Published on January 14th, 2013 | by Sam0
Country Chord Progressions – Part 2
This is Part 2 of 2. Read Part 1 here.
Country chord progressions have a lot of similarities between songs. So far, in part one, we’ve looked at how to ‘name’ the progressions using the Nashville Number System. That info will be immensely helpful for looking for similarities between songs.
I’ve always found it much easier to learn tunes when there are ‘hooks’ that I can grab onto. A hook is a part of a song or a chord progression that you already know (note: I’m not talking about melodic hooks or pop song hooks).
Most experienced guitarists know the blues form, for example. If I’m working on a tune that has part of the blues in it, or that’s based exclusively on the blues, I can memorize it much more easily because I can grab on the blues ‘hook.’
Not only can you learn a song easily, but you have things you can do over that part of the song. You might have certain licks or ideas that work really well when going from IV to V. If you know a major II chord (we’ll get to that below) is coming up, you’re much better prepared to deal with it than if you’ve never played a progression with a major II. This is how some musicians can step in and play the hell out of a song they’ve never heard – they might not know that tune, but they’ve played those chord progressions a number of times. My eBook Blues Language is all about using the hooks in the blues progression and knowing how to solo over them using the language of the blues masters.
The more hooks you know the better you’ll know the music and the better you’ll be able to deal with learning new songs.
Country Chord Progressions
Ok, so finally let’s talk about the actual country chord progressions! I’m talking mostly about classic country here, think Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, Wynn Stewart, etc. The principles will still apply to newer country, and that music does have a lot of what follows in it, but I’m not as well versed in the newer country music.
Here are some hooks that I’ve found in country music. Most center around using the 1, 4, and 5 chords in different configurations. These could be an entire song, or just a verse, bridge, or chorus. One of the beauties of country music is that the writers can be really creative with a pretty limited amount of material.
You’ll find this one all over the place. In my quick research I pulled it from “Falling for You” by Buck Owens and “Lord Loves a Drinking Man” by Kevin Fowler (played by Mark Chesnutt). You could easily find it a number of times in a Hank Williams compilation or Merle Haggard comp.
A short variation of the first hook is from “Hey Good Lookin’” by Hank Williams
“Hey Good Lookin’” has a bridge that uses a very common progression:
Notice that the 2 chord is major. This is called the ‘secondary dominant’ in classical and jazz theory. Basically you are playing a dominant chord (the V chord of) the V chord. If you’re in the key of G, the D chord is the V. The V of D is A, so the V of V (another way of saying secondary dominant) is A. A is also the second note of the scale, so you could also call it the major 2 chord. So… major 2 and the secondary dominant chords are the same thing.
This chord progression is found throughout country music. I took it from “Cold Cold Heart” by Hank Williams when writing this article. It’s also the verse for “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett.
This one is from Merle Haggard’s classic “Mama Tried.”
This progression is a great bridge selection pulled from “You Can’t Do Me That Way” by Mark Chesnutt. A variation on this would be to replace the 7th chord with a 2.
This article is just the beginning. With the way that country chord progressions work, you can find a handful of these hooks to learn. Then as you listen to more recordings you’ll find that they are being repeated constantly. Again, this isn’t to say the music isn’t good. It’s great music! It just uses a lot of material over and over again, which makes the musicians’ job to find new and creative ways to get around these common chord progressions.