before we dive into how to play the main riff, let’s have a listen to the complete song and map out the arrangement.
Go to Can I Get A Witness Step 1.
Be My Baby – Step 1
Before we get into building the guitar part, let’s have a listen to the complete song.
Go to Be My Baby Step 1.
Soul Man – Step 1
The man behind the guitar part is Steve Cropper, a legendary soul guitarist who was a member of Booker T. & the M.G.’s.
Go to Soul Man Step 1.
Money (That’s What I Want) – Step 1
This is an early Motown hit with an easy to recognize guitar riff that has been covered by many artists and bands since.
I Heard It Through The Grapevine – Step 1
This song has a very clever chord progression. The home chord, Ebm, feels different depending on what section it appears in.
Get Ready – Step 1
Performed by The Temptations, it was released in 1966 and made it to the number 1 spot in the R & B charts.
Go to Get Ready Step 1.
Son Of A Preacher Man – Step 1
Due to the lack of guitar on the original recording, we are going to have to invent a guitar part.
Go to Son Of A Preacherman Step 1.
My Guy – Step 1
With one foot in jazz rather than blues, we get more maj7 and 6 chords than dom7 chords.
Go to My Guy Step 1.
Respect – Step 1
After an unsuccessful session at legendary Muscle Shoals studios, Otis decided to record it himself and then again with Aretha Franklin.
Go to Respect Step 1.
Jimmy Mack – Step 1
Let’s start this off by listening to the complete song and work out the structure.
Go to Jimmy Mack Step 1.
Master Blaster – Step 1
This is probably my favorite song to play as it literally encourages me to improvise, or as the title suggests, Jammin’.
Go to Master Blaster Step 1.
We’ll use this to map out the entire fretboard. Everything becomes easier to visualize once this foundation is laid.
The intermediate songs require you to learn barre chords and pentatonic scales. This will be revolutionary for your understanding of the guitar fretboard.
Go to Intermediate Guitar Course.
Intermediate Acoustic Songs
A Change Is Gonna Come, American Pie, Angie, Babylon, Blowin’ In The Wind, Dreadlock Holiday, Fast Car, Hey There Delilah, I Can’t Stand The Rain, I’m Yours, Kiss Me, Mad World, Red, Starman, Sunny Afternoon, and Whistle For The Choir.
Go to Intermediate Acoustic Songs.
These Motown/Soul songs require you to learn how to play fractions of barre chord shapes and build improvised licks using pentatonic scales.
Intermediate Electric Songs
Be My Baby, Can I Get A Witness, Get Ready, I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Jimmy Mack, Master Blaster (Jammin’), Money (That’s What I Want), My Guy, Rescue Me, Respect, Son Of A Preacher Man, Soul Man, and You Can’t Hurry Love.
Go to Intermediate Electric Songs.
Including detailed, but bite-sized explanations on how the music theory of each song is applied to the neck.
Go to Monthly Subscription.