Playing the guitar can be a significant challenge, and one of the most challenging aspects is learning all of the chords that are possible on the instrument. It is far easier to learn chord combinations that sound good together rather than trying to memorize every chord possible on the guitar. This is also a far more useful practice as well, but which chords go well together?
Chords that go well together are chords from the same key. All the chords in a key will work well together in various combinations. Using certain chords from a key produces specific sounds, such as happy or sad tones. Using extended chords solidifies the sound of a chord progression.
There is a myriad of chords possible on the guitar, and learning a few good chord combinations is the best way to begin using and exploring the chord possibilities on the instrument. Let’s take the time to identify some of the best chord combinations and learn why they sound good together.
Which Guitar Chords Go Well Together?
The musical world of guitar chords is somewhat difficult to understand, and it can be challenging to even think about at times. Music already has a very large number of possible chords, thousands in fact, and they are all playable on the guitar in different ways.
If you look up a chart of guitar chords, you will quickly become overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available before even exploring the different ways and positions in which each individual chord can be played.
The guitar is a wonderfully versatile instrument, but this can often mean that it is an overwhelming instrument as well. Learning every single guitar chord and every variation and position of each chord by memory is impossible, but a great place to start exploring guitar is to learn some chords that go well together.
The best way to begin your exploration of guitar chords is to learn what makes guitar chords go well together and then learn some examples by applying what you have learned.
There is some amount of musical theory that is involved in learning which chords go well together, but it is easy to understand, and once you know how to use you will never lack a good chord progression.
Let’s take some time to learn which chords go well together by learning some basic musical theory concepts that will allow you to find a good chord progression regardless of the circumstances.
Chords from the Same Key
A great place to begin is knowing that every chord from the same key will go well together. Chords are what define a key, and the chords that make up each individual key are structured and placed in a way that makes them sound good together.
This means that so long as you stick to the notes from one key, you will easily find chords that go well together. However, there are some deeper concepts to understand to make the process easier to understand and use.
A musical key is made up of seven individual chords. Three of the chords are major chords, three are minor chords, and one is a diminished chord.
Major keys have a major chord in the first, fourth, and fifth position of the scale, a minor chord in the second, third, and sixth position of the scale, and a diminished chord in the seventh scale position.
Minor keys have a minor chord in the first, fourth, and fifth positions, a major chord in the third, sixth, and seventh positions, and a diminished chord in the second position.
This means that, for example, the key of C Major uses the following chords in the following order:
C Major, D minor, E minor, F Major, G Major, A minor, B diminished
The key of A Minor uses the following chords in this order:
A minor, B diminished, C Major, D minor, E minor, F Major, G Major
This means that any of the chords in the key of C Major will work well together, and any of the chords from the key of A Minor will work well together too. If you establish a key and the chords within the key, you will have seven chords that will work together.
Simply apply the notes to a key, or look up the notes in a key, and apply the major and minor chord positions that we have established, and you will have chords to choose from that will work together.
However, there is more to finding chords that work well together than simply choosing from a key. Let’s explore a little deeper.
All the Major Chords
We have discovered that there are three major chords in every key and which key positions they are found in for major and minor keys.
This is important information, as using all of the major chords from a key is the quickest and easiest way to find a good chord progression.
For example, playing the first, fourth, and fifth chords from a major key will provide three major chords that will always work very well together, regardless of the situation.
For example, within the key of C Major, playing the chords C Major, F Major, and G Major is always a solid chord combination.
The same is true for minor keys. Find all of the major chords within a minor key, play them one after the other, and you will have a simple chord progression that will always work well.
Playing all of the major chords from a key will produce a very happy, bright, light-sounding chord progression.
All the Minor Chords
Every key also has a set of three minor chords, and the same rules apply here. Find all three of the minor chords from a key, and you will have a set of chords that will always work well together.
For example, in the key of A Minor, the first, fourth, and fifth chords are where to find A minor, D minor, and E minor. Play all of these chords in a progression, and they are sure to sound good together.
Playing all of the minor chords from a key will produce a dark, brooding, sad-sounding chord progression, as this is the musical inflection of the sound of minor chords.
Major and Minor Chord Combinations
Using only major chords and only minor chords from a key is a basic way to find a good-sounding chord grouping, but there are ways to combine major and minor chords into a good-sounding chord combination.
Combining major and minor chords from a key is known as key centers, and there are some defined combinations that will always sound good together.
For example, using the first, third, and fifth chords from a Major key is an excellent way to produce a blues or rock chord progression. Using the second, fifth, and first chords in that order from a Minor key will produce a jazz sound.
The first, third, and fifth chords from a Major key will use two major chords and one minor to produce a very strong chord progression. Using the second, fifth, and first chords from a Minor key will use a diminished chord and two minor chords to create a very interesting and soothing chord progression.
It is important to experiment within your chosen key to find chord combinations that work well, rather than just playing in one grouping. Know that all of the chords in a key are made to sound good together, so explore them all and find chord combinations that sound good to you.
Another important consideration to make within a key is that there are more chord types than only major and minor chords. Learning some extended chords to expand your chord vocabulary is an excellent way to find great sounding chord combinations.
Take the time to learn the major7 version of every major chord and the minor7 version of every minor chord, and learn to play dominant7 chord variations as well. Playing extended chords rather than standard chords will elevate the sound of your chord to another level of excellence.
Certain extended chords sound better in certain positions, so it is important to experiment as you go along. For example, dominant7 chords sound best in the fifth key position. Also, the chord progression C Major, E minor, and G dominant7 are among the strongest-sounding chord progressions possible.
What makes Chords Go Well Together?
Every chord has a progression that will work well with it, and every chord can be used within a progression that will sound beautiful, but what is it that makes a chord sound good in a progression?
There are several factors that make chords sound good together, but the main factor is the notes that go into each individual chord. Every chord is constructed from at least three notes played together in unison.
The individual notes that make up a chord are what determine the other chords that will go well with it. If the notes in one chord do not compliment the notes in another chord, the chords will clash and sound bad when played in a progression.
Not every note in a chord must go well with every note in another chord for it to go well together, but at least two of the notes must be complementary in order for the chords to sound good in a progression.
If a chord is made from notes that compliment the notes, that another chord is made from, the two chords will compliment each other well. If the individual notes from two chords clash, then the chords will not work together at all.
Examples of Good Chord Progressions
There are thousands of possible chord combinations to play on the guitar. There are far too many to learn, and there are far too many to memorize, but using the tools that we have already learned, it is possible to find good chord progressions from any key very easily.
However, it is sometimes better to have a list of reference chords that can be used well together in a progression. For the sake of simplicity and to help you get a good start in learning good-sounding chord progressions, here is a list of chord progressions that sound good together in major and minor keys.
For the sake of universality between keys, the chords listed will be written as Key positions notated with Roman Numerals. This makes it easier to move the progression between keys and use different chords.
The seven chords in the major key will be written as I ii iii IV V vi vii°, and the seven chords in the minor key will be written as i ii° III iv v VI VII. The capital and lower-case numerals indicate if a chord is major or minor. All lower-case numerals are minor chords, and capital numerals are major chords.
Major Key Chord Progressions:
- I – V – vi – IV (e.g., C – G – Am – F)
- I – vi – IV – V (e.g., C – Am – F – G)
- I – IV – V – IV (e.g., C – F – G – F)
- IV – V – vi – iii (e.g., F – G – Am – Em)
- I – IV – bVII – IV (e.g., C – F – Bb – F)
- I – IV – ii – V (e.g., C – F – Dm – G)
- I – iii – vi – IV (e.g., C – Em – Am – F)
- I – bIII – IV – bIII (e.g., C – Eb – F – Eb)
Minor Key Chord Progressions:
- i – VI – III – VII (e.g., Am – D – C – G)
- i – VII – VI – V7 (e.g., Am – G – F – E7)
- i – iii – iv – v (e.g., Am – Cm – Dm – Em)
- i – IV7 – V7 – i (e.g., Am – F7 – E7 – Am)
- i – VI7 – IV7 – V7 (e.g., Am – F7 – D7 – E7)
- i – V – ii° – V7 (e.g., Am – E – B° – E7)
Every chord has its place, and every chord will fit in a progression with other chords, so long as the chords are complementary to one another. The best way to find complimentary chords is to use chords from the same key. These chords will always sound good together.
Using extended chords and interesting chord combinations is a great way to experiment with the sounds of chords to find something unique. Do not stop with the chord progressions mentioned here! Spend the time to explore and experiment with various chords until you find something that sounds pleasing to your own ear, and this will develop your musical skill overall.