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Analysis of the 252 Guitar Arrangements in the Progressions Catalog

style of play

The overwhelming majority of the 252 guitar arrangements are played in fingerstyle (Fstyle) or fingerpick style (FP). Only one of the 168 chord progressions was played with a flatpick as written, and only 7 of the duet arrangements are played with a flatpick. Of the 8, 4 are played in flatpick style (Flat), which basically consists of strumming, and 4 are played in pick and strum style (P+S), which consists of strumming interspersed with individually flatpicked notes. 180 of the 252 guitar arrangements (about 70%) are played in fingerstyle, and 64 others are played in fingerpick style. Fingerpick style is a fingerstyle of play that includes an alternating bass line played with the thumb of the playing hand. For many of the 252 guitar arrangements, fingerstyle and fingerpick style were combined on the recording, so it was not always a simple matter classifying each arrangement in one style or the other. My general rule of thumb (pun intended), given that fingerpicking is a more advanced skill than playing in basic fingerstyles, was to classify an arrangement as a fingerpick arrangement only if I thought it would be practically impossible to duplicate the guitar music on the recording without being able to play an alternating bass figure.


All but four of the 252 guitar arrangements are played in standard tuning. Low D tuning (D-A-D-G-B-E) was used for one of the original 168 chord progressions, but the rest were all written in standard tuning. The other three exceptions are a duet arrangement played in low D tuning, and two duet arrangements played in G modal tuning (D-G-D-G-A-D). None of the 168 original chord progressions was played with a capo as written, but a capo was used for most of the duet arrangements. This is so because practically all of the duet arrangements were fashioned by transposing the original progression to a lower key, and then using a capo for the transposed duet arrangement to bring the two into agreement. For less than a handful of progressions, the guitar duet was fashioned by using a capo for the original progression, and then transposing accordingly to fashion the duet arrangement. Regardless of which way the guitar duet is fashioned, the resultant frequent use of contrasting chord shapes in the two guitar arrangements adds a great deal of interest to the music, in many cases even making the music sound much more complex than it actually is.

key of play

The calculation of how many keys are used how many times each in the whole of the music of the Progressions Catalog was a fairly simple one. The 42 multi-key Progressions added 45 keys to the 168, for a total of 213 keys. The calculation of how many keys of play are used is a bit more complicated, since most of the duet arrangements employ a different key of play than the original chord progression, and since many of the duet arrangements are for multi-key Progressions. Suffice to say that a total of 312 keys of play are used to play the 252 guitar arrangements. Of the 312, 269 (about 85%) are among the 9 common keys of play on the guitar, and distributed as follows: A Major (40),     a minor (21), C Major (42), D Major (41), d minor (20), E Major (26), e minor (23), F Major (24), and G Major (32). The three minor keys are evenly balanced, but there is a somewhat less than usual emphasis on the key of play of G Major, which is probably used at least as frequently in the corresponding genres of music as the keys of play of A Major, C Major, and D Major. Of the 269 common keys of play, 64 (almost 25%) are minor, a somewhat higher percentage than is usually the case in the corresponding genres of music. The other 43 keys of play (312 minus 269) most notably include B Major (9), b minor (7), c# minor (6), c minor (6), and Bb Major (4). Of the 43 non-common keys of play, 26 (about 60%) are minor. Taken together, 90 of the 312 keys of play (about 30%) are minor, which again is a higher than usual percentage. The weighting toward minor keys of play is a result of my lifelong observation and conviction that music in minor keys tends to be more emotive and more expressive than music in Major keys.

common chords

The common chords column in the Catalog listing indicates how many of the chords required to play an arrangement are common chords. For example, an entry in that column of 3of8 means three of the eight chords required to play the arrangement are common chords. The 18 Common Chords are a basic vocabulary of chords that I devised in the 1970’s in conjunction with my development of a course of instruction for steel string acoustic guitar. The 18 Common Chords are among the most widely known and widely used guitar chords. With one exception (F Major), they are all relatively easy to play as well. Arrangements that are played using only common chords are by definition among the easiest arrangements to play in the entire Catalog, at least from the standpoint of the chords used to play them. Arrangements that are played using mostly common chords are also likely to be among the easiest to play. That isn’t necessarily so, however, since nearly all of the 252 arrangements call for the use of one or more chords that are fairly uncommon, and probably about half of the 252 arrangements call for the use of one or more chords that are fairly difficult to play. It can safely be said, though, that at least with respect to the total number of chords used for each, the 252 arrangements are not overly challenging. 77 of the 252 arrangements (30%) require 6 or fewer chords, and 107 others (more than 40%) require 7, 8, or 9 chords. Taken together, that means 184 of the 252 arrangements (more than 70%) require fewer than 10 chords. Of the remaining 68 (252 minus 184), 46 require 10, 11, or 12 chords, and 22 (less than 10%) require more than 12 chords.

barre chords

Developing the ability to play barre chords is widely recognized as an important step in becoming an accomplished acoustic guitarist. I know from personal experience that mastering barre chord technique comes more easily to some than to others. Not for lack of effort, and for some reason that I suppose will never be known to me, it took me a great many years to even be able to play barre chords effectively, and even now my barring technique leaves much to be desired. As a result, any of the 252 arrangements that call for the use of barre chords more specifically call for the use of barre chords that are relatively easy to play, because those are the only barre chords that I can play. I also know from personal experience, because of my inability to use barre chords as freely as I would have liked, that barre chords are not an indispensible component of effective guitar music, even at a fairly advanced level. Guitarists who have not yet mastered barring technique should consider that only 70 of the 252 arrangements require barre chords, which means 182 (more than 70%) do not require barre chords.


F Major is the only one of the 18 Common Chords that is not relatively easy to play because thumbing is required for the bass note on the 6th string, and because a partial barre is required on the 1st and 2nd strings. Thumbing is a fretting technique in which the thumb is brought over around the top of the neck to fret bass notes on the 6th string. Steel string acoustic guitars usually have fairly narrow necks, which makes it relatively easy to master thumbing technique, with the probable exception of players with small hands. In fingerstyle and fingerpick guitar music, chord inversions are of great importance, and in many instances chord inversions can most conveniently be made by thumbing bass notes on the 6th string. As a result, 79 of the 252 arrangements require thumbing, which means 173 (almost 70%) do not require thumbing. For perhaps a dozen or so of the arrangements, thumbing was used in substitution for a barre chord in order to make the arrangement accessible to guitarists who have not yet mastered barring technique. In the final analysis, 118 of the 252 arrangements (about 47%) require neither barring technique nor thumbing technique, and only 18 arrangements (about 7%) require both barring technique and thumbing technique.


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