Play It Loud

“I don’t believe that knowing how this works will make me a better player,”

Said one Facebook group commenter who was perplexed by the discussion of “secondary dominants” and the breakdown of the key of A major. 

Guitar players like this one seem to want two things……

To improve their craft and practice until they’re the very best they can be……

And to also avoid doing any of the things that will improve your craft. 

A quote I reference a lot when I talk about this with other guitar players is from the artist Banksy:

“Everyone wants to be a great artist but no one wants to learn how to draw!” 

And having a fundamental understanding of chord progressions is one of the best ways to improve your craft.

Every song you come across will, in some way or another, use a chord progression. 

Are you confident that you know what scales to use and not use? 

Can you see which chords are in key or out of key? 

Do you know your fretboard enough to navigate all the changes? 

If you’re just learning tabs and have no desire to be creative, then this article is not for you. 

But if you want to have your own musical voice, and have a bit of fun at your next jam session instead of getting lost on the fretboard…..

Then hop in, grab your peanuts, and get eff in! 



I had a student lately who was just NOT interested in learning how the I-IV-V in a 12 bar blues works….

Like you maybe, he just wanted licks and no discussion of that “theory garbage”….

But, what if I told you…..

Once you learn how this works….you’ll know how to play over almost any blues progression!

Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, SRV, the 3 Kings, and many more will open up if you just understand two things when soloing over a blues progression…..

1) The I, IV, and V chords all can be played over with one scale…..

2) BUT the blues plays these chords as 7s, like C7 – F7 – G7 in the case of C major. So you must change that scale to accommodate the notes in these chords like Bb and Eb that don’t belong to C major. 


These two points are extremely important if you ever plan to jam in a blues setting. 

And knowing the theory ABSOLUTELY HELPS your creativity and your skill. 

It’s just 3 chords, the famous 3 chords many famous musicians say is all you need….

And you just need to figure out which scales can help you play those extra notes. 

Might I suggest my Blues course? 


And here’s a couple of great blues solos you can check out, and see if you can identify the I, IV, and V….

The 50s-60s Pop Progression

Go ahead and play this chord progression…..

E – C#m – A – B7 


You’ve heard it in all sorts of girl group songs, motown hits, and pop hits of this era of music. 

It even makes an appearance in a Tchaikovsky piece from the nutcracker. 

This progression is used everywhere, and thus it’s a good idea to get acquainted with it. 

Thankfully, it’s easier to play over than the blues: 

1) Find the key! Sometimes it’s the first chord, and sometimes it’s not…..That’s why knowing how keys work, and memorizing the chords in each key helps a lot. In the progression above, it’s in E major, and I took it from the Ronette’s “Be My Baby”

2) Locate as many chord shapes of each harmony as possible. Learn to play the progression in as many positions as possible. So play it in open position, the 4th position, the 7th position, and 12th positions


When you’re soloing over progressions like this, you’ll have to express the sound of the chords and thus the melody. If you just noodle an E major scale, you’ll hit a lot of the notes, but you may not be accenting each chord. 

This is what it means when people tell you to “serve the song!” I had a guy tell me that after I posted an improv solo, and it’s just a lazy way of saying “play chord tones, know your fretboard, learn some more chord shapes.”

Once you can see the chords as you’re improvising, then you’re on your way to better solos. 

Check out how the great Molly Miller is improvising a chord melody with “Be My Baby” 


A few weeks ago, I tried to improvise over the Merle Haggard classic “Working Man Blues” and bombed spectacularly! 

Maybe I was tired, and maybe I just didn’t do my prep. But the real truth is that Country music is tough! 

Check out the backing track I tried playing over, and see how you do: 

Country music is all about bright major sounding chords that are mixed with sometimes harsh notes, the twaaaaaaaaaaaang. 

To do that….

1) Repeat process from the previous section, which you read, right? 

2) Find which pentatonic scales can work over each chord, and yes, more than one pentatonic scale can work over D major and E major…..(I have a course that tells you how to do that!) 

3) Use pedal steel bends, open notes, minor 3rds, minor 7ths, etc to mix in with the major chord tones and create that twang! 


I know I know. I’m oversimplifying this process, but I only got about 1500 words in each article before I lose your attention and you go back to Youtube and stare at Brent Mason tab vids….

So I hate to tease you, but there are many secrets I’m revealing here. I promise. 

You may just need my country course or my Play It Loud Method in order to absorb these secrets. 

Speaking of Brent Mason, here’s another great collection of tabs from Levi Clay….


The Minor i – VII – VI – VII

Bob Dylan/Jimi Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower: C#m – B – A – B 

Iron Maiden’s Fear Of The Dark: D – Bb – C – (Bb – C) 

Derek & The Dominoes Layla: D – (C – Bb) – C – D

Eminem Lose Yourself: D – Bb – C – D 


There’s LOTS of songs that use this progression because it’s one of the best ways to use the natural minor scale. 

A little tiny bit of theory…..

Major chord can be created from the 6th and 7th degrees of any natural minor scale. 

So in the case of D minor, you can play C major and Bb major, and stay in that key! 

D minor also has two common tones with F……A and C….and C major is the V chord to F major.

Sorry. I tried to make this as easy to digest as possible. BUT yet again I’ve revealed a huge secret about soloing in metal and any song that uses this progression. 

In fact, one of the greatest metal solos of all time uses this progression at a certain point….

So to play over this progression…..

You just need a natural minor scale that has all the chord tones for this progression. 

And you know how to do that right? 

Jazz ii – V – I

Finally, last but not least as they say, the good ole two five One progression. 

Many many jazz songs are just nothing but stacks of ii-Vs on top of each other. 

The key to soloing in jazz is mastering this chord change, and doing the following: 

1) Practice finding this chord change in jazz songs. Some very common ii-V changes are Dm – G7, Fm7 – Bb7, Em7 – A7, Gm7 – D7, and so on. 

2) If you struggle to find these, study the composition of keys again so you can understand how a ii chord and a V chord are made. 

3) Find some scales that can work over the ii chord and V chord that don’t require you to change the scale you’re using


The dorian mode, the minor pentatonic scale, the mixolydian mode, the harmonic minor scale, the diminished scales, and many many more are great for expressing the sound of ii-Vs. Many have different quirks that add something different to this chord change. 

Now hopefully you’re seeing a trend……

Many genres have become common identifiable sounds because they reuse the same chord progressions a whole whole lot…..



The reason I singled these chord progressions out is because these are the most common ones you’re going to find and hear. 

Everyone who wants to be a creative lead guitarist or rhythm guitarist must start at these harmonies. Knowing them inside out allows you to “break the rules” later on, again to refer the cliche about learning the rules then breaking them. 

But also……

These sounds are one of the best places to apply your theory knowledge, or to test how much you know. 

Your ear may know these sounds…..but your fingers will reveal how good you are at creating these sounds when the moment of truth arrives. 

How did you do throughout this article? 

Do you feel more confident about your knowledge of the fretboard? 

Or do you need some more work? 

If you want to dive deeper into the fretboard, and expand your guitar playing abilities….

Then I recommend my following courses…..