How to Play Major I to Minor vi Progressions (in the Keys of A and E) | Chord by Chord


Welcome to the latest installment of Chord by Chord, a series designed to build your understanding of harmony and the fretboard. In the last lesson, I showed you how to transition between the I and ii chords in A and E major. This time I’ll teach you how to move from the I to the vi in the same two keys.

The Work

In the key of A, the I chord is A and the vi is F#m. Example 1 shows how to switch between these chords using an open A shape and an F#m barred at the second fret. You can also approach the F#m from above, with a fifth-fret A barre chord (Example 2). Or try going up from the A barre shape to an F#m chord at the ninth fret, as shown in Example 3. To play the progression high up the neck, use just the four middle strings, rather than full barre chords (Example 4).

Let’s move on to the key of E, in which the I chord is E and the vi is C#m. Example 5 shows how to move between the two chords using an open E shape and a fourth-fret C#m. Try approaching that same C#m shape from an E barre chord at the seventh fret, as shown in Example 6. Remember that you can eliminate the highest note on that E shape, and barre strings 2–4 with your third finger.

Example 7 demonstrates how to go from the E barre chord to a higher C#m shape. In Example 8 we have two three-note voicings in 12th position. Since E and C#m share two notes (E and G#), all you need to do is change one note (B to C#) by adding your third finger. This less-is-more approach will work especially well if you’re playing with another harmonic instrument or bass. 

The Result

You should now know various ways to transition between the I and vi chords in the key of A and E major. “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” as performed by Pete Seeger is a great example of a song that uses the I–vi progression in the key of A. In the next lesson, we’ll go over various voicings of F#dim.

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