Hey there,

So I've always been a big fan of John Mayer and have used a lot of his techniques to help develop my own playing. I recently learnt his song 'St. Patrick's Day' as I've always wanted to play it as a challenge, given that it is made up of 36 or so chords (https://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/j/john_mayer/st_patricks_day_tab.htm - can't find the tab for what I learnt as I went by the official songbook but it's similar enough).

Given that none of these chords are your standard A-Gs, I'm just wondering how on earth it is possible to write a song using this many chords? Is there a theory behind it or do you think it could be like a 'trial and error' type thing?

'Room For Squares' (album where this song is from) is one of my favourite albums I think ever because of the insanely nice chord voicings he puts into most of the songs. I've started to learn lots more chords recently, such as a couple of inversions and the different types of barre chords (7s etc) but I want to learn how to create similar chords to those used in John Mayer's music in order to create richer chord progressions that are more fun to play!

Not sure if I've worded my question right at all, seems to be all over the place - in short its "how to create my own chords so I can go from one 'non-standard' chord to another?"

Any help would be appreciated,
many thanks
Study jazz. More specifically, study the essentials of jazz harmony.

Jazz makes extensive use of "altered" and "extended" chords, and often uses devices like the "circle of fifths" to develop chord progressions.

Also, Jazz guitarists often use "inversions", where the notes used in the chord remain the same, but the order of the notes is altered for a particular harmonic effect.
In constructing "chord melody" arrangements, most or all the notes of the melody are harmonized, and when well done each chord will nicely flow into the next (voice leading) and there will be a nice bass line built up as well.

All of this is applicable to other forms as well, not just jazz.
I managed to find one version of a gig by him on youtube, but sound is not brilliant, so little tricky to clearly distinguish what's happening. Nice song.

The chord progression is pretty standard. I vi IV iv I but he's playing extended chords (e.g. Emaj9 for I, C#m11 and C#m7 for vi), and he's adding in some spice with dim7 chord (?) to introduce the vi. The change from IV to iv is very common. Borrowing from minor. And so on.

So, if you get into chords in the major ands minor scale, and learn a few connecting chords (dim, dim7), and realise that the chords from major and minor can be mixed up, you're on your way.

C major: Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7 Am7 Bm7b5
C minor: Cm7 Dm7b5 Ebmaj7 Fm7 Gm7 Abmaj7 Bb7

e.g. Just made this up by looking at the above and experimenting what sounded nice voicing-wise.

Cmaj7 Bm7b5 Bb11 Am11 Abmaj7 Bb/Ab G9 Fmaj7 Fm7 Gm7 Am7 Bb11 Csus2

The 9 and 11 chords are extensions.

x x x x x x x x x x x x x
8 6 4 3 4 3 3 1 1 3 5 4 8
9 7 5 5 5 3 2 2 1 3 5 5 7
9 7 6 5 5 3 3 2 1 3 5 6 10
x x x x x x x x x x x x x
8 7 6 5 4 4 3 1 1 3 5 6 8

M M m M m m M M m m M m M (M from major scale, m from minor scale)
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Feb 5, 2016,
Memorize the modes too. Each mode has a different pattern of major and minor chords up the scale, so each one makes basic progressions sound different. For example a I-IV-V in Ionion is all major chords, but shifting it to Dorian makes the I and V minor chords. After that you can just add other tones to the chord from there. Get familiar with what different chords sound like and train your ear to hear them, so when you write a basic chord progression you know how to add to each chord.

Start with degrees, pick something like I-IV-V... Anything.
Find a mode that gives you the mix of major and minor you like.
Build the chords from there and add the tones that give you the sounds you like for each.

Here's a cheat sheet for those modal patterns.

Ionian M m m M M m m
Dorian m m M M m m M
Phrygian m M M m m M m
Lydian M M m m M m m
Mixolydian M m m M m m M
Aeolian m m M m m M M
Locrian m M m m M M m

That's how I approach creating progressions.
John 3:16 = Truth

Sight reading tableture = Guitar Hero for real guitarists
all really helpful, thanks a lot! My theory isn't great but seen the usage of roman numerals a lot in posts so going to study around that, as well as the modes! also going to try work on chord inversions as I love how the ones I've come across sound - Thanks again, any more help greatly appreciated as ever!
Quote by jamescoulthard
Hey there,

Given that none of these chords are your standard A-Gs, I'm just wondering how on earth it is possible to write a song using this many chords? Is there a theory behind it or do you think it could be like a 'trial and error' type thing?

A lot of this involves chords that have notes that "move" in counter melodies or that cause "tension" that leads into the next chord (like a D7 causing tension leading to a "release" of that tension if the next chord is a G). If you saw the chords working out on a keyboard, it would probably seem a lot simpler, but when you're just reading chord names, it's not quite as clear.

After you spend some time with jazz chord progressions, a lot of this becomes almost obvious.

Mostly it's not trial-and-error; these elements all have theory behind them that can be described, and you'll find these elements a big part of both songwriters' and arrangers' toolboxes.