Guitar/Expand your repertoire

Expand your repertoire


You may not believe it at this stage, but with just the four chords G - Em - C - D you now have hundreds of songs open to you, so you can slowly start to build up a repertoire of songs for every occasion.

It is therefore worth opening your songbook and looking for songs that you may already be able to play.

Here are a few tips for learning new songs:

  • Many libraries have songbooks that focus only on chord playing (and often copiers are available at low cost).
  • Ask your friends and acquaintances, there are bound to be many guitar players among them.
  • Use the Internet, a search for any song title + "chords" will give you many results.
  • Browse music stores. There are now a lot of very good books, so there should be something for every taste. Books are often easier to handle than a loose collection of notes. You can also find many new pieces that you would not have thought of on your own. And the layout of the books is far superior to online printouts. And when you take into account the time and printing costs, a songbook is hardly more expensive than copying everything from the Internet. In addition, the quality of the arrangements is in most cases better than the Internet sources.

Prefer music books


Even if there are excellent song collections with lyrics and chords only, as a beginner it is advisable to also buy songbooks with sheet music. Even if you can't read music "yet", the bar lines help you to recognize how long a beat pattern has to be sustained and when you have to change the chord. And even those who can't read music at all are able to look from bar line to bar line. Each bar line corresponds to a full beat pattern (in some songs even two beat patterns if one beat pattern would be far too slow).


The bar lines also make it much easier to find stumbling blocks, such as a quick chord changes or long pauses.


Even a tentative guessing of notes, where you only recognize that the higher the notes are in the staves, the higher a melody must be, helps to get an orientation for the course of the melody. Often, even quite limited note-reading skills are enough to at least find the starting notes of songs or, in more difficult passages, a clue as to how to continue.

So it really makes sense to take a closer look at sheet music at the next opportunity.

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Orientation to accidentals


A common feature of major and minor parallels is that the corresponding scales have the same accidentals. The "sharps" or "flats" in the staff tell you what kind of scale it is.

  • If a song has a sharp at the beginning of the staff, then it is either G major or the parallel E minor.
  • If there are two sharps, then it is either the key of D major or the parallel of B minor.
  • If it has no sharps at all, then it is either the key of C major or the parallel A minor. The key of C major is soon conquered in the Folk Diploma.

Limit chords


A scale with two sharps is either D major or the minor parallel B minor. This means that you usually know which chords to expect in a piece of music (G, D, A, Em, Hm, F#m and occasionally F#). Chords other than these 7 occur much less frequently with two crosses. This is a method of searching songbooks with sheet music for suitable songs. First of all, just look for the songs with one or two sharps and see if you can play all the chords. Because it is not uncommon for the chords Hm and F#m not to be used in the song at all. If a Hm (Bm in English songs) does occur, just try to see if you can bypass it with a D major. This doesn't always work, but often enough to make it worth a try.


In the key of G major or the minor parallel E minor there is only a cross. In the songs you expect the chords (C G D Am Em Hm and occasionally B7). So here you only need to check whether there is no Hm or B7. If there is a Hm, try replacing it with D major again.

So first look in your songbook for songs that contain a sharp or two sharps.

Of course, there are also some exceptions to the possible chords that are most frequently found in a key. This overview only shows what is most commonly found in the standard songbooks. There may also be a few songs in other keys that you can already play, but you will probably find most of them in those with one or two sharps. You'll be amazed at how many songs are already within playable range.

Listening to songs in the original


Many songs are not played exactly according to the original. They are simplified or transposed to a key that is easier to sing and play. Nevertheless, it is much easier to learn rests and rhythm by simply listening.

Simplifying songs

  • Especially at the beginning, it is advisable to only play songs with simple chord progressions. You can try to simplify a few things.
  • Very often you can avoid some fast fingering changes by simply leaving out one of the two chords. Which one to leave out is determined by trial and error. It doesn't always work, but often enough to give it a try.
  • Many of the digits in chords can usually be omitted without any problems. It may be that the version with the numbers sounds much better, but the simplified version is often sufficient for home use. As soon as you have climbed a few "diplomas", you will be able to master the chords with numbers or the faster fingering changes without any problems. But until then, you can simply play a D major instead of a D7 or a D4 or a D6.
  • When the barré chord Hm (or Bm) appears, you can try to replace it with its major parallel D major (substitution). It doesn't always work, but often enough.
  • You could also try to replace an A minor with a C major, but to be honest it is rarely worth the effort. Your own taste or ear plays the bigger role here.

Pay attention to repetitions


In many songs, the same fingering changes occur over a long period of time. Such typical chord changes have already appeared in the song examples.

If the following chord sequence appears in the song Leaving On A Jet Plane (John Denver)


This makes the whole piece much easier to learn if you observe that G and C usually alternate.

G C - G C - G C - D - G C - G C - G C - D

If you then observe that D major often appears at the end of a movement and is sustained for longer. And if you also know that songs are often divided into groups of 4 or 8, then the song can be divided into manageable sections.

G C - G C - G C - D D
G C - G C - G C - D D

Despite all the regularities, pay attention to the exceptions


In the song Stay (just a little bit longer) the following chord sequence with quick chord changes is used almost exclusively.

( G Em ) - ( C D )

You have to pay even closer attention to the final turns of the song so that you don't just carry on playing the chord sequence as it is. It doesn't hurt to practice the exceptions a few times in isolation until they are as automatic as the regular chord sequence.

In the song Stay there are only the two chords C and D, each of which is held for one bar.

C - D

By the way, the song Stay is an excellent interlude for a medley of songs in G major.

Pay attention to standard chord progressions


It is not so easy to say exactly what a standard chord progression is. It is enough if certain chord progressions occur frequently.

  • For example, the "final turn" G-D(7)-G often appears at the end of a song.
  • Of course, the "Doo Wob" G-Em-C-D is also a typical standard chord progression.
  • G-D-Em-C also occurs very frequently in pop songs.
  • The so-called "church ending" G-C-G is also often found after a verse or chorus, i.e. in a break.

The advantage of such "standards" is that certain chord sequences are seen and played as a unit. You no longer move from chord to chord, but always play 3 to 4 chords as a unit. Such repetitions can be recognized after a while simply by listening. They are small modules that you can put together like building blocks when playing. After some practice, songs are divided into familiar chord sequences and exceptions. The more practice you get at paying attention to standard chord progressions, the easier it is to pay attention to chord progressions that don't (yet) fit into a familiar pattern.


Father & Son is very easy to accompany with two standard chord progressions:

It's not [G]time to make a [D]change, just re-[Em]lax and take it [C]easy
You're still [G]young that's your [Em]fault, there's so [C]much you have to [D]know

The first line G-D-Em-C is also known as the "pop formula" because there are hundreds of pop songs that are structured according to this pattern. Anything that is used frequently becomes a standard chord sequence and is often given a nickname.

The "doo-wop" G-Em-C-D has been a popular chord progression since the late 50s and is appropriately called "50s Progression" or "Ice Cream Changes". The latter is derived from the ice cream cafes where there was often a "jukebox". Oh yes, a "jukebox" is a rather large record player from a time when there were no MP3 players. Be that as it may, there are many songs for both chord progressions that consist almost exclusively of this chord progression.

In the chorus of "Country Roads", the first chord sequence of "Father & Son" is rediscovered:

Country [G]roads, take me [D]home, To the [Em]place, I be-[C]long
West vir-[G]ginia, mountain [D]momma Take me [C]home, country [G]roads

The "closing formula" G-D-G is slightly delayed in the second line by the inserted C, so that it almost sounds like the "church ending" G-C-G.

One and the same chord sequence, first with the pop formula, then with the delayed final formula, also fits in "Let It Be"

When I [G]find myself in [D]times of trouble [Em]Mother Mary [C]comes to me,
[G]speaking words of [D]wisdom, Let It [C]Be [G].

Incidentally, it may well be that other chords are also suitable for individual songs. If you have the choice, it is worth using standard chord progressions (clichés), at least at the beginning. These are much easier to memorize. Learn first what is simple and what occurs frequently, the easier you will progress. Even in songs with more complicated chord progressions, you will often rediscover a few old acquaintances. As soon as you have found one or two standard cadences, the whole chordal accompaniment of the song becomes easier. You can derive some of them from the simple major cadence or minor cadence, you will get to know other clichés later. Ultimately, there are only a few chord progressions left that you have to learn completely new and specifically for one song.

Pay attention to melody and lyrics


Sometimes the chord progression itself does not provide any significant help. But often an exception always occurs with a certain word (especially in choruses). In the song He's got the whole world, for example, the change was almost always made at the word "whole".

Sometimes the altered melody line also helps you to pay attention to exceptions. For example, the song When You Say Nothing At All (Ronan Keating) is mainly accompanied by this chord sequence:

( G D ) - ( C D )

The plucking pattern of the original can be replaced by the campfire strumming pattern with a quick chord change.

Only with the song line '"[C] Try as I may I can [D] never explain "' you leave the quick chord change.

And also with the chorus "[C] catch me wherever I [D] fall[(C] rest [D)] rest [C]You say it best[D]when..."

the quick chord change is briefly interrupted until it continues at the same pace.

If you pay attention, you will notice that the melodic line changes slightly during these passages (the melody becomes a little "softer" "more flowing", which fits in with the subdominant C major...). But even if you don't notice it straight away, every time you stumble across this passage you tell yourself that the melody must have changed until you hear it (if it hadn't, then no other chords would actually be necessary).

This is not about the finer points of harmony theory, but rather a fairly rough way of memorizing the chord progression. If you are wrong with your guess, at least you have mastered the chord progression. If your own ear or the harmony theory suggests a suspicion, you can believe it without looking at it. At this point in time, you may only know Tonic-subdominant-dominant and one or two standard chord progressions (G-Em-C-D, G-D-Em-C). You'll learn more later. Perhaps further experience will teach you better later. But you can live quite well with the small misinterpretations. The sense of achievement comes when you hit the mark more and more often with your guesses. If your own assumptions then coincide with what is taught in harmony theory, then you are not far away from being able to accompany songs correctly by ear (and by experience).



If all else fails, my ear, the words and nothing else helps me to remember certain chord sequences, I don't hesitate to use a highlighter or similar aids. The remark: "Attention, here comes the quick fingering change (D-G)" becomes "Attention, yellow", which can lead to amazing learning success. This also includes putting a quick chord change in brackets.

Pay attention to pauses


What has already been mentioned in the last example: pay attention to pauses. These are also part of the piece and must not be shortened under any circumstances. Otherwise you often ruin a beautiful four-part division of the bar. When practicing the song, you can say the "pause" out loud (as shown above). When you then perform it, you will automatically get it right.

You should also always include an extra bar for the rests and the end of the song, even though you may have forgotten to write down the final chord. In the vast majority of cases, you end with the chord in the same key as the whole song.

Once again, what was said at the beginning helps: use the sheet music as a guide and listen to the original.



So look at every new song:

  • Do I know the key (chords)?
  • Can I replace unknown chords with simpler ones?
  • Are there any repetitions?
  • Is the song structured in any way?
  • Can I find standard chord progressions in the piece?
  • Can I memorize the special features of the lyrics or melody more easily?
  • Do I have to mark certain passages separately or learn them in isolation?

The many individual chords and verses in a song become a few blocks that are easier to remember in context.

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