1 August 2008

Secret Rock Guitar Chord Progression

When you learn about chord progressions you'll find many books teach major key harmony. But when you start to look at the songs of your favourite rock bands you will be left puzzled by chords that don't fit into this theory. This article is going to shed light on some of the mystery by telling you about two chords commonly used in rock progressions.

I spent many years wondering about the strange chords in songs, confused about what key they were in. It wasn't until I worked through a copy of Fretboard Roadmaps, by Fred Sokolow, that I discovered this secret.

bIII and bVII

The bIII (flatted third) and bVII (flatted seventh) chords are used in many rock songs. Some examples are The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil", Radiohead's "Creep", The Kinks' "All Day And All of the Night", or Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama".

These chords were used years ago by blues musicians, but many theory books omit them. Listen to songs by John Lee Hooker and you'll often recognize the use of I - bIII - IV patterns.

The chords are both played as major chords. Major key harmony tells you that the chord on the third degree of the major scale is minor. Similarly the flatted seventh degree doesn't normally figure in the set of chords for a major key. But this was conveniently ignored by many of the old blues men and the sound has carried over into more modern rock songs.

Practice Time

Below are example progressions with the bIII and bVII chords for you to play. Listen carefully to get the sound into your mind. The examples are all presented in E major because all the chords can be played as basic open chords in this key. You should try them out in some other keys to give your fingers and ears a thorough workout.

Example 1 - I - bIII - IV - I

||: E | G | A | E :||

Example 2 - I - bVII - bIII - I

||: E | D | G | E :||

Example 3 - I - IV - bVII - I

||: E | A | D | E :||

So now you know the secret of many rock song chord progressions. Practice the example progressions and learn to recognize the sound of these chords. Make up some of your own progressions by slipping these two chords into progressions that you already know.

Knowledge of these chords will help you figure out progressions and songs that use them. Keep your ears open next time you listen to the radio to see if you can identify songs using the flatted third or seventh chords.

To explore this topic further and pick up some excellent tips you could check out Fred Sokolow's Fretboard Roadmaps series. These well organized books present a simple and powerful system that will get you playing chords and licks all over the fretboard. You will also learn more about progressions and song structure so you can work out your favourite songs by ear.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great tip. I´ve been playing around with different chord progressions for a while and although the "rules" are important, knowing the exceptions takes things to the next level. Thanks for taking the time to enlighten me.

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