Singer-songwriter chords

singer-songwriter guitarIn this article, you will learn about the singer-songwriter genre in terms of chords and chord progression primarily.

How to define the singer-songwriter genre

A singer-songwriter is defined by many as a male or female artist that performs their own songs, often with a sparse arrangement. The guitar is the most common instrument and among the well-known names we find under the epithet singer-songwriter are Bob Dylan, Neil Young, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Ryan Adams.

These are just a few names and the definition of singer-songwriter could also be made more in depth. The focus here, however, will lay on how to adapt to guitar playing in a way that gives resemblance to this music genre.

Chords to know

These suggestions about the first chords you need are partly common major and minor chords plus some slash chords. See suggestions of progressions below.


  • C chord diagram


  • C/B chord diagram


  • D chord diagram


  • D/F# chord diagram


  • F chord diagram


  • G chord diagram


  • G/B chord diagram


  • Em chord diagram


  • Am chord diagram


  • Am/G chord diagram


  • Dm chord diagram


  • Bm chord diagram

The most frequent keys for composing on guitar

The keys of C, D and G are four chords well suited for compose song on the guitar for singer-songwriters. These keys have all many choices for open chords that sounds well for the genre. The table below show which chords in particular to use for these keys:

Key I ii iii IV V vi
C C Dm Em F G Am
D D Em F#m G A Bm
G G Am Bm C D Em

So for example if you want to write a song in the key of G, you could combine G, Am, Bm, C, D and Em in endless ways. These six chords can function as a starting point. You can deviate a bit by experiment with substitutions. For example Am could be Am/G, Bm could be Bm7, C could be Cadd, D could be D/F# and Em could be Em9.

Common chord progressions

The progressions in the singer-songwriter genre are not "standardized" as in blues. The following progressions are therefore to consider as suggestions to getting a feel of the style and perhaps ideas for your own songwriting.

Try both strumming and finger picking techniques or a mix between them to reach the best expression for different progressions.

Am – Am/G – F – C – Csus – G – Am

C – G/B – F/A – C/E – F – C/G – G – C

The above progressions could serve as intro or verse in a song.

C – G/B – Am – F

Use finger picking for this one.

G – D/F# – Em

This sequence is used both in Eric Clapton's "Tears In Heaven" and Eric Frampton's "Baby I Love Your Way".

The singer-songwriter genre has, as implied earlier, no fixed rules regarding progressions. In some songs there are few chords and changes and instead lays the focus on the singers' expressions. Like in Kris Kristofferson’s "Help Me Make It Throught The Night" or Bob Dylan’s "Girl From the North Country".

Here you could find more tips of chord progressions. Beside the choice of chords and progressions you could also create interest by, for example:

1. Play the bass notes first and when the rest of the chord.
2. "Walk into" the chord through bass notes.
3. Use embellishments including sus chords and add chords.
4. Use dynamics (shift between playing calmer or louder).
5. Another thing you could try is open tunings.

Easy ways to record yourself

guy playing guitar and singSo you have written a song, composed for guitar, and you want to record it. How do you do that? You could rent a studio for some hundred bucks per hour, but you are probably looking for cheaper ways.

A tip concerning an all-in-one record system below $99 is Blue Snowball Studio, a product that include a USB microphone from Blue and PreSonus Studio One Artist software.

See also the guide to songwriting.