Chord Flow, Playing with the Basics

Pick up a book on music theory, even a book with ‘Dummies’ in the title, and there is a lot of hullabaloo between page one and when they ever start talking about chords. Yet, guitarists, especially songwriting guitarists, mostly just want to know what chords might sound cool together. This is where Chord Flow comes in. It cuts right to the chase. It focuses on what chords sound good with each other.  

You don’t need to know what key you are in, (though Chord Flow can help you figure that out if you like). It’s a map for chords. It gives you a way to explore the territory. Even if you only know a few chords, you can mess around with Chord Flow and come up with some great sounding progressions.

What is Chord Flow?

Chord Flow is this pattern of chords, B, E, A, D, G, C, F.

You can remember that pattern using the phrase ‘BEAD Guides Chord Flow.’ That’s B. E. A. D. Guides Chord Flow. 

What’s cool about this is that it arranges chords so that chords that are next to each other, (Chord Flow neighbors), sound good together. So E and A sound good together, in whatever order you play them. 

So do A and D.

While music theory can trap you in a given key, Chord Flow gives you the freedom to mess around and play whatever sounds good to you.

How to use Chord Flow

The simplest thing to do with Chord Flow is to pick three or four chords in a row and play them in any order you like. 

Let’s say you pick these four chords  E, A, D, G. 

You could play them in exactly that order, they’ll sound good. You could play them in reverse order too: G, D, A, E.

Or you could mix up their order. What does G D E A sound like? What about E G D A?  

Another option is to make one of the chords minor. What if we stick with E A D G but make A into an Am?  

E, Am D G, How does that sound? Or G, D, Am, E? Or D, G, E, Am? Or Am, G, D, E?  

That is a lot of different chord progressions you can get just from using chords next to each other. You could also choose three chords in a row and another chord that isn’t a neighbor. Say GCF and A: 

Something like this could produce some great progressions as well. And again, you could make one or more chords minor. Some progressions you create this way you’ll like. Other’s you won’t. With some combinations, if you change the order of the chords it will suddenly sound great. Chord Flow isn’t a set of rules about how music works; it’s meant to be played with.

Bonus: Chord Flow is Built into the Guitar! 

Chord Flow is built into the standard tuning of the guitar. At the seventh Fret the notes on strings 6, 5, 4, and 3 spell BEAD:

GCF is spelled out at the third fret on strings 6, 5, and 4.

The open, E, A, D, and G strings are part of the Chord Flow pattern as well.

In fact, the notes at any fret on strings 6, 5, 4, 3 always follow the Chord Flow pattern, which is B, E, A, D, G, C, and F. When you get to flat or sharp notes, the pattern repeats itself. That’s a subject for another time, but this blog dives into how that works a bit. 



Unfamiliar with BEAD Guides Chord Flow?

Here’s an intro: BEAD Guides Chord Flow Intro
Here’s how it works in the Key of C: BEAD in the Key of C
Here’s how it maps chord substitutes in the key of C: BEAD Substitutes

The Prompt:

Art by Fernando Bittar. Find out more about Fernando’s work here.

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19 thoughts on “Chord Flow, Playing with the Basics

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