Singer-songwriter chords

Singer-songwriter guitarLearn about the singer-songwriter genre in terms of chords and chord progression. The focus will lay on how to adapt to guitar playing in a way that connects to this music style.

How to define the singer-songwriter genre? A singer-songwriter is defined by many as an artist that performs their own songs, often with a sparse arrangement and the guitar as the most common instrument. Under the epithet singer-songwriter we find well-known names such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Ryan Adams.

Chords to know

Suggestions about the first major and minor chords you need including a few sus, add and slash chords:


  • C chord diagram X32010


  • C/B chord diagram


  • Csus2 chord diagram


  • D chord diagram


  • D/F# chord diagram


  • D/B chord diagram


  • F chord diagram


  • G chord diagram


  • G/B chord diagram


  • Gmaj7/E chord diagram


  • Am chord diagram


  • Am/G chord diagram


  • Bmadd4 chord diagram


  • Dm chord diagram


  • Em chord diagram


  • Em9 chord diagram

The most frequent keys for composing on the guitar

The keys of C, D and G are all well suited for composing songs on the guitar. These keys have many choices for open chords that sound great and right for the singer-songwriter genre. The table below shows which chords to use in particular 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

If you want to write a song in the key of G, for instance, you could combine G, Am, Bm, C, D and Em in endless ways. These six chords could function as a starting point. You can deviate a bit by experiment with extended and alternative chord types. For example, Am could be Am/G, Bm could be Bmadd4, C could be Csus2, D could be D/F# and Em could be Em9.

Chord progressions

The progressions in the singer-songwriter genre are not "standardized" as in blues. The following progressions are merely suggestions for the purpose of help you to get a feel for 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.

G – Em9 – Bmadd4 – Csus – D/B – G

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.

G – Gmaj7/E – Csus2 – D

Notice that the fourth string (D-string) is played open throughout the progression. By using the G shape 320022 the D note is even more noticeable.

A descending bass line is involved in the next one:

C – G/B – Am – F

Use finger picking for this one:

G – D/F# – Em

This last 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 chord changes and the attention lays on the singers' expressions. As in Kris Kristofferson’s "Help Me Make It Throught The Night" or Bob Dylan’s "Girl From the North Country".

For more progressions, see for example Chord progressions in various keys.

Beside the choice of chords and progressions you could also create interest by some of the following methods:

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 and louder).
5. Another thing you could try is open tunings such as DADGAD and CGDGCD.

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.

What you need is a microphone (an USB microphone is an easy alternative) and a recording software (a so-called DAW software). You may also need a external sound card (but it might not be nessecary if you use an USB microphone).

See also the guide to songwriting.