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Chord Nerd Tip #5: The Mystery Chord Progression

Posted by Banjolio on Thursday, January 2, 2014

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For a few months now, I’ve been writing very nerdy, technical lessons about chords. This month, let’s do something a little more musical: we’ll play a great chord progression.

Many songs have the same chord progressions. Hundreds of country songs share the same progression. At least dozens of Bluegrass songs share the same progressions. As do rock, pop and blues songs. And in the jazz/swing world, there are approximately three million songs using a progression called rhythm changes (because it’s the progression from “I’ve Got Rhythm”).

Even though many songs share a progression, they sound different. They can be played with different rhythms, different speeds, different instruments, and for the most part they have different melodies.

So, when you hear someone simply strum a chord progression, you may recognize it as a song you know … and another song you know. And someone else listening may recognize it as other songs.

But I found a progression—it’s not fancy; it only has 3 major and 2 minor chords—that many people recognize correctly. Try playing it and see if you get it. Hint: it’s not Bluegrass, and you hear it a lot at weddings. Here it is:

Key of D. Open G tuning, 5th string tuned up to A (aGDBD). One 4/4 measure per chord.

D    A    Bm   F#m

G    D    G     A

Try playing it different ways … first one strum per measure, then try one note per beat alternating between hitting strings 4 3 2 1 and 1 2 3 4. Give it a bluegrass roll or a folk-picking pattern. Somehow it always sounds like the original piece.

I brought this progression to a banjo-only get-together (the Nevada County Banjo Summit), and we played it. One person started and played it through alone, then each time through, someone else joined in. Eventually we had about a dozen banjos playing at once.

Everyone played it differently—some picked, some strummed, some clawed. We played it for a long time and in this banjo player’s opinion, it was beautiful.

Just because I can't resist my chord nerdiness, here are useful chord shapes for playing it in 4 places:

D       A       Bm    F#m   G       D       G       A

4        2        4        4        0        4        5        7
3        2        3        2        0        3        3        5
2        2        4        2        0        2        4        6
0        2        4        4        0        4        5        7

 

D       A       Bm    F#m   G       D       G       A

7        7        9        7        9        7        9        11
7        5        7        7        8        7        8        10
7        6        7        6        7        7        7        9
7        7        9        7        9        7        9        11

 

D       A       Bm    F#m   G       D       G       A

12      11      12      11      12      12      12      14
10      10      12      10      12      10      12      14
11      9        11      11      12      11      12      14
12      11      12      11      12      12      12      14

 

D       A       Bm    F#m   G       D       G       A

16      14      16      16      17      16      17      19
15      14      15      14      15      15      15      17
14      14      16      14      16      14      16      18
16      14                                                     

End on a dramatic D chord.

I intentionally used 3-note chords way up the neck … much easier to finger.

If you don't have enough frets to play the last chord, play the A by barring the 14th fret.

I decided not to record it for this lesson, to let you play it your own way, but if I get requests, I may record it and put it up here.

Oh … and if you ever get a wedding gig because you learned this from me then send me a piece of wedding cake (or buy one of my books).


Michael Bremer is a writer, editor, publisher and banjo player. He is writing and publishing the Banjo GED series of instructional materials, and also writes and edits for Hal Leonard.

Banjo GED #1: Chords! Chords! Chords! teaches you everything you could ever want to know (and more) about playing chords on a 5-string banjo in G tuning.

www.banjoged.com

Banjo Aerobics (published by Hal Leonard) is a book of exercises to help you gain technique and better understand the banjo neck.

http://www.amazon.com/Banjo-Aerobics-Michael-Bremer/dp/1480305413/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1375981686&sr=8-1&keywords=banjo+aerobics

 



10 comments on “Chord Nerd Tip #5: The Mystery Chord Progression”

robroy103 Says:
Monday, January 13, 2014 @10:52:59 AM

Hi there, These chords are used by the composer Pachelbel in the year 1680 in his Canon in D. A pretty old chord progression but beautiful all the same.

Banjolio Says:
Monday, January 13, 2014 @11:08:33 AM

If there was a prize, you'd win for being the first to identify it.
Pull it out at a bluegrass jam and see what happens ...

Brandon Stears Says:
Monday, January 13, 2014 @11:57:17 AM

No Woman No Cry, Let it Be, With or without You, Laverne and Shirley Theme . . .

ClintiePoo Says:
Monday, January 13, 2014 @12:27:36 PM

Also, Hook by Blues Traveler... and many others: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:SP-...ogression

I've never played this on the banjo. I'm gonna have to try it!

Banjolio Says:
Monday, January 13, 2014 @1:52:07 PM

Heck, I taught a Twisted Sister song on Banjo Hangout ... is that legal?

youtube.com/watch?v=JdxkVQy7QLM

zevio Says:
Monday, January 13, 2014 @4:11:17 PM

thanks for posting - here are a few more from the Axis of Awesome very entertaining - youtube.com/watch?v=5pidokakU4I

PKM Says:
Monday, January 13, 2014 @4:30:09 PM

Michael, Thanks for this post. This is incredible. Our bass player bowed the chords on her stand up bass while the mandolin player and I noodled around the D scale with counter-rhythms and in a matter of moments we have a great sounding tune. As we massage it and practice it, we'll nail the Pachabel melody more accurately. A lot of fun. Thanks

douglasleeomaha Says:
Friday, January 17, 2014 @6:01:04 PM

Could you please explain, for a newbie, 'Key of D. Open G tuning, 5th string tuned up to A (aGDBD'?

Banjolio Says:
Saturday, January 18, 2014 @9:34:30 AM

Sure, Douglas,

The tune with the chords I gave is in the key of D.

The tuning I suggest is a common one for playing in D. Start with standard open G tuning (gDGBD) then raise the 5th string up two frets so it's an A, so you've got aDGBD. You can tune it up, hook it up of you have spikes on your neck, or use a 5th string capo if you have one. But somehow, raise the pitch of the 5th string up two frets to be an A note.
Why tune up the 5th string? Because in the key of D, the D chord is the center of the universe, and you play it a lot. So it's best to have a drone string (that 5th string that you hit over and over) be a note in the D chord. G isn't in the D chord. A is.

Other tunings work well, too, but the fingerings I gave are in this tuning.

Does that answer your question? If not, let me know and I'll be happy to try again.
Michael 'Banjolio' Bremer

douglasleeomaha Says:
Saturday, January 18, 2014 @3:09:01 PM

Okay, I do understand that now, thank you. And I've printed out a chord guide, so I know what these new-to -me chords are. Thanks again!

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