This is the last of a 4 part series on 4 basic chord progressions that will get you far in playing some of your favorite songs, and you’ll begin to recognize the I IV V, the ii V, the I Vi IV V, and this one, the Vi V IV.
The Vi VI IV – one very versatile chord progression
This chord progression use the Vi (6th) chord which is minor, down a whole step to the V (5th) chord which is major and then down another whole step to the IV chord, also major. If you’re learning a song that does that, you have a Vi V IV!
This is really a natural minor progression. Let’s take a look at aVi V IV in C:
IV V VI
C D E F G A B C
A Minor to G Major to F Major.
Examples of songs using this chord progression:
Stairway to Heaven (the end, “as we wind on down the road…”)
Harden My Heart
Livin’ on a Prayer
Edge of 17
…and many more.
Minor Keys Revisited
The simplest Minor key type is the Natural Minor. There are no differences between it (the Vi – A here) and the relative Major (the I – C in this case). The notes and chords are the same. But the chord progression centers on A minor which gives is a more complex “moody” sound.
Keep in mind this can easily hop to the I major (C). Majors and Minors frequently go back and forth in a song. It can start in A Minor but the chorus could be in C Major.
What is fun with this chord progression is that there are cool ways to improvise over it. The Minor Pentatonic scale off the Vi (that is, A minor Pentatonic) is a natural for this and works very well.
Additionally, I use the Major scales, which in this case is C Major scales (or A Natural Minor scales, as they are the same thing). The reason why this works so well is while the A Minor pentatonic fits well, it lacks the root note of the IV chord, in this case F.
A Minor Penatonic
A C D E G
This is the chord progression in the final rockin’ part of Stairway to Heaven where Jimmy Pages comes out blasting with a descending run down A Minor Pentatonic but he “sticks” the final note of his phrase on the note F – which happens to be when the F chord is playing. His solo is largely based off the A minor pentatonic but was well aware that the F note could be used nicely to his advantage.
That’s the end of this series. There is much more to explore with chord progressions and the various ways to improvise (or write melodies) for them.
Drop me a line with your questions or new topics you’d like to see explore.
As the Labor Day weekend approaches, you might have more time for practicing. This is the 3rd installment in the 4 basic chord progressions you should know. Knowledge of these chord progressions will help you build your library of known songs because so many songs use these progressions so they will accelerate learning.
PT 1 focused on the I, IV, V. P2 focused on the ii, V. Today we focus on the I, vi, IV, V.
This chord progression was used a lot by any songwriter in the 1950’s or early 1960’s that wanted to write a ballad. Angel Baby was just a I vi IV V repeated over and over.
In fact, it’s used so much, wikipedia (an online encyclopedia of sorts that I support) has an entry on it here.
You may notice that the I vi IV V is just like the I IV V but with the vi chord thrown in. This one chord makes a big difference. Playing this chord progression will get your ear used to the sound of going from the I (major) to the vi (minor). The I and the vi have a unique relationship to that of the rest of the key.
Taking a look at the key of C:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
C D E F G A B
I IV V vi
CM FM GM Am
As stated above, this chord progression is used for a lot of ballads. While not a pure I vi IV V chord progression, the sweet, gentle intro of Free Bird (well before the wild guitar duel) starts with G, D/F#, to Eminor. That’s a I, V, vi in G. (The D/F# simply means a D major with the F# in the bass)
Key of G:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
G A B C D E F#
I IV V vi
As a side note, whenever I have a chord progression with a minor chord in it (ii V in the last post, I vi IV V in this post) that opens up my solo or song writing melodies to the use of the Major Scale. I would still stick close to my G major Pentatonic (5 note scale) in this pattern, but I could throw in some other notes to from the 7 note Major scale.
Next lesson will focus on a new progression that is used largely in hard rock songs that really open up solo possibilities.
If You don’t know the Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player Should Know, you might get a bit frustrated.
Whoa! Before your guitar looks like this, GET HELP!! The Top 10 things every guitar player should know is in this (and the next) blog entry!! Knowing these 10 things will enable you to grow as a musician and a guitar player at a much faster rate.
It is impossible to just grab the guitar and play like [fill in the gap] but with a little bit of time and effort and the right direction, you can get very good very fast. Following the Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player Should Know will accelerate your path to get there. Let’s get started.
Know your open String notes and how to tune
I don’t touch on this for a long time with my students because tuning can be daunting for a student. It was for me. It took a long while before I could tune. Then I could only tune to other guitars, not keyboards. Yes, I was that bad. But I learned.
You might think this is unnecessary given the ease of access of tuners today. By all means use one, I do. But knowing the strings E, A, D, G, B, E and self tuning are critical things to know. You need to develop your EAR, which takes time and practice. The chart below shows how to tune the guitar to it’s other strings.
2. Know the “typical” open string chords
Not only are these the “beginner” chords, you simply cannot play many songs without them. Open string chords are not just chords for people learning. They have their own “ringing” quality. They are different. In fact, it’s why some people use capos to, in effect, move the end of the guitar up the neck so they keep playing these chords in the same way but higher pitched to suit their voice or the song.
Chords you should know are:
There are more but that will get you very far. I’m talking 8 chords to happiness here!
If you’ve played a bit, you’ll see some chords missing that you might think should be in that list, like F Major. I cover that in Part II of this series.
NOTE: chords that are Major chords are often referenced by their letter name alone. D Major can be called just “D”. Minors must always be noted as minor.
One last thing on this topic. The student really needs to commit these chord forms to memory. The first chord I teach is D major to any beginning student. I once taught this young man (a very nice guy) who just wouldn’t learn it. And when we got to learning songs his refusal to memorize the chords slowed his progress because I would say “ok, this song starts on D major” and he’s always ask “What was D again?”
Don’t be *that* guy!
3. Know the Musical Alphabet
We’re not talking a lot here, only 7 notes. But you need to know how those notes are spaced.
The distance of 2 frets on the guitar – say 6th string 3rd fret to 6th string 5th fret – is a whole step, sometimes called a full step or full tone. It’s just 2 frets. 1 to 3, 2 to 4, 3 to 5, etc.
The distance of 1 fret on the guitar – like 6th string 3rd fret to 6th string 4th fret is a half step. Or a semi step or semi tone.
So are musical alphabet is the following:
A B C D E F G [then back to A]
7 notes! Now here’s how you find them:
A -> B is a whole step. 6th string 5th fret to 6th String 7th fret
B -> C is a half step. 6th string 7th fret to 6th String 8th fret
C -> D is a whole step. 6th string 8th fret to 6th String 10th fret
D -> E is a whole step. 6th string 10th fret to 6th String 12th fret. Your guitar may stop at the 12th fret. So we’ll pick up E now at the 6th string open.
E -> F is a half step. 6th string open (no fingers on it – let it just ring) is E. F will be on 6th string 1st fret.
Open strings confuse people, but think of it this way. The nut is that white thing at the end of your fretboard:
You know where the first fret is. Looking at the picture here it is to the left of the nut. Think of hitting an open string as if your finger was to the right of the nut. If you’re going to go up one fret for a half step, you’ll now be on fret number 1, which is where F is.
F -> G is a whole step. 6th string 1st fret to 6th String 3rd fret
G -> A is a whole step. 6th string 3rd fret to 6th String 5th fret
You will have then completed the circle A to A.
4. Know what Sharps and Flats are
If you asked in #3 above “what about the notes in between the frets we played – like 6th string frets 2 and 4 and 6?” This is the answer to that.
Simple but not “easy”. A sharp (#) raises a note a half step. So in our mapping of the natural (not sharped or flatted) notes in #3 above, we have:
6th String FRET
12 (OR OPEN) E
But now let’s include sharps:
6th String FRET
12 (OR OPEN) E
Now for the “weird” part. if you understand that sharps (#) raise a note a half step or one fret, what about the notes that are already a half step apart? B to C and E to F are only half steps. So that must mean there is no such thing as a B# or an E#?
No, there ARE B# and E# notes. How do you play them? Right where C and F are (8th fret and 1st fret respectively).
So yes, B# IS C natural. E# IS F natural. One note with 2 names is called enharmonic. Not extremely important to know that word but extremely important to know what it means.
A Flat (b) lowers a note one half step. So Fret 2 on the guitar (which was F# above) is now Gb. We lower G on the 3rd fret one half step to be Gb on Fret 2:
6th String FRET
And there’s your musical alphabet.
5. Know the notes on the 5th and 6th Strings
Now a purist is going to say you should know all the notes. Why are the 5th and 6th string more important? Easy – it’s chords.
The open string chords mentioned above all look different. E Major looks nothing like A Major which looks nothing like C Major which looks nothing like D Major.
That all changes with bar (sometimes called “barre”) chords. Remember the picture of the nut above? Well your fingers become a new, movable nut.
All bar chords come in “6th String” and “5th String” versions. You can play the full version of the chord, or just the “bottom” part of it for “Power chords” which metal is extremely fond of.
From knowing that the 6th string open is E and the 5th string open is A, you can figure out where the notes are. I recommend learning the natural notes first. If you know A, B, C, D, E, F and G on both strings quickly by sight you are well on your way to learning a plethora (or TON) of songs!
Knowing these chord forms is the 6th thing that every guitar player should know, but that’s in Part II of this blog.
You are half way there to knowing the Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player should know!
In home guitar lessons in the Tri-Valley area of California. This includes Pleasanton, Dublin, San Ramon, and Livermore. Other arrangements negotiable.