Tip: Learning Root Movements in a Chord Progression

When you learn a chord progression, try doing so in a way that helps you understand and apply it effectively, and helps you understand better how music works. That way involves learning the root movements between the chords.

Take the simple chord progression C, Am, F, G7, and then back to C. You might know just enough about music theory and technique to turn those letters into chord shapes. But then someone comes along and says “Hey, let’s take that progression into G major.” And you say “Sure,” and then start sweating, pull out your favorite wireless device, and Google on “changing chord progressions from C to G major.”

Maybe this method will actually work, but lacks the satisfaction of knowing the root movement of the original progression and applying that same movement to G major. Knowing the root movement lets you make statements like this: “That first progression starts on the root C, goes down a minor third to Am, and down again from there a major third to F, and up a major second to G7.” Sounds kind of mechanical, but mechanical can be useful.

Convert that long sentence into this stream: Start at root (C), go down a m3, down M3, up M2. Alternatively, convert these movements into fret numbers: start at C, go left (on your fretboard) 3 frets, left 4 frets, up 2 frets. If you know a couple of basic bar chords, you can use this series of numbers to play in any key. You don’t have to start on C; you can take the progression into any key.

Next time, we may look at how to translate chord names into fret numbers, to help you immediately see a chord progression’s root movement.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright © 2010 Darrin Koltow

This first appeared in the Guitar Noise News – August 17, 2008 newsletter. Reprinted with permission.