(actually it’s I-IV-V)
Guitar Level: Beginner
You’ve probably heard that it’s easy to learn to play the guitar. “Teach me three chords and I’ll play almost any song.” This is obviously an exaggeration but many songs are based on a progression involving three chords. The formula for these three magical chords is usually 1-4-5.
Take the key of C as an example. The scale is C_D_E_F_G_A_B_C. The first position is the C, the fourth is the F and the fifth is the G. A simple song in the key of C will most likely include the C, the F and the G major chords.
You can do this for all the scales and come up with the following popular chord arrangements (only the major scales are shown):
Key of A*: A-D-E
Key of Bb: Bb-Eb-F
Key of B: B-E-F#
Key of C*: C-F-G
Key of Db: Db-Gb-Ab
Key of D*: D-G-A
Key of Eb: Eb-Ab-Bb
Key of E*: E-A-B
Key of F: F-Bb-C
Key of F#: F#-B-C#
Key of G*: G-C-D
Key of Ab: Ab-Db-Eb
*denotes easy guitar keys
Now let’s take it up a notch. Seasoned guitarists will be intimately familiar with these chord groupings and will have a few favorite finger patterns that they like to use, or perhaps some base runs to connect the chords together. I’ll give you a few of my favorites as an example.
For the key of G, I like to move from the C to the D chord by sometimes just moving my 032010 C chord fingering up two frets to 554030 for a real nice sounding D/A. You can even slide the chords while they are still ringing for a slurred musical effect. Here’s another example, in the key of A, I like to change my D shape finger pattern by barring my first finger across the first four frets at the second fret to form xx4232 and moving it up two to form an E chord 0x6454. This is actually moving a D/F# to an E/G# without the open low E string, or if you include the open low E it becomes a more fuller E chord with a big resounding base note balanced off nicely by the upper chord tones played around the forth, fifth and sixth frets. I actually learned this one by watching Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones play.
Here’s a similar trick for the key of C. Try playing the F chord like this: 13321x (use a thumb wrap to grab the F on the low E string) then move this pattern up two frets to form the G (35543x) but here’s the trick; practice pulling your fingers off the F chord before grabbing the G chord. As you pull off, the open strings should ring before you grab the G chord. This adds a nice affect; it’s kind of like getting a partial G chord or maybe an Em11 in between the F and G chord shapes. You can also “pull off” the G chord which might resolve nicely to whatever chord you are going to next.
There are many other riffs and tricks but I don’t want to stifle your creativity. Play around with the 1-4-5 chord patterns and see what you can come up with. You will notice that all three of my examples are based on the fourth and fifth chords since these are only two frets away from one another which enables you to slide from one to another.
You should also know that the I-IV-V formula came from blues and rock; other styles of music use other formulas. For example, a popular jazz formula is ii-V-I and usually is based on the 7 chord so in the key of C, the progression would be Dm7 – G7 – Cmaj7.