The I-IV-V change
It really is true – all you need to play the blues is three chords!
The backing chords for a blues progression are easy to master.
For example, all you need to play a 12-bar blues in G are three chords G, C and D. That’s it.
In the key of G, the chord progression G, C and D is referred to as a I-IV-V progression.
In this G example above, we typically refer to
- the G as the I chord (“the one chord”)
- the C as the IV chord (“the four chord)
- the D as the V chord (“the five chord”)
Let’s explain why we call these chords/tonalities the one, four and five.
How the I-IV-V is calculated
The C Major scale played on the 5th string looks like this.
If I asked you what was the first, fourth and fifth note of this scale, then you would say “C, F and G”. Look at the chart above and count them for yourself!
Similarly, the first, fourth and fifth chords are C, F and G.
The I-IV-V chords in the key of C are C, F and G
The I-IV-V in every key
Here is a chart showing the I-IV-V change in all 12 possible keys.
With this, you can play in all keys and hopefully from the last chapter, you have an idea of why the I-IV-V change has these chord names and how it is constructed:
Easy I-IV-V changes
I want to highlight a few of the I-IV-V combinations that are the easiest to play on guitar because they can be played with open chords (so you don’t need barre chords to play them).
Open chords are great for the blues because:
- often the bass note of the chord is itself an open string which means it can ring nicely without needing to be fretted
- we can hammer-on and pull-off certain notes relatively easily.
- they are easy to play.
The key of E = E7-A7-B7
The key of A = A7-D7-E7
The key of G = G7-C7-D7
The key of D = G7-C7-D7
It really is true, you only need 3 chords to play the blues.
Remember to check the video in the header of this blog post – you can then see me play the chords you need to play blues in the key of E, A, D and G.
Now you know the chords. The next thing to learn is how many bars we play each chord for (we call this the blues structure or form and we learn that in the next lesson.
Please share this article with your followers using the buttons below
Get the Learn Fingerpicking Book
Register for the newsletter and I will send you this book (105 pages) and a free lesson once a month.
This is the ideal resource for complete beginners who wish to learn guitar.