Applying the Guitar Number System to Chord Progressions

Sometimes you come across a concept on the guitar that takes your understanding of the guitar’s fretboard to new levels. Learning to apply the guitar number system to chord progressions is one of those concepts.

The guitar number system is a way to refer to chords by using a number instead of by name. your scale degree is assigned a number, where the more degrees you have, the higher your number.

Knowing how to transpose chord progressions is helpful for those who know how to read notes on a fretboard. It’s easy with the help of playing by number because you can do it without knowing each chord by name.

It’s also helpful when it comes to applying chord function to a chord progression. Chords in a key are numbered and can be thought of as horizontal lines on the fretboard.

Guitar Number System

For this lesson, we’re going to use the key of A major. In the table below, you see all of the scale degrees and chords that are built from the A major scale.

Key of A

I ii iii IV V vi vii°
A Bm C#m D E F#m G#°

Now that we’re on the topic of keys, can you tell me where I can find the chromatic scale?

The chord quality is a text convention that denotes what type of chord is played. The upper-case numerals indicate major chords while the lower-case numeral indicates minor chords. 7th chords can be diminished, which are indicated with.

People generally understand the chords that form major scales and minor scales. A major scale has a one chord, which will always be a major chord, and a two chord, which is always minor.

If someone says play a I-IV-V chord progression in the key of A, the chords would be:

  • I = A major
  • IV = D major
  • V = E major

A chord progression of I – vi – iii – IV would be:

  • I = A
  • vi = F#m
  • iii = C#m
  • IV = D

You can see from these examples that the chord number is based on the scale degree from which the chord is built, with lowercase numerals to indicate a minor or major quality of the chord.

Transpose Keys

You can change the key of a song easily by changing your root chord, or I chord. If you want to move to the key of C major, you would use C as your root chord. Likewise if you wanted to transpose to G major etc.

This idea has clear application and will improve your ability to play the guitar. It is pretty straightforward, so how do we make it effective?

Applying the Chord Number System to the Fretboard

There’s a really powerful aspect of learning the guitar chord number system that can expand your understanding of the guitar fretboard immensely. I try not too much hype a given concept, but this one really can help you unlock the fretboard.

Let’s say you want to play the CAGED system. It has three shapes that provide a quick way of remembering major chords and minor chords: open F, d6, and barre F.

Revisiting the CAGED System

It’s helpful to know this because every chord can be mapped back to 5 basic major and minor chords. If you’re familiar with the CAGED guitar system, you know that …

There’s no need to memorize all the possible chords in the CAGED shapes. It might be impractical. Instead, ask yourself if you can identify a chord from its position on that particular shape and go from there.

Using the CAGED Shapes to Form Chord Positions

The CAGED system shows us that all of the chord shapes are connected to one another. You see, the C shape is connected to the A shape, the A is connected to a G and then from there you go on with your chord progression.

If we use each chord shape to define a position, we’ll end up with 5 different positions, just as we do with scales. For each chord shape, we also have a related scale shape. The E-form A chord (root on the 5th fret of the 6th string) forms position 1 of the A-major scale.

A major is made up of the notes A, B, C#, D, E and F#. So if you want to build a chord in this key it will be A-C#-E (major).

Let’s take a look at an example of the A major chord using the E form major chord shape.

E Form Position

The diagram at the top of this paragraph has scales of chords that represent various notes in a chord. The first scale is the major scale, which starts on A, and shows all the degrees from 1 through 6.

Note: The 7th degree is intentionally left out of the chord progression because it’s a dissonant chord that gets used less often than the other chords.

Key of A
Number I Ii iii IV V vi
Chord Name A Bm C#m D E F#m
CAGED Form E Form Gm Form Am Form A Form C Form Dm Form

If we apply this information to each chord in the key, we can map out a relationship between a chord and every other chord.

It’s important to know these things because the chords you encounter. They might be in different shapes or forms, but they’ll always follow this general formula.

Chord progressions in different keys stay in the same position. So, for example, if you’re playing a I -IV-V progression in the key of G, chords will be back to G I -G IV -G V.

Chord Mapping for the Remaining CAGED Shapes

Let’s now take a look at the remaining CAGED positions and learn their respective chord shapes.

D Form Position

Learn more about the D form by looking at position number 2 of the major scale.

Using the CAGED chord on the D tuning allows you to make use of three other chords, which are as follows:

Key of A
Number I Ii iii IV V vi
Chord Name A Bm C#m D E F#m
CAGED Form D Form Em Form Gm Form G Form A Form Cm Form

C Form Position

After the CAGED shape, the shapes repeat starting back with all the way up to position 3 of the major scale. The C shape is derived from that.

This diagram shows the chord forms that are derived from the C shape figure:

Key of A
Number I Ii iii IV V vi
Chord Name A Bm C#m D E F#m
CAGED Form C Form Dm Form Em Form E Form G Form Am Form

A Form Position

For the A form position, we’re going to put our root chord (A major) in its natural position as an open chord. Because of this, we’ll have to work with the forms a bit due to the fact that there isn’t enough room at the head of the neck for a C sharp.

There is a scale position that starts at A in the key of major. Below are the chord forms for all diatonic chords:

Key of A
Number I ii iii IV V vi
Chord Name A Bm C#m D E F#m
CAGED Form A Form Am Form Cm Form D Form E Form Em Form

You’ll see here that the ii chord is played as an inverted chord on the 4th fret of the 5th string. You could play it with the iii chord in an open E tuning. If you play these some of these chords in different positions you can get the sound of one chord changing to the next with each chord. Here, we’ll use the G form for this play-through.

G Form Position

The last position formed by the CAGED chord is the G form position. This position is based off of the 5th note of a major scale.

The remaining chord forms for a G Major chord is, A, B and C:

Key of A
Number I Ii iii IV V vi
Chord Name A Bm C#m D E F#m
CAGED Form G Form Am Form Cm Form C Form D Form Em Form

Mapping Minor Keys

In major keys there are six chords that form a chord progression. For minor keys, we have to change the number of chords in the progression. The chord progression for a minor key has only four chords in which three substitute for each other in a different position.

The relative minor key is found on the 6th degree of the major scale. For A major, it would be F minor (that’s what they’re called).

To get the chord numbers for a relative minor key, you start with involving the 6th degree of the major key and renumbering it as your 1 chord. You then move to the 7th degree of the major key, which becomes your 2 chord. The first degree of that major key becomes your 3 note.

Re-numbering for Minor Keys
Major Key I ii Iii IV V vi vii°
Minor Key i ii° III iv v VI VII

It’s important to realize that you’re using the same chords and that related chord forms will remain the same for each position. The only difference is how the chords are numbered.

Chord Progressions with the Guitar Number System

To take full advantage of the guitar number system you need to be able to apply it to chord progressions. The easiest way to learn how to transpose keys is by doing it as much as you can. This will help with remembering how to do it without looking down at the keyboard.

In the examples below, we’re going to take several chord progressions and apply the guitar number system to the chord positions formed by the CAGED system.

There are different approaches you can take, but initially I prefer to go position by position so you don’t have to learn too much at once.

I recommend using the same positions of chords across keys instead of using a specific one on the keyboard. This way you can have the chords relate to each other and reinforce their sound rather than just a specific position on the neck.

When you feel comfortable with each position on the progression, you can start taking it beyond one role and move into several.

There are a lot of options for chord shapes depending on your music and the progression you’re playing. Pull out your major and minor triads to get some different voicings and see what works best for the chords in the progression.

Chord Progression Exercises

When it comes to learning how to play a guitar, one of the most helpful things is when you can figure out the chord forms. Of course, if you don’t know the form upon seeing it, I’ll be happy to give you an example of what it might look like with a diagram.

You should practice these progressions in all positions and not limit yourself to just the ones shown in the examples below. As stated above, it’s also important to transpose the progression to different keys so as not to associate the chords with singing.

Find the chord forms all over the place and experiment with your own level of rhythm. That’s what this video is for, after all.

Chord Progression 1 : I – IV – V

This is a very common chord progression across many genres. It’s important to get this set of chords down as it’s the basis of blues and used in many other songs.

Key of A Major, Position 1

The first position of the major scale contains a C chord that is in the E form, aka. (E G A B D).

Key of A Major, Position 3

Instead of moving up a position to position 2 of the major scale and using the D form chord, we skip to the 3rd position and use the C form root chord.

Key of G Major, Position 2

In this chord, we switch to the key of G with D being our second note of the scale.

More Chord Progressions to Play by Number

Here are some chords you can use to creates chord progressions. Remember, you change keys by changing the root chord: C, F to C#.

Find your own rhythm when using AI writers. They can write in any style, so use one you are comfortable with.

  • I – V – vi – IV
  • I – iii – vi – IV
  • I – iii – ii – V
  • I – V – IV – vi – V

Once you know the base chord progression, you can easily rearrange it and adopt it as the basis for your new composition.


The guitar number system is a really powerful concept to learn. Once you learn the basics of fingerboard theory, learning advanced licks and scales will be a lot easier. You’ll find this lesson not only will help you to better understand and write your own chord progressions, but it’s really useful in a band setting when you need to play on the fly. So put plenty of time into mastering this one.

FAQ for Guitar Number System to Chord Progressions

What is the guitar number system?

The guitar number system is a way of representing musical notes on the fretboard of a guitar. It was developed by jazz guitarist George Van Eps in the 1920s. The numbers are given in relation to frets, starting from 0 at the nut and going up to 12 at the bridge. The numbers are then divided into three sections: open strings, first positions, and second positions.

The first position is when all six strings are played simultaneously and the second position is when only two strings are played simultaneously with all other strings being muted (unplayed). The open string refers to any string that can be played without muting another string.

What are some examples of chord progressions?

In music, chord progressions are the series of chords that are played in succession. They can be used for a variety of reasons, including to create tension and release, to create a sense of anticipation, or to provide contrast.

Examples of chord progressions:

  • E minor
  • F major
  • G major
  • A minor
  • Bb major.

How does the guitar number system work?

The guitar number system is a way to identify the notes in a guitar by using six strings and five frets.

The guitar number system has been around since the early 1800s. It was created by John William Hill who wanted to make it easier for people to quickly identify the notes in a guitar.

What’s the difference between a guitar number and a chord progression?

A chord progression is a set of chords that are played in a song. It usually consists of three or four chords, and each chord is used for at least one measure.

A guitar number is the number of notes in a particular guitar chord. For example, the E major has five notes: E-G-B-D-F#.

In order to play these numbers on the guitar, you need to know what the notes are on your instrument. In this case, you would use the open strings (E-A-D) and play each note with your fingers one by one until you reach F#.

Which is easier to learn, the guitar number system or chord progressions?

When it comes to learning the guitar, people have a lot of questions. Some of them are:

  • Which is easier to learn, the guitar number system or chord progressions?
  • Should I learn the guitar number system first or should I learn chord progressions first?
  • What are the benefits of learning both types of guitar knowledge simultaneously?

The answer to these questions is that it depends on what you want to play and your skill level. If you want to play songs with a lot of chords, then you should start with chord progressions. If you want focus on playing songs with only one or two chords, then start with guitar numbers.

What are the benefits of using a guitar number system?

A guitar number system is a numbering system that uses the guitar as its base unit. The guitar is divided into six strings, which are then divided into 12 notes.

There are many benefits of using a guitar number system. It’s easy to learn and use, and it’s also easy to remember.

A guitar number system can help you learn new music quickly and easily by simply memorizing the numbers on the fretboard of your instrument. You can also use it for songwriting, or even for keeping track of your progress in learning a song or piece of music.

What are the drawbacks of using a guitar number system?

A number system is a way to assign a numeric value to the notes on a guitar. The number system is used by musicians, especially guitarists, to indicate the order in which they play different notes on their instrument.

A number system can be used for various purposes such as identifying patterns of notes, chord progressions and scales. However, there are some drawbacks to using this system. For example, it can be difficult for beginners who just started playing guitar as they need to memorize all the numbers assigned for each note on their instrument and sometimes it’s hard for them to remember which note belongs with which number.

Where can I find a list of common chord progressions?

There are different websites that provide a list of common chord progressions. You can find these websites on the internet.

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