The bVIIx & bIIIx chords – Step 6

Chord Progression Guitar Lesson - S6
In this step, we discover the tension that comes with the b chords!

Take The X Chords To The Next Level

Another very common variation we can make to our friends the Roman Numerals is to flatten them. In this step, we discuss the bVIIx and bIIIx chords.

Let’s start with my favourite band’s favourite chord, the bVIIx, also known as the backdoor dominant.

AC/DC use the bVIIx

In seemingly every AC/DC tune we find the bVIIx. This chord is much more common than the standard VII chord which is a half-diminished jazz chord that popular music has largely ignored.

Using the chords of C major, let’s take a look at what a bVIIx would be:

C (I) – Dm (II) – Em (III) – F (IV) – G (V) – Am (VI) – Bdim (VII)

C (I) – Dm (II) – Em (III) – F (IV) – G (V) – Am (VI) – Bb (bVIIx)

Chord VII has gone from being diminished, a minor chord with a b5, to being major a semitone down.

Back In Black by AC/DC goes E – D – A. The D is a bVIIx. Another more “normal” song is Angels by Robbie Williams. This song is also in the key of E but without the blues influence so it’s easier to identify.

In Angels, the D chord is a bVIIx, just when he sings “I’m loving Angels instead”.

Learn this song in the advanced acoustic course and you will fully understand the power of the bVIIx chord when it’s present in traditional harmony.

Nirvana uses the bIIIx

A song that changed the world of music as it killed off a generation of hair metal bands is Smells Like Teen Spirit by Seattle grunge icon Kurt Cobain and his band Nirvana.

This song is also in the key of E. Let’s take a look at all the chords from this key.

E (I) F#m (II) G#m (III) A (IV) B (V) C#m (VI) D#dim (VII)

E (I) F#m (II) G (bIIIx) A (IV) B (V) C#m (VI) D#dim (VII)

Smells Like Teen Spirit goes like this: E – A – G – C. The G is a bIIIx.

What about the C I hear you cry! Well, it can either be seen as a bVIx or you could see it as we have now temporarily changed the key to G making the C chord IV.

The G chord then functions as a bIIIx as we hear it (remember it’s all about the sound!) as if in the key of E. Because it’s followed by a C, it is also chord I in this new key.

Put together we get a chord progression that screams: I DON’T CARE. Which, after all, is what grunge is all about.

You must play songs

All this is academic bullshit if you don’t know any songs that actually use these chords. Without them, you won’t feel it.

So, yet again, to fully get this, you must learn songs. You must dig deep and discover the music theory of each song.

Armed with m, x, and b, you can literally describe any chord progression. After all, there are only 12 notes and key changes.

Well, that’s not entirely true, there are also substitutions and modal interchanges. In the next step, we deal with substitutions.

Chord Progressions | Related Pages

Chord progression | Step-by-step guitar course

Chord Progression Course

In these guitar lessons, I talk about how to best describe chords when they are put after each other and form chord progressions.

The main thing to discover here is how popular music is a combination of the harmonized major scale and the Blues.

Angels | Chords + Lyrics

Angels Chords

You can learn how to play Angels by Robbie Williams using chords, lyrics, chord analysis, TAB, and Spytunes video guitar lessons.

E Esus4 | E | A Amaj7 | B |
I sit and wait, does an angel, contemplate my fate…



Spytunes chords, scale, and arpeggio software, Chordacus is a refined version of the so-called CAGED system.

Now available as both a chromatic (original version) and “within a key”, developed with the help of a Spytunes student.

About me

Dan Lundholm wrote this guitar lesson on chord progressions.

This guitar lesson on chord progressions was written by Dan Lundholm. Discover more about him and how learning guitar with Spytunes has evolved.

Most importantly, find out why you should learn guitar through playing tunes, not practising scales, and studying theory in isolation.

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