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 chords you need including common major and minor chords plus some slash chords. See examples of progressions below.

C

  • C chord diagram X32010

C/B

  • C/B chord diagram

Csus2

  • Csus2 chord diagram

D

  • D chord diagram

D/F#

  • D/F# chord diagram

D/B

  • D/B chord diagram

F

  • F chord diagram

G

  • G chord diagram

G/B

  • G/B chord diagram

Gmaj7/E

  • Gmaj7/E chord diagram

Am

  • Am chord diagram

Am/G

  • Am/G chord diagram

Bmadd4

  • Bmadd4 chord diagram

Dm

  • Dm chord diagram

Em

  • Em chord diagram

Em9

  • 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 for singer-songwriters. All these keys have many choices for open chords that sound 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.

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 (300033) – 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".

Alternating the bass note is a common approach and here's one example:

D - D/B - G - A

The singer-songwriter genre has, as implied earlier, no fixed rules regarding progressions. In some songs, there are few chords 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.

You need a microphone (an USB microphone is an easy alternative) and a recording software (a so-called DAW software).

See also the guide to songwriting.

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