Blues/Rock Chord Changes

Posted by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

The bVII (flatted seventh) chord is widely used not just in blues and rock but folk, bluegrass, country, and more. Van Morrison’s “Gloria” is a I–bVII–IV progression all the way through. The Romantics’ hit “That’s What I Like About You” rolls through the same chords in a different order: I–IV–bVII–IV. Another variation can be heard in the Grateful Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower” and the verses in Bob Seger’s “Night Moves”: both are I–bVII–IV–bVII. In “Fire on the Mountain,” also from the Dead songbook, the only chord change is I–bVII.

Blues/Rock Changes excerpt
Click to enlarge.

Example 1 shows a rock rhythm pattern in E with I, bVII, and IV. Play all downstrokes with the pick (or fingers if you don’t use a pick), accenting the bass strings. Notice there’s a quick strum on the open strings before each new chord—this adds a little more edge and also gives you time to change fingerings.

If you’re working on a song that uses the I, IV, and V, try substituting the bVII for the V to give the progression a different feel. In general, you can use the bVII to add zing to a progression otherwise made up of diatonic chords. For instance, the Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man” uses a I–bVII–I in the beginning of the chorus (“Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man”) to make that line stand out in an otherwise standard country/folk progression with the diatonic I, IV, V, and vi chords. Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” has the same set of chords and accentuates the bVII to add to the song’s mysterious mood.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar, April 2013

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