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 under the epithet singer-songwriter we find well-known names such as 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 connects to this music genre.

Chords to know

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


  • C chord diagram


  • C/B chord diagram


  • Csus2 chord diagram


  • D chord diagram


  • D/F# 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 guitar

The keys of C, D and G are all well suited for composing songs on the guitar for singer-songwriters. All these keys have many choices for open chords that sounds great and right 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

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 alternative chords. 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 merely suggestions in the purpose of helping you getting 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.

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 – Gsus2 – G – 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.

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 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".

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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 sush 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.

A tip concerning an all-in-one record system below $100 in price is Blue Snowball Studio (#CommissionsEarned), a product that includes a USB microphone from Blue and PreSonus Studio One Artist software.

See also the guide to songwriting.