The Blues – Step 3

Chord Progression Guitar Lesson - S3
Let's look at the second pillar of music theory, the Blues. This will contradict everything the Roman Numerals taught us. Popular music is this contradiction!

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 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 (mostly sad) 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 A7D7 for example. This breaks all the Roman Numeral rules, the chords should both have been maj7!

Open position A7 chord

Back in standard tuning and the clue to what this has done to modern songwriting can be found in the chord shapes.

Play an open position A7. 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.

Open position D7 chord

When we move to the next chord, the IV7, or in the key of A, a D7, we can see that the b7th interval is a C, not a C#.

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 Amaj7Dmaj7!

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. Popular music is this very clash between the blues and the diatonic chords.

Music is not academic, it is practical

To read and memorize this type of information may be interesting, but it is unfortunately in many ways pointless. You must connect this information with sounds by playing real songs. Otherwise, this information has no real value.

Learning guitar and improving your ear can only be done well through playing songs. Taking notes of music theory from the songs you learn is what will gain you a real understanding of music.

Remember this: Learning music and playing guitar is not an academic journey, it is a practical one.

Think of it like if you were to become a carpenter. You become a great carpenter by being one, by building walls, porches and whatever a carpenter actually does 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Not by staying at home practising hammering and sawing.

The same goes for being a guitar player, you become good through playing songs, not from practising scales, doing ear training tests and reading about it.

You simply must learn about chord progressions, with all its possible variations, by playing real songs.

Of course, you must practice scales and chords, but to become good, you must do it using the context of a song.

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.

Five blues tunes | Chords + Lyrics

Check out all these Blues & Jazz tunes!



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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