Discover the most common variations to a chord progression
The blues, the x and m variations
Watch This Video
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 (Free Preview)
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 (Free Preview)
This composition is in Dorian, which means chord II is our home.
Go to Mad World step 1.
Whistle For The Choir – Step 1 (Free Preview)
First, we go through all the areas you can play this song in when in the key of A.
Go to Whistle For The Choir step 1.
Blowin’ In The Wind – Step 1 (Free Preview)
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 (Free Preview)
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 (Free Preview)
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 (Free Preview)
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 (Free Preview)
Use the TAB loops to practice each section individually.
Go to Angie step 1.
American Pie – Step 1 (Free Preview)
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 (Free Preview)
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 2 (Free Preview)
Not only is it difficult to fret the descending bass line, but there’s also plenty of muting going on as well.
Go to Sunny Afternoon step 2.
Dreadlock Holiday – Step 1 (Free Preview)
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 3 (Free Preview)
I actually recorded this before Jason released his official version and had my own first youtube hit with it.
Go to I’m Yours step 3.
Red – Step 1 (Free Preview)
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 (Free Preview)
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 (Free Preview)
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 2 (Free Preview)
To develop a good guitar part for it, you must ensure you can play these two chords anywhere on the neck. Let’s practice with the band.
Go to Rescue Me step 2.
You Can’t Hurry Love – Step 2 (Free Preview)
You could in this way keep changing it every time you play it.
Go to You Can’t Hurry Love step 2.
Can I Get A Witness – Step 2 (Free Preview)
Then start improvising.
Go to Can I Get A Witness step 2.
Be My Baby – Step 2 (Free Preview)
As the song is in the key of E, we can take advantage of open strings. This will help when trying to create a wall of sound.
Go to Be My Baby step 2.
Soul Man – Step 2 (Free Preview)
Let’s spend half an hour on this one bar of music by digging deep into all its detail.
Go to Soul Man step 2.
Money (That’s What I Want) – Step 2 (Free Preview)
We need to talk about and understand, Blues melody language. We will do that by looking to the king of scales, the Minor Pentatonic.
I Heard It Through The Grapevine – Step 2 (Free Preview)
Sure, the order and length of the chords are different from a standard blues, but the overall feel is there. It’s just that the I chord is now a Im chord.
Get Ready – Step 2 (Free Preview)
Moving a riff around like this is a much better idea than just practicing the scale up and down.
Go to Get Ready step 2.
Son Of A Preacher Man – Step 2 (Free Preview)
The use of the 6 over the E chord, hints the 3rd of the A.
Go to Son Of A Preacher Man step 2.
My Guy – Step 2 (Free Preview)
Right now, this is not about performing the song, this is practicing getting good at moving around the neck. First, we develop, then we refine.
Go to My Guy step 2.
Respect – Step 2 (Free Preview)
In order to find a good part for the verse, we must explore the fret board using different shapes and try the different rhythms we find on the original recording.
Go to Respect step 2.
Jimmy Mack – Step 2 (Free Preview)
First, learn all examples as the TAB says, then start improvising what shapes you play.
Go to Jimmy Mack step 2.
Master Blaster – Step 2 (Free Preview)
The chords are several things at the same time. It’s a master class in how to write a great chord progression if you like.
Go to Master Blaster step 2.
We’ll use this to map out the entire fret board. 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 fret board.
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.