Simple Chord Progressions For Beginner Guitarists to Learn

chord progressionsI hope you had read the previous lesson on basic strumming patterns and practiced your stuff. With that knowledge in mind, we can apply it to some of the common chord progressions found in popular music today.

At the end of this lesson, you will find yourself strumming along to familiar tunes and having an understanding of the simple chord progressions used in many songs.

The Roman Numeral System In Music

Before going into today’s lesson, I want to introduce a system of naming and notating chord progressions to you. This method of naming chords is very convenient for song transposing because it allows you to figure out the chords for any given key easily.

This is how it works; roman numerals are labeled according to the corresponding degree of the major scale. To illustrate this, let’s use the C major scale as an example and visualize the notes associated with it.

roman numeral system in music

The first note of the C major scale is a C and it is denoted by I, the fifth note G is denoted by V and etc. You would probably realize that some of the roman numerals used are in capital letters while some are in the lowercase.

Basically, upper case numerals are used to indicate major chords. For example, in the key of C, the root chord C is always played in its major form. The F and G chords are always played in the major form as well.

Lower case numerals are used to indicate minor chords. For example, in the key of C, the D chord and E chord are played as minor chords.

As for the seventh degree chord, it is a diminished chord and usually found in genres such as jazz. For now, you can ignore the seventh degree chord as I will discuss this in more details at a later stage.

No matter what the key of the song is, these are the basic “music rules” that governs most songs. Do note that these musical rules are broken frequently (e.g. the iii chord can be played as a major instead of a minor) since there’s no hard and fast rules in song composition. For the sake of simplicity, we will not touch on them in this beginner lesson.

How Do You Play The Same Progression In Different Keys?

Ok, let’s say you want to play a chord progression (I iii IV V) in the key of C, the chords you play would be (Cmaj Emin Fmaj Gmaj). Now, if you want to play this exact same chord progression (I iii IV V) in the key of F, you would need to play the following chords: F Amin Bbmaj Cmaj.

F major roman numeral system

Now, let’s assume that the original key of a song is in C major with the following progression (I iii vi IV). If this key is too low for you to sing along, you can always transpose it a few semitones higher to a F major key. And there are a few ways you can do this on your guitar:

#1 – Place a capo at the 5th fret (Since F is 5 semitones higher than C) and play the song with simple open chords.

#2 – Using movable barre chords and shift all of them 5 semitones higher.

#3 – Manually write down all the chords in the new transposition and figure out where to play them. In this case, instead of playing C (I) Dm (iii) Am (vi) F (IV), you would end up playing F (I) Am (iii) Dm (vi) Bb (IV) instead.

Simple Chord Progressions And Songs to Learn

With that, let’s move on to learning some songs using basic chord progressions. If you haven’t heard of these songs before, simply head over to Youtube.com and do a search.


vi IV I V

Apologize by One Republic ( Key Eb: | Cmin | AbMaj | EbMaj | BbMaj )

Zombie by Cranberries ( Key G: | Emin | CMaj | GMaj | DMaj )


I V vi IV

Collide by Howie Day ( Key: B: | BMaj | GbMaj | Ab min | EMaj )


vi IV V

Kryptonite by 3 Doors Down ( Key D: | Bmin | GMaj | AMaj )


I V IV

Knocking on Heaven’s Door by Door Bob Dylan ( Key G: | GMaj | DMaj | CMaj )


The beautiful thing about using roman numerals is that most beginners can have a better time understanding keys and progressions. And as I said earlier, one very good practical use of the system is the ease of transposition with chord progressions.

Now, have fun messing around with these progressions and try them out in different keys to get out of your comfort zone. You don’t have to confine yourself to playing in C major all the time. And the more you practice, the more you will begin to realize that many of the popular songs utilize a similar kind of overlapping chord relationship.

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