#1
How do you guys remember your chord progressions quickly? ie; if someone says "let's jam in Am" how do you guys cope? Do you just memorize a bunch of different ones ahead of time or try and work it out while you're improv-ing? Just to clarify I'm talking about playing lead over the progressions.
#2
Typically they'll clarify what the progression is, you can work off the bass part, or they say "12 bar blues" and you know the formula. I've never actually been in a situation I haven't forced myself into where I had to jump into forming a progression out of nothing.

As for leads, let the parts marinate in your ears for a little while. In a jam session, you can feel around and experiment, as well, so go for it - you're not recording or anything, and even in a live setting off-notes can be used tastefully. It's just a matter of getting into the groove and doing what you feel is right.
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#3
Jamming in A minor, eh? Just build diatonics off the key, assuming you're not using any alterations, and even making add# chords wouldn't be difficult at all, as you're merely moving the tonic.

For major keys, the diatonic triads are I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, vii(Diminished), and back to I. Given any key, lets take C# major. Our diatonic chords are C#Maj, D#min, Fmin, F#Maj, G#Maj, A#min, Cdim, and back to C# Major.

Honestly, you wouldn't even need to know the chord names, just the diatonics. Say you want a I, ii, vi, V7, I progression (Just some random chords honestly), you just build the chords off of their respective scalar degrees.
#4
You need to learn how to find the chords in a key without having to do any calculation. In a major key, you've got the I ii iii IV V vi and vii, all of which can be found in a certain position relative to the root, regardless of what key you're in. Let's take the key of A major:

Playing A on the 5th fret E string as a bar chord, you can locate the rest of the chords fairly easily. The ii chord is a minor chord 2 frets up, and the iii is a minor chord another 2 frets up. The IV is a major chord on the A string directly above the root, and the V is up 2 frets on the A string. The vi is up yet another 2 frets on the A string, played as a minor bar chord. The vii is one fret behind the root, but you'll have to learn how to play a m7b5 or a diminished chord in order to use that one. These chords can be found in secondary locations as well, if you go down behind the root instead of above. Here's a basic diagram:

----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|
----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|
----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|
----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|
----|--2-|----|--3-|--4-|----|--5-|----|--6-|----|
----|--6-|----|--7-|--1-|----|--2-|----|--3-|--4-|


If you can play your major and minor bar chords on the E and A string, you can apply this pattern rather simply. For minor keys, you simply look at this pattern with the focus on the vi chord instead of the I chord:

----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|
----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|
----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|
----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|
----|--7-|--1-|----|--2-|----|--3-|--4-|----|----|
--4-|----|--5-|----|--6-|----|--7-|--1-|----|----|


If the key is, say, D major, you can also work this out by starting on the A string:

----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|
----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|
----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|
----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|
----|--6-|----|--7-|--1-|----|--2-|----|--3-|----|
----|----|--4-|----|--5-|----|--6-|----|----|----|


for minor, simply shift your grid.
----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|
----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|
----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|
----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|
--4-|----|--5-|----|--6-|----|--7-|--1-|----|----|
----|----|--2-|----|--3-|--4-|----|----|----|----|


You might notice that the positions of these chords match the intervals of the major scale. That makes sense, as they're built off of the major scale. All you have to do is remember the major/minor tonalities of each chord in the scale (I ii iii IV V vi vii) and then visualize the scale on the neck to build the right chords in the right places. The most important part, however, is learning which chords tend to want to follow each other. This requires you to start looking at songs in respect to their roman numerals so you can analyze what various chord progressions sound like. Take, say, I've Just Seen a Face by the Beatles. The verse is essentially I-vi-IV-V-I, with a very characteristic I-vi walkdown (I-vii-vi) that continues to walk down to the IV (vi-V-IV) before finishing with a V-I cadence. This might sound like unnecessary analysis, but there are some key things to pick up on. For example, you'll want to remember what a I-vi walkdown sounds like, as it's a very distinctive and popular movement that you might want to throw into a song at some point. You've also got your basic I-IV-V progressions for blues, including the minor i-iv-v(or V), which uses the same chords as the vi, ii, and iii (or III) chords from your major scale. There's also the typical vi-V-IV or IV-V-vi progressions, such as can be found at the end of Stairway to Heaven and in All Along the Watchtower, assuming you've heard some classic rock. There's a ton of 3 or 4 chord progressions that all sound unique, and learning how they function in the roman numeral system will allow you to throw them into any song or jam session, regardless of what key you're in. The more songs you analyze in this manner, the more you'll learn to recognize and remember interesting chord progressions.
Last edited by Glen'sHeroicAct at Oct 8, 2011,
#5
Be familiar with minor keys, if you have a good ear you can hear where a progression is going and how to play over it, even if it includes chromatic harmony, whatever I'm drunk.
#6
Thanks Glen - This post is a godsend! I was getting ahead of myself trying to build a scale against whatever position I happened to be in and translate the chord-to-know into that form. Getting lost! It's good to work out the first workbench on the 6th and 5th strings - then you can apply it to the roots on the other strings as your confidence increases. Good on you for spelling it out for slow folk like me Inshallah I'm close to being able to just rock out - I can feel it coming...
#7
If the song is simple and I'm winging it, I'll just stick near the root -- amazing how much you can do with a blues scale.

If I know the song and the song is not trivial I figure out somethings ahead of time -- like where to play chord tones/scale tones that help move the solo forward and allow decent phrasing.