Interesting guitar progression without advanced theory that you can apply TODAY!
Boring chords? Need to expand? Then HERE is the answer you’ve been looking for!
If you want more interesting chords on guitar without a lot of theory or years of study, then this article is for YOU! You will not only learn HOW the chords work, but it’s a free lesson in which you can take away the chords and apply them to YOUR playing and embellish songs you ALREADY know!
Let’s dive in…
You’re going to learn:
- The basic framework for common guitar chord progressions
- How the chords work in SIMPLE TERMS
- Chords to SUBSTITUTE for those boring, bland chords (known as “chord subs” or chord substitutions)
- Notes/scale tones that FIT the chords!
- How to actually make music with the chords, not just strum or strike out but instead PLAY SOME IDEAS!
- Open position chord substitutions AND their barre chord versions (both!)
Introducing: the IV chord substitution on guitar
The first example below is a simple I-IV-V in G. That means the root G (I), C (the IV of G) and D (the V of G). That’s your basic meat and potatoes simple chord progression.
Now we can beef it up and make it more interesting. Here’s how (below):
Step 1: the I-IV chord sub in a progression (below)
Let’s walk through exercise one BELOW (also refer to video 1 at the bottom of the page). We have a setup with three chords- G, C, and D. What is in between each one of them is EACH chord’s IV chord. So G and its IV C, then C and its IV F, then D and its IV G! The approach below is two beats of each. Learning on the same three strings, you’re learning the triads (the three notes comprising each chord). I found over the years, sticking to the same string sets helps memorization and it really sticks easier than hoping around to various strings.
The ear hears the I (G) but doesn’t anticipate the move to its IV, C so soon. And there is the fun and unpredictability. Good way to hardwire the progressions to your brain: play each chord getting two beats- a great way to organize the progression and keep it in harmonic movement, but never rambling on or staying in one place too long.
Let’s talk about the groove, the musicality. (Reference video 1 at the bottom to hear and follow/practice along). Start with open strings and hammer into C. On beat four of each measure, use three upstrokes to move through a triplet, and the three upstrokes will set you up for a downstroke on beat one of the next measures.
Step 2: Expand the progression to a full 12 bars!
Let’s walk through exercise two BELOW. (also refer to video 1 at the bottom of the page). Let’s expand with example 2 below in a 12-bar blues format. With the major chords, it’ll have a more down-home feel. This chord progression is great practice because your ear is familiar with the 12 bar blues form, so you can anticipate the next chord coming- but with the IV of each chord, it adds real excitement in between the standard chords.
Measure 9 and 10, you’ll be using the same 3 strings, only barre chord form. Clamp index down across the string on beat one and add your hammer-on using middle and ring fingers. (You’re playing a C chord SHAPE only in barre chord form, without open strings doing the work).
The example below sets up a turnaround in measures 11 and 12, so go at that slowly by repeating and drilling the 2 measures. These two measures are built off of I-IV-I-V, and simply have each one’s IV chord after it. It creates motion and excitement with this I-IV substitution, doesn’t it?
Step 3: the I-IV chord sub in a barre chord progression.
Let’s walk through exercise three BELOW. (also refer to video 2 at the bottom of the page). Let’s expand with example 3 below in a BARRE CHORD format! This way, you can move it around to any key with these moveable shapes. It’s the same chords in the same key, only level II where add in the moveable barre chords, easier to transpose to other keys.
Note the addition of 7th chords in the example. This will take the I-IV chord substitution to another level, creating added tension and more unpredictability. The other reason is that the 7th chords have a stronger resolution.
Throughout the chord progression, keep your left-hand fingers close as you can to the strings!
Step 4: the I-IV chord sub with barre chords in a 12-bar progression.
Let’s walk through exercise four BELOW (also refer to video 2 at the bottom of the page). Let’s expand with example 4 by plugging in the 12-bar blues progression again. A fun added twist is adding ghost notes (the “x”) indicated on the strings in which you relax your left-hand and strike the strings. In this style it’s great to add a little extra rhythm and make it groove so it’s not a wash of constant chord striking.
The strategy for the progression below is learning one measure really tight, chord and rhythm. Then applying it to the next measure. For example, measures 1-10 have the same rhythm. All you really have to do to move from G up to C is target your ring finger going from the 5th fret on string D to the 10th fret on string D to get to C, so it’s the same thing just moving around.
The turnaround in measures 11-12 just moves to the chord substitution quicker, so practice the turnaround by itself before implementing it into the full 12 bars.
The ending is a tense G7 (it’s a G triad with an F added for flavor).
Takeaway value & NEXT STEPS
After you have gotten the two exercises down, you’re on your way. Remember: the IV of the I is simply IV scale tones up from the root. Apply this any opportunity to your own songs or pop/rock songs you may be playing. Even better is going to songs you already know and popping in the IV of the chord in the place of staying on one chord- then you’re embellishing it. Make this a habit when you’re playing and you’re on your way to sounding fresh and unique!
Do yourself a favor and check out how the mighty Jimi Hendrix approaches chords and substitutions to beef up an ordinary blues! CLICK HERE Hendrix chord on guitar: HOW to use it (chord progressions with TABS) – Guitar Woodshed (guitar-woodshed.com)
At that point you’re primed and ready to get serious and do a deep dive into R&B and Soul- the roots of a lot of Neo Soul, modern R&B, rock and even Hendrix’s playing. And of course, you can apply the principles to other styles like your rock to your funk!
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