Easy R&B Chord Progressions That Sound Great

Rhythm and Blues, commonly known as R&B, is a genre of music that originated in African American communities in the United States during the late 1940s. It emerged as a fusion of various musical styles, including gospel, jazz, blues, and swing. R&B is a genre that celebrates emotional expression, rhythm, and the power of the human voice. Themes generally maintain a focus on themes of love, relationships, personal experiences, and deep emotions. R&B is characterized by its emphasis on rhythm, groove, and soulful vocals. Today we will focus on the groove element: R&B chord progressions.

If you love to jam to popular hit singles and sing your heart out, the R&B genre is a great place to start!

R&B Chord Progressions

Regulate Warren G

“Regulate” by Warren G featuring Nate Dogg is known for its smooth and laid-back West Coast hip-hop sound. This chord progression creates a nostalgic and mellow atmosphere that fits well with the song’s storytelling. The chords used here are pretty straightforward: Em7 – Em11 – CMaj7

Are You That Somebody Aaliyah

“Are You That Somebody?” by Aaliyah features a distinctive and groovy chord progression that contributes to its unique sound. The song’s chord progression is centered around a repeating three-chord pattern: Dm7, Bbmaj, A maj. With a short bass fill between the Dm7 and Bbmaj chords.

Dreaming of You Selena

“Dreaming of You” by Selena is in the key of A major. The song was released after her death in 1995 and became one of Selena’s most popular and iconic tracks. The chord progression for “Dreaming of You” is relatively straightforward and follows a simple pattern throughout much of the song. The main chord progression for the verses and chorus is as follows: A E F#m D or a I V VI IV in A major.

Livid Eliza

Livid by Eliza has a simple 3 chord progression, accompanied by a simple kick, snare, and high hat pattern. The main element of this song is Eliza’s seductive vocals. The chords to this song are Em9 – Am7/E – Dm9. Pretty straightforward!

Wake up Alone Amy Winehouse

“Wake Up Alone” by Amy Winehouse features a melancholic and soulful chord progression that contributes to the song’s emotional depth. This song is in the key of A Major and features a chord progression with lots of non diatonic chords. The chords are A major, G# Major, C#minor, C major, E major, C#minor, C major , F#m, F major. In the introduction these chords are arpeggiated, and they are strummed on up beats later in the song.

Blue Lights Jorja Smith

“Blue Lights” is a song by British singer-songwriter Jorja Smith. The song combines elements of R&B, soul, and hip-hop, showcasing Jorja Smith’s distinctive vocal style and lyrical prowess. The progression is played by an electric keyboard and the chords are: G Maj, Bm, A Maj.

Young Love Cleo Sol

Young Love by Cleo Sol features a choir, strong bass line, and a bluesy electric piano. The instrumentation is mostly minimal and kept to rhythm to further emphasize the uplifting chorus vocals. The chord progression here is mostly implied by the bass guitar, however if you listen closely at 2:05 you can hear a clean electric guitar strumming the chords C maj7 – D min7.

Just The Two of Us – Bill Withers and Grover Washington

“Just the Two of Us” is a song by American singer-songwriter Bill Withers and Saxophonist Grover Washington.  It was released in 1981 as the lead single from Withers’ album “Watching You Watching Me.” The song is a smooth and romantic R&B ballad that celebrates the joys of companionship and love. While there are many interpretations to this classic, the chord progression here is basically:

Db major 7 – C7 – Fm7 – Ebm7 – Ab7 – Dbmaj7

Frequently Asked Questions

What rhythm is used in R&B?

R&B often uses repeated 8th note patterns throughout the song. Other R&B songs may use syncopation, shuffle, and other complex dance oriented percussion and bass. Groove, swing, offbeat accents are also common characteristics of a great R&B rhythm.

What is the best chord progression for R&B on guitar?

There is no best chord progression, however a good R&B progression takes inspiration from jazz and uses many 7th chords. For starters, try the 6-2-5-1 progression.

What is the most used R&B scale?

The pentatonic and blues scales are used frequently in R&B music. In R&B, the pentatonic scale is often employed in melodies, chord progressions, vocal lines, and instrumental solos. This is especially true for R&B guitar solos heard in the music of Sade.

Does R&B use the blues scale?

Yes, while not every R&B song utilizes the blues scale, many early Rhythm and Blues songs did use the blues scale. The use of the blues scale in R&B helps create the genre’s characteristic emotional depth, expressiveness, and soulful quality. R&B artists often incorporate the blues scale into their melodies, vocal lines, and instrumental solos to infuse their music with a sense of nostalgia, passion, and intensity.

Conclusion

From the classic rhythm and blues of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, to the seductive and romantic 90’s era R&B, to the modern uplifting vocals and beats of the 2010’s. R&B continues to inspire us to sing and create emotionally driven music. 

In terms of instrumentation, R&B keeps it simple. The steady beat of acoustic drums, a rhythmic bass that outlines the chords, a simple and straightforward progression, and expressive and wandering vocals. Because they establish the key, R&B chord progressions provide a sense of familiarity and stability, especially in the wake of the melismatic singing iconic to the genre. Most R&B songs use progressions of 3 to 4 chords, so not much technical knowledge of chords is required to make a great sounding, relatable tune.

Related: Lo-Fi Chord Progressions

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