E-G-D-A Chord Progression - how do I think of approaching an improv over it?

Improvising has been a big part of my learning/ playing in recent months ( I 'm still learning songs though @Richard_close2u - and doing my pushups and situps ! )

Anyway, came across this cool progression on Tao of Twang’s channel.


along with a brief lesson. Dave says he’s going to elaborate in future lessons.

Four major chords, and it sounded pretty cool. Now I’ve played over lots of progressions in recent months with one chord, two chords, three chords, all major. Now 4 chord progressions, there 's always been a minor in there somewhere. How is this working I thought? Is it actually in any key, or does that even matter? Well Dave elaboarated a bit, and was playing Em pentatonic, mixed in with some triads. I can understand his basic reasoning, and look forward to his next installment.
I started writing down all the notes in the chords to expand my understanding a bit, and to see what other ways you could approach progressions like this.
I did a google search and saw someone write it as a I - biii- bVII - IV in E Major. I can follow the logic here, but realised the ballpark just got considerably larger.
Particularly cool is if you close your eyes and play the chord progression, you’d swear that the second chord is minor and now I can see why.
My approach to improvising over progressions at the moment is to concentrate on the chord tones, while working out what type of scale(s) works best at moving between these tones.
Keen for any input from you more experienced folk on how you might approach a progressions like these


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I’m going to take your progression as starting on E and, eventually resolving on E. In other words, E is the tonic. All else follows from that here.

E major scale:

Diatonic chords of E major:

If a diatonic looped progression based on the alphabetical letter names E, G, D and A was played it would look like this:

What you have uses two different chords in the 2nd and 3rd bars of the loop. You have rightly seen them as ‘flat 3’ and ‘flat 7’. Notice that I have written using words and digits. When named using Roman numerals lower and upper case become important.

The chord in the 2nd bar is based on the root note G. That means it is a semitone lower than the scale degree of G#. It must be a flat 3. The diatonic chord built on the 3rd scale degree is a minor chord but this is a major type of chord. It is therefore called bIII (upper case).

The chord in the 3rd bar is based on the root note D. That means it is a semitone lower that the scale degree D#. It must be a flat 7. The diatonic chord built on the 7th scale degree is a diminished chord but this is a major type or chord. It is therefore called bVII (upper case also).

The progression is:


Where did those non-diatonic chords come from? I will of course refer you to ohttps://community.justinguitar.com/t/using-borrowed-chords-introduction-examples/152037

In the immediate sense though, let’s look at it. We want a Circle of Fifths showing the six diatonic chords of E major (in red below). We also want the six diatonic chords of the parallel E minor shown too (blue below).

The two chords that have strayed from elsewhere have actually been borrowed from the parallel key of E minor. In the key of E minor, the chord G is the III and the chord D is the VII. They are not called III and VII when viewed within a progression that is in E major however, for the reasons stated above regarding flattened scale degrees.

In terms of improvisation you could adopt a variety of approaches. Here are some.


Switch from major to minor tonality when the borrowed chords come along. Give it some bluesy-bite using all minor pentatonic. Mark the changes using chord tones and triads.

Hope that helps.


@sclay Shane looks to me like he’s setting you up for the Dorian Mode. E Dorian is 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7 or the E minor pentatonic with the added 2 and 6 or the D major scale with a E root. Does the lesson have a Southern Rock sound?

Yeah thanks Stich for the info. Yep, Daves progressions often have a southern rock feel to them,

Cheers, Shane

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Thanks Richard,

Yes, very helpful. Lays it all out nice and neat as a good reference. Another one to add to the scrapbook. :+1:

Cheers, Shane

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