Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Tony G and today I’m doing a lesson about spicing up a chord progression on guitar with my really good friend Trevor Toms. We’ve played a lot of music together in the past and he’s also originally from Denver. Check out his music right here: www.trevortoms.com. In this lesson, we are in Nashville where is touring during the month of December and he’s got some guitar-related questions for me. This lesson will be all about taking chord progressions to the next level. Let’s dive in!
Chord Progression on Guitar
Trevor’s question for me was that he’s got a simple chord progression and he wants to know how to bring in some fills, riffs or passing notes to give it more color. The progression is relatively simple and it bounces between G and C before jumping into G – Am – C – C.
Trevor already knows how to use my favorite flourish on the C chord which is to lift off your middle finger to make it a Csus2 and then hammer the finger back on to resolve back to a C major chord. I strongly recommend that you work on throwing this into your playing when using the C chord.
Another thing to notice is that this progression is in the key of G (it could be the key of C, but the way he resolves it alludes to G) which is nice because in the key of G, every single open string is a pentatonic note which will sound great when used in a fill or lick. If you want more information on what the pentatonic scale is, check out this lesson right here.
Using Open Strings to Add Melody
Because we are in the key of G major and all of the open strings are pentatonic notes, we can utilize any of them to create a melody between chords as we transition. For example, if we move between the G and C chord, we can play the open A string and then play the 2nd fret of the A string before hitting the C chord. For more information about learning the notes on the guitar neck, check out my free lesson right here! The A and B notes are both pentatonic and create a nice ascending bass line between the chords.
We can do this exact same thing backwards when transitioning between a C and G chord. Play the C chord and then play the B note and then open A string before hitting the G chord. This creates a nice descending bass line between the two chords which adds a lot of flavor.
In fact, if you play it with the right rhythm, you will hear the song, “Stand By Me” which takes this simple melody and makes something so catchy!
You don’t have to play these bass lines between the chord transitions every time as that can get a little redundant, but it’s a good way to create a moving melody when you need it.
Adding Chord Flourishes to Chord Progressions
Another great way to add flavor to chords in a chord progression is to add an individual chord flourish. A chord flourish adds a note to the chord to give it a different voicing or a different sound that can create tension and resolve, or simply add a different tone.
The cool part about the C chord is you can add flourishes using your pinky finger on 3rd fret of strings 1-4. When you place your pinky finger on 3rd fret of 1st string, you simply get a C chord but in a different voicing (same notes different places). If you place your pinky on 3rd fret of 2nd string, you get a Cadd9 (beautiful, beautiful chord) which brings in even more flavor. Placing your pinky finger on the 3rd fret of 3rd string, you get a C7 which is a bluesy sounding chord and if you put your pinky on the 3rd fret of 4th string, you get a Csus4 which resolves nicely back to the regular C chord.
Using any of these different flourishes will add a specific flavor to the chord so use your ears to see which ones you like and dislike over a progression. Remember that we can also use any of the pentatonic notes for flavor as well.
Passing Tones in Chord Progressions
Passing Tones simply refer to notes we can use between chord transitions much like the bass lines we mentioned earlier. As we move on through the chord progression, we reach G – Am. Between Am and G, there are no notes from the key of G major, but there is the chromatic G#/Ab. We can try to use this note as we transition between the chords to add flavor. If you notice, it provides a very specific leading tone kind of flavor and some people may dislike it. I personally prefer to use this flavor when alluding to the final chord of a progression.
When transitioning between Am – C, the note B is between them so we can use that as a passing tone while we transitions. It’s a very easy and cool way to create motion between the two chords.
Pedal Tones in Chord Progression on Guitar
A Pedal Tone is a note that we keep constant over each chord in a chord progression. In this example, we’re going to use the note G over each chord. This keeps it simple over the G and C chords because the G note is part of both chords. The G chord is made up of the notes, G, B and D. The C chord is made up of the notes, C, E and G. Therefore, we can see that the G note is in both of these chords.
However, when we move onto the Am chord, the G note actually makes this chord Am7 instead of regular Am. This can add flavor to the progression and it keeps a consistent melody over each of the chords as we have one consistent note. To play this pedal tone, leave your pinky finger on 3rd fret of 1st string throughout all three chords. What do you think of the sound?
Pedal tones can be a great way to harmonize your vocal melodies or give you ideas for a vocal melody over the chords. Although we are playing the pedal tone on the guitar, you could use your voice to create the pedal tone as well.
Pedal Tones as Melody in Chord Progressions
We can use the idea of pedal tones to also create Pedal Melodies which will have the same melody played over each chord. For example, if we took the original pedal tone, 3rd fret of 1st string and then pulled off to open 1st string, we create a two-note melody. If we use that melody over each chord consistently, we are creating a pedal melody. However, we need to be aware of the way the notes change the chords.
Over the G chord, the first note, G is just fine but when we pull off to the open 1st string, we get a G6 chord. This chord can be a strange flavor but if we use the pedal melody consistently, the G6 will be more of an afterthought than a main focus. Over the C chord, the G is part of the chord as is the open 1st string, E so nothing crazy there.
Over the Am chord, the G makes the chord an Am7 but the open 1st string, E is simply a part of the original Am chord.
Give this pedal melody a try and see what you think! Feel free to create your own pedal melody and tag me in a post so I can check it out!
Focal Point of a Chord Progression on Guitar
When we are playing a chord progression on guitar, we can easily take it to the next level with flourishes, passing tones, pedal tones and pedal melodies. However, if you are singing over the chord progression, keep in mind that we don’t want to make it too busy!
If the focal point is your vocal melody and lyrics, it’s ok to back off on the guitar a little bit. When you’re taking a break from singing, that’s when you can let your additions to the progression shine.
If you want to work on how to play guitar and sing at the same time, check out my free lesson right here!
That wraps up how to take a chord progression to the next level! Sometimes leaving it as is can also be the right answer but if you want some extra flavor, give these tips a shot.
Feel free to leave comments about your favorite way to spice up a chord progression and let me know what you want to learn next!
From Nashville, Tennessee, we’ll see you guys soon!
Happy holidays to you and yours.