How to Apply Guitar Chord Progressions to Songs

When writing songs, having an in-depth knowledge of chord progressions is essential for selecting chords to support your melody. Understanding chord progressions allows you to select the ideal ones.

Utilizing the same chords throughout a song’s entire duration can create an overall sense of continuity and form, and can help with writing catchy choruses.

Major Triads

Triads are made up of three notes from any scale that are played together as one unit. Any note can serve as the root note; major-scale do, re and sol (1, 4 and 5) triads; mi, fa and la (2, 3 and 6) triads are minor while those constructed around ti (7, 5, 3) are diminished.

A diminished triad is similar to a minor triad, but with its fifth tone lowered by half step. This creates an unstable transitional sound which adds suspense and drama to music pieces.

As part of your practice to learn triad shapes, it is crucial to try them in various positions on the fretboard both as block chords and arpeggios. This will enable you to develop both an ability to recognize them by ear as well as technical knowledge. Once you have these under your belt it is time to explore some chord patterns!

Minor Triads

Triads form the backbone of most styles of music. Therefore, it is crucial that you learn them well and comprehend their purpose within songs. Acquiring all four qualities (major, minor, diminished and augmented) of a triad will enable you to master bass lines within songs!

Minor triads can be more challenging to play than their major equivalents, since they consist of two minor thirds stacked upon each other and so you need to pay closer attention when placing your fingers when playing them.

To identify a minor triad on the staff, draw its root (chord name), then add notes a third and fifth above it (drawing a snowperson). Keep in mind the key signature and any accidentals for scale-based triads; double spacing does not affect identification due to their octave equivalence principle.


Addition of a seventh to suspended chords can create an effective sense of tension. Most often this seventh will be minor (C7sus4 or C9sus4) but for jazz or modal music purposes major sevenths (7sus2 or F9sus4) may also be used.

Dropping one third from a major triad creates the Sus4 chord – also known as minor sus4. Its open feel and mournful sound make for an inviting musical statement. But unlike its sus2 cousin, Sus4 chords don’t pull as strongly toward its parent chord and therefore may be less stable overall.

An example of such progression would be Pinball Wizard by James Taylor or Message in a Bottle by The Police; both songs feature dominant V chord progressions that end in I chord resolution.

Open Chords

Open chords are typically the first chords that aspiring guitarists learn. These simple to play chords serve as the building blocks for more advanced chord types that will follow later.

These chords are known as open because there are no fingers pressing down on any fretted strings, allowing their sound to resound freely, creating an expansive and bright sounding chord.

Fingering the open chords requires careful practice. New guitarists may find some difficult, and should give themselves extra time before becoming comfortable with playing them.

A great example of this can be seen with the B major chord, where its full version requires all four fingers; however, there is also a gateway version that utilizes similar shapes but doesn’t necessitate all four.