Moving Beyond 3 Chords

It's time to step things up!

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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 10 – Winter 2019 – Acoustic Artists

By now, you’ve probably mastered many three-chord songs, and you’re singing and strumming your way through many hits, both ones you may have written and ones you may have learned. Now it’s time to step things up. That elusive fourth chord can make or break a song and can really add a new dynamic to your playing.

For this lesson, we can once again call upon the A Major Scale to give us some guidance over what chords we can use.

The notes of this scale along with their interval numbers are:

And we can also add a chord type to each interval as follows:

In a previous issue, we talked a little about creating country chord progressions from the I IV V rule and applying them to a 12 bar blues style structure. If we use that as our basis here, we could have a progression using the A, D, and E chords.

A great way that we could spice up this progression would be to add the minVI chord, in this case, the F#min.

This takes our standard I IV V and changes it to a I IV V VI. That doesn’t mean we have to stick with that as a rule. The intervals don’t have to fall in this order to retain the song’s key. We could shift those intervals around a little.

Let’s try it as a I VI IV V.

Or perhaps a V I IV VI.

You can try to come up with your own combinations as part of your own compositions. There are no rules. When I write, I like to start a section with the minVI chord when I want to add some tension or make a swift change from the rest of the track. I find it works well as a chord for a middle 8 or a bridge.

Many huge songs use combinations of the I IV V and VI chords. Learn them all and see what takes your fancy. I’d recommend checking out:

  • The Cranberries – Zombie – VI IV I V
  • U2 – With Or Without You – I V VI IV
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd – Tuesday’s Gone – I V VI IV
  • Iggy Pop – The Passenger – VI IV I V
  • Lewis Capaldi – Someone You Loved – I V VI IV
  • Ed Sheeran – Perfect – VI IV I V

There are many more out there to be discovered!

Try it out yourself and see what you come up with!

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