In this article I’ll answer the question of which chords sound good together in a few “guitar-friendly keys.” I grouped them in bunches of three or four chords. I also give you popular chord progressions that these chords can be used to play with.
Before you tackle these groups of chords and start strumming, keep in mind that it’s important to learn the proper ways to switch between chords. This course I found on Truefire is great in teaching just that.
It’s a beginner’s course and the teacher, Jeff, walks you through all of the important topics a beginner needs to know, such as proper finger placement, switching chords, and more. For full disclosure it is an affiliate link.
Here’s the best groups I think you should know how to play. Enjoy!
Group 1 – G, C, D, and Em – (Key of G Major, All Open Chords)
The good ole’ G, C, and D, combo with the Em sometimes thrown in. The G, C, and D combination is the first group of chords I learned to play as a total beginner. This is the 1, 4, 5, and 6 chords in the key of G Major. You can’t really go wrong when playing these chords together, no matter what order you play them in. There’s literally hundreds, if not thousands of popular songs that are played in the key of G Major, and use these chords.
Common Progressions With The G, C, D, and Em Group
- G-C (1-4 / I-IV progression)
- G-C-D (1-4-5 / I-IV-V progression)
- G-D-C (1-5-4 /I-V-IV progression)
- G-D-Am-C (1-5-6-4 / I-V-vi-IV progression)
Group 2 – The C, F, G, and Am Group – (Key of C Major)
This is another one of the most popular groups of chords, with thousands of songs using them. This group throws a barre chord into the mix with the F, but there are variations on the F, that allows you to not bar the entire first fret.
I’m currently playing in a worship band at my church, and I would have to say that at least 50% or more of the songs we play, consist of these chords. It’s the 1, 4, 5, and 6 chords in the key of C Major, a very popular key for guitar. Shuffle them up, and play them in any order…they’re still going to sound good together!
Common Progressions With The C, F, G, and Am Group
- C-F (1-4 / I-IV progression)
- C-F-G (1-4-5 / I-IV-V progression)
- C-G-F (1-5-4 / I-V-IV progression)
- C-G-Am-F (1-5-6-4 / I-V-vi-IV progression)
Group 3 – The D, G, A, and Bm Group (Key of D Major)
Like the top two chord groups above this one, here are the 1, 4, 5, and 6 chords in the key of D Major. Have you noticed that the 1, 4, 5, and 6 chords are popular? Once again, this is a very popular chord progression, although not quite as popular as the two above. But the key of D Major is a popular key, that can be used to take advantage of open chords, although the Bm is a barre chord on the 2nd fret.
Common Progressions With The D, G, A, and Bm Group
- D-G (1-4 / I-IV progression)
- D-G-A (1-4-5 / I-IV-V progression)
- D-A-G (1-5-4 / I-V-IV progression)
- D-A-Bm-G (1-5-6-4 / I-V-vi-IV progression)
Group 4 – The Am, G, F Group (Key of A Minor)
This is the first group in a minor key I have introduced in this article. It’s in the key of A Minor (relative minor to C Major).
It’s an incredibly popular chord progression in rock music. It’s used in Stairway to Heaven during the solo, and too many other songs to name. It typically goes like this…Am-G-F-G-Am, and repeats. It’s a great progression to solo over, using a minor pentatonic or natural minor scale.
Common Progressions With The Am, G, F Group
- Am-G-F (1-7-6 / i-VII-VI progression)
- Am-F-G (1-6-7 / i-VI-VII progression)
- C-G-Am (I used a C here instead of an F, but this is still a great progression, as used in the song Simple Man, by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Group 5 – The A7, D9, E9 Group (The Blues In The Key of A)
This may be a bit new to you if you haven’t studied the blues yet, but these are typical chords played in a 12-bar blues progression. These chords represent a blues progression in the key of A. The chord progression is 12 measures (bars) long, and goes like this.
|Chord||A7||A7 or D9||A7||A7||D9||D9||A7||A7||E9||D9||A7||A7/E9|
One whole trip through these measures is often called a “chorus” and is played over and over again in blues music. One think to keep in mind about the blues is that they make heavy use of dominant chords.
The chords I gave you here sound great together, but they could be substituted for other dominant chords as well. For instance, the D9 and E9, could also be played as D7 and E7. Or the A7 could be played as an A9, A13, etc. Often times the E9 is played with a sharp 9th or the E7#9. This is sometimes referred to as the “Hendrix chord,” since Jimi Hendrix liked to use it.
Here’s something else that’s cool. These chords don’t rely on open chord shapes, so you can move these chords all over the neck. As soon as you get used to playing these 3 chords together, take that group and play them all down 2 frets in the key of G. Or take them up four frets to the key of C#. It’s the blues, so have some fun!
To learn more about blues, check out my article on blues guitar chords where I explain all of this in much greater detail.
Group 6 – The 2-5-1 Chord Progression In C Major
The 2-5-1 chord progression is used heavily in jazz. This one may be a bit more advanced than what you’re looking for, but I wanted to throw it in anyway, because I love the way these chords sound and hope you will too. You’ll instantly notice the mellow sound they make. I love jazz. In fact, I used to run an entirely different website about jazz guitar. I find it to be a fascinating form of music. It’s complex in a way that no other type of music is. It uses scales and chords that aren’t typically used in rock or pop music.
If you are a total beginner, you may find these chords a little challenging. Don’t let it discourage you. It took me a while before I could play these chords with ease. The G13 is a little tricky at first. Since this group doesn’t utilize any open chords, you can also use them anywhere on the neck, just like the blues chords I showed above.
One Last Tip
I started with the most simple group of chords I can think of (the G, C, D and Em), and ended with a relatively more complex set of chords (the 2-5-1 progression).
On the groups that take advantage of all open chords (groups 1 & 2 in this article) you can use a capo to transpose the key of the song, and play those same chord shapes higher up the neck. Many singer-songwriters do this. Don’t be shamed to use a capo. Many famous musicians use them, and it makes sense if it helps you play/sing better.
Go have fun learning these chords, and getting used to playing them together!