Adapted from The Complete Singer-Songwriter
Go ahead: grab an open-position E chord on your guitar and give it a few good, hard strums. Do the same on a D chord and then an A. Get a steady rhythm going and keep circling around, E–D–A. Stand and sling your guitar down at your hips (or, better, knees); shades are optional but recommended.
The E, D, and A are what Patti Smith, in her memoir Just Kids, calls the classic rock chords—played by Lenny Kaye in Smith’s seminal version of Van Morrison’s “Gloria.” Guitarists particularly love these chords since they can all be played in easy shapes with open bass strings. Many a garage band has been formed with not much more.
Part of what gives this chord progression its character is the D chord—which, viewed from the perspective of E major, is a bVII chord. Using the bVII gives a distinct blues/rock edge to a song in a major key, and there are two other related chords that have a similar effect: the bIII and the bVI (in the key of E, these are G and C, respectively). Let’s check out how these chords work, and how you can use them in your own songwriting.
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