Major chords and their relative Minor chord are used in many songs. The combination of the two can be heard in many ballads, but also in pop and rock. Relative Minor progressions were very popular in the 50's and were also used extensively in the 60's. There are variations of the progression used today in popular music, but you will rarely find them in current Rock (punk, rap etc.). To briefly explain; A relative minor chord is one based on the 6th note in any Major scale and related to the Root of that scale because it contains the same notes, though, in a different order. Read the lesson SCALES for more details about Relative Minors.
Figure 16-1 is a table showing all Major chords with their Relative Minor, and Major 3rd, 4th, and 5th. If you're not familiar with the terms Relative Minor, 3rds, 4ths, and 5ths - refer to these lessons:
The basic Relative Minor progression goes like this: Root - Relative Minor -4th - 5th. For example, the relative Minor of C is Am, the 4th of C is F, and the 5th of C is G. So, in this case the progression would be C - Am - F - G. There are several chord timings commonly used for this progression. Some are listed below in Figure 16-2. The numbers above the chords represent beats per chord:
Often a "middle 8" is added to the song and the pattern changes, but, the new pattern incorporates the same 4 chords. A typical middle 8 would go like this:
Another popular pattern that includes Relative Minors does not use the Root chord. The pattern goes like this: (descending on each chord change) Rel. Minor - 5th - 4th - 5th. Actually, to be technically correct, the song is in a Minor key, but for ease of understanding we will imagine the Root chord is there but unused, and we'll employ its' scale to find the chords in the progression. After all, every Minor chord has a Major chord that is "related" to it. The easiest way to find the Major chord related to the Minor is to move up three semitones (frets), or, find the 3rd in the scale of the Relative Minor (See the lessons about Scales). Once you know the Major, you can find the 4th and 5th and use them in this progression. For example: let's use an A Minor chord (which is the Relative Minor to C) to start the progression. The 5th of C is G and the 4th of C is F. Therefore, the pattern would be Am - G - F G (descending). One variation to this progression would be to substitute the second 5th (at the end) for a Major 3rd. E is the Major 3rd of C, so the progression above would be Am - G - F -E. Figure 16-4 shows a typical timing pattern.
Blues music has inspired countless guitarists. I believe the reason for that is its' basic structure. In Blues music the Twelve Bar pattern is widely used. In fact, most blues songs are "Twelve Bar Blues". They generally play a three-chord progression with a variation of two or three rhythm patterns within the twelve bars. They repeat the pattern several times to create a song and sometimes add a "middle eight" (8 bars derived from the original pattern) to break the monotony. That might sound boring but it presents quite a challenge for a guitarist who is improvising a solo and determined not to repeat anything he has already played in the previous twelve bars.
The blues also encourages freedom of musical expression in that it emphasizes emotions over practical theory or strict techniques. So, while the rhythm section is steadily playing their twelve bar pattern and holding the music firmly on the ground - a feat that requires discipline and is very often under-rated and over-looked - the soloist can explore and experiment with notes, technique, variations in timing, and personal "attitude".
Below is an example of one (out of numerous) Twelve Bar chord patterns. NOTE: To play along count to yourself like this: 1 an 2 an 3 an 4 an . Strum down for each number and also for each time you say an" (make them all Down strums), There are 4 beats per bar. Each number represents one beat and the an is the upbeat to that beat. Make the tempo about 1 beat per second. Remember this requires some discipline to make it steady and solid:
Play A chord for 4 bars Play D chord for 2 bars Play A chord again for 2 bars Play E chord for 1 bar Play D chord for 1 bar Play A chord for 1 bar Play E chord for 1 bar
Then all of the above is repeated from the top.
To describe the chord changes in more detail: They start with the root chord (in this case 'A ) they play 4 bars there and move the chord up a 4th (to 'D in this example). They play in 'D' for 2 bars then go back to the root again (A) for 2 bars. The climax of the progression occurs when they change to the 5th (an 'E' in this case) for one bar. Then, they drop to the 4th ('D ) again for one bar, and then down to the root (A) for one bar, and finish the pattern with one bar of the 5th ('E ) to end the twelve bar loop or pattern. They repeat the whole thing several times to form a song. . Here is a widely used variation of that pattern. Play along as described above:
Play A chord for 1 bar Play D chord for 1 bar Play A chord again for 2 bars Play D chord for 2 bars Play A chord again for 2 bars Play E chord for 1 bar Play D chord for 1 bar Play A chord for 1 bar Play E chord for 1 bar
You can see that in this variation they move to the 4th sooner (after one bar) and drop back to the root for 2 bars, then move to the 4th again, but for two bars this time, and then back to the root again for 2 bars. The remainder of the progression, from the 5th to the fourth, to the root, and then to the 5th again to end the pattern, all last for one bar each. That's nine chord changes. Compare that with the first example, which has only 7 chord changes.
You might not be interested in playing The Blues at all but you should be aware that many songs in other genres (like rock for example) employ these chord progressions and patterns or variations of them. If you learn these patterns by listening carefully and practicing them, you will soon be able to anticipate the chord changes without having to count the bars. That knowledge will help to train your ears and it will give you a head start in learning all sorts of other songs in other genres as well.