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How to Play the “Oldies” Progression on Guitar

Once you can play the basic major and minor chords on guitar, you can play lots of popular songs right away. One of the first guitar licks you can learn is the "oldies" progression. These are the chords you need to play many songs from the late ’50s and early ’60s, such as “Earth Angel” and “Duke of Earl.” Playing oldies can become addicting, but the good news is that, if you can’t stop, you build up your calluses very quickly.

The oldies progression is a series of four chords; they’re repeated over and over to form the accompaniment for a song. The best guitar keys for the oldies progression are C and G (although you can play in any key). If someone is going to sing along, you can choose whatever key is better suited their vocal range.

The chord progression is I-vi-IV-Vl in the key of C, that's C-Am-F-G. And in the key of G, the chords are G-Em-C-D. For the basic feel of the "oldies" progression, try strumming the progression in each key by playing four down-strums per chord. Play the four chords over and over, in the sequence given.

The number of strums per chord depends on the song, though most songs use two, four, or eight strums per chord. Here are some popular songs that use the "oldies" progression. Next to each, we show you how many times you strum each chord.

  • All I Have to Do Is Dream. Two strums per chord.

  • Blue Moon. Two strums per chord.

  • Breaking Up Is Hard to Do. Two strums per chord.

  • Come Go with Me. Two strums per chord.

  • Duke of Earl. Four strums per chord.

  • Earth Angel. Two strums per chord.

  • Heart and Soul. Two strums per chord.

  • Hey Paula. Two strums per chord.

  • In the Still of the Night. (The one by the Five Satins, not Cole Porter.) Four strums per chord.

  • Little Darlin’. Eight strums per chord.

  • Poor Little Fool. Four strums per chord.

  • Runaround Sue. Eight strums per chord.

  • Sherry. Two strums per chord.

  • Silhouettes. Two strums per chord.

  • Stay. Two strums per chord.

  • Take Good Care of My Baby. Four strums per chord.

  • Tears on My Pillow. Two strums per chord.

  • Teenager in Love. Four strums per chord.

  • What’s Your Name? Two strums per chord.

  • Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Two strums per chord.

  • You Send Me. Two strums per chord.

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