A great way to explore chords and at the same time learn to use them is to learn them together in usable guitar progressions like II-V-I. Let’s concentrate on the key of C!

What is a II-V-I progression?

Is is a chord progression with three chords built on the roots of the second, fifth and first note of a key.

The three roman numerals correspond to the digits 2, 5 and 1. In it’s most basic form the numbers indicate the root of a triad. For example, the roman number I in C-major means a triad built from the note C. This triad consists of the notes C, E and G.

The Roman numeral II in the key of C-major indicates that you are to play a triad built from the notes in the C-major scale beginning with the second note. The notes will be D, F and A.

The Roman numeral V indicates a triad built from the fifth step on the C-scale. The fifth note in the C-scale is G so the triad will include the notes G, B and D.

Our first guitar chords will be the most commonly used II-V-I chords in the key of C. The first chord is of course Dm. This is the way it is normally played:

Dm: 0/4 2/3 3/2 1/1

What does this notation mean?

This is a type of guitar tablature notation with numbers showing what fret to press down and on which string. 2/3 for example means, press down the second fret on string three.

The V chord G7 we will play this way:

G7: 3/6 2/5 0/4 0/3 0/2 1/1

The remaining chord in this progression is C-major. It is played this way:

C: 3/5 2/4 3/0 1/2 0/1

If we write this progression with ordinary chord notation it will look like this:

Dm / / / G7 / / / C / / /

I will now take this lesson up one level. We will only use four strings at a time. I suggest that you use your right hand fingers as you pluck the strings.

I also recommend that you play the lowest string in a chord with your thumb and the other notes with your index, middle finger and ring finger. Remember, it is only a suggestion!

We will now spice the guitar chords in the previous progression by first changing Dm to Dm7:

Dm7: 0/4 2/3 1/2 1/1

The G7 chord we will change to G9:

G9: 3/6 2/3 0/2 1/1

Finally we will change the C-major chord to Cmaj7:

Cmaj7: 3/5 0/3 0/2 0/1

The resulting guitar chord progression looks like this:

Dm7 / / / G9 / / / C / / /

As you can see as you play the notes on your guitar the minor changes on the first three strings results in a smooth transition between the chords.

This is one way to make the chords in guitar progressions work well together.