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Guitar lesson: Learn the three-chord trick that's behind thousands of songs

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Guitar skills: You’ve probably heard jokes about acts such as Status Quo or Chuck Berry writing songs with three chords. Well, it’s no joke – and they’re not the only ones taking the easy road: this staple jam session progression is heard throughout rock, blues, folk, and more.

Get the chords down and you’ll have thousands of songs to try. Known as a I-IV-V (one-four-five’) progression, or ‘three-chord trick’, the chords are built on the first, fourth and fifth notes of the major scale. Learn the scales to find out the chords.

One-four-five progression in C C D E F G A B C

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There are seven notes in the key of C major (or eight, if you count C twice). It’s easy to see that the chords of a one-four-five progression in C must be C, F and G.


One-four-five progression in G G A B C D E F# G

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This should be easy, by now. Obviously a I-IV-V in G major uses G, C and D chords. It’s really easy to play because you can use open chords.


One-four-five progression in E E F# G# A B C# D# E

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E major is hard scale to remember, thanks to the sharp (#) notes. Still, it’s one of the more common scales for guitarists so try to remember the E-A-B progression.


One-four-five progression in F G A B♭ C D E F

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These chords are tough, but useful. Tough because you have to play barre chords. Useful because you can move the shapes anywhere on the neck to a different pitch.

Audio: A classic I-IV-V progression in a basic blues style 

Five classic songs that use the I-IV-V progression 

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1. Led Zeppelin – Rock And Roll A D E


2. Stevie Ray Vaughan - Pride And Joy E♭ A♭ B♭


3. Bob Marley - Three Little Birds A D E


4. George Ezra – Budapest F B♭ C


5. Chuck Berry – Johnny B Goode B♭ E♭ F


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