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Guitar Chord Progression:

I-III-VI-II-V - Blues Rag progression - Circle of fifth

Other Circle of fifth progressions

I have called this lesson "A salty dog at Alice’s Restaurant" because it is about a chord progression that I have seen to as "Salty Dog". Do not ask me where that name come from – I do not know. I put this dog into Alice’s Restaurant, because Arlo Guthrie used the progression in is famous song "Alice’s Restaurant".

You can hear this progression in many ragtime blues songs. Listen to old blues players like Blind Blake and Big Bill Broonzy, and you will hear it a lot. You will also hear it in the blues classic "Nobody Knows You when You're Down and Out". There are many recordings of "Nobody Knows You", and I am not going to express any opinion on who has made the best vocal recording of the song. But a guitarist should definitely listen to Eric Clapton’s two recordings of the song, and specially to his "Unplugged" recording.

If you play the progression in the key of C, the chords are:


If we number these chords with C as the root, it will be:


You should here notice the circle of fourth movements. The first move, from C to E7 is a move from I to III7, so it does not start with a fourth. The E7 is by the way a non-diatonic chord, meaning that it is not a chord built with notes from the C-major scale. The diatonic III chord in C is E-minor, not E-major. The E-major chord have a G# in it, that does not belong to the C-major scale. But the progression continues with non-diatonic chords. Both the VI (A) and the II (D) should be minor chords if we had been following the harmonized diatonic scale. The A-chord has a C# and the D has a F#, none of which belong to the C-major scale.

Try to play the progression with diatonic chords, and listen to the difference. It will be


From the III-chord, the progression continues in fourths. A is the IV of E, D is the fourth of A, G is the fourth of D and C is the fourth of G.

Although I think of this progression as some C-major progression, you can of course play it in other keys. I G-major, the chords would be:


Recordings with the I-III-VI-II-V Blues Rag progression progression - Annotaded

  • Big Bill Broonzy - Brownskin Shuffle -
  • Standard - Ain't She Sweet -

  • Books covering the progression -

    Further references:

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