A classic song from a classic record, “Peg” by Steely Dan is taken from the band’s classic 1977 album “Aja” and is written by core members Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. The song was a big hit in the US when it was first released, peaking at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remaining a staple in Steely Dan’s live set for many years after. “Peg” is an excellent tune to learn for anyone who wants to expand their knowledge of chords, and it also features a classic guitar solo from LA session legend Jay Graydon. Completing the all star lineup is the one and only Michael McDonald on backing vocals, so it’s no wonder this song performed so well on commercial radio. In today’s online guitar lesson, we will be looking at the chords, guitar solo tab and music theory analysis of this piece.
Peg – Chords
Not your standard 4 chord pop song, “Peg” features a number of unusual jazz chords thanks to Fagan and Becker’s shared jazz backgrounds. The easiest way to learn this song is to break it up into sections, and that’s exactly what we’ll do here. First, let’s take a look at the chords that are played in the introduction, which support the brass lines:
Each of the first six chords are simply strummed once and held for the entirety of the bar, also known as playing “diamonds.” Once we get to the Cmaj7 and the Gadd9/B, the main groove to the song is outlined which sets up the verse chord progression. I have detailed this in a tab a little further down the page. We will get to that later, after we have looked at the rest of the chords for the verse:
Although there are a few different ways of voicing the chords above, I feel the method I have outlined is the easiest, at least in my opinion. Yes, it does involve more left hand movement around the neck, but there are only two different shapes to memorise in for the entirety of the verse. Let’s now take a look at the chords for the chorus:
As you can see, there are a lot of chords to memorise for the chorus section. Take your time in learning these shapes if any are unfamiliar to you. From my own personal experience, I found the best way was to learn the first half and repeat it over and over again, before then progressing to the second half which starts with the Aadd9/C# chord. Finally, let’s have a look at the guitar chords that I play over the bridge section to “Peg.” This section occurs after the first chorus in the song:
I have found it much easier to play the triads outlined above, dropping the bass notes from each chord, creating smooth transitions between each shape. I also believe that the method outlined above sounds correct when compared to the original recording.
Now that you’ve got all of those chord shapes under your fingers, it’s time to study the guitar tab for “Peg” – which I have included below. Keep in mind that this just for the chords in the song, and not the guitar solo or muted single note parts in the verse:
Peg Brass Parts Tab
There are two main brass parts that feature prominently in “Peg.” The first of which occurs in the intro, and serves as the first hook for the song. I have transcribed the intro brass parts for guitar below:
The second brass part to feature prominently in this tune are the fills that occur in between the vocal breaks from the second verse onwards. Despite the chord changes, these fills are always the same:
Peg Guitar Solo Tab
As mentioned above, Jay Graydon’s guitar solo in “Peg” is a classic. Reportedly, the band tried out seven top session guitarists for the solo before settling on Graydon’s attempt, which he spent six hours perfecting in the studio. Here is a link to a fantastic transcription of this solo on Graydon’s official website. You can’t get anymore accurate than that!
Music Theory Analysis
“Peg” is in the key of G major, although it features a number of chords that are non diatonic. Here is the scale of G major, harmonised into 3, 4 and 5 note chords:
|Major 7||minor 7||minor 7||Major 7||Dominant 7||minor 7||minor 7 b5||Major 7|
|Major 9||minor 9||minor 7b9||Major 9||Dominant 9||minor 9||minor 7 b5 b9||Major 9|
The intro starts on the tonic chord of Gmaj9, before moving to a rather unusual F#7#9 chord. This is then followed by the same maj9 – 7#9 sequence a tone lower (Fmaj9 – E7#9) and then the same chord progression another tone lower (Ebmaj9 – D7#9.) Essentially, what we have here is a series of maj9 descending a tone at a time, connected by altered dominant chords in between. If we look at the first instance, the F#7#9 is actually the tritone substitute of the Fmaj9 chord in the next bar, since the V chord of Fmaj9 should be C7. This gives us a pattern of the tonic chord, and then a series of strong sounding V-I cadences, a common jazz songwriting technique.
As stated by Donald Fagan, the verse to “Peg” is fundamentally a blues progression with a couple of twists. If we looked at a standard blues progression in the key of G Major, it would look like this:
The first thing to note is that Fagan & Becker have opted to replace the traditional dominant 7 chords featured above with add9 chords, placing the 3rd in the bass. Fagan and Becker refer to this specific chord voicing as the mu chord, often signified by μ. Secondly, each chord in the traditional blues sequence is prefaced by a Major 7 chord a perfect fourth away in “Peg” – creating a plagal cadence in every bar.
The chorus to “Peg” begins with a really nice diatonic IV I II VI chord progression in the tonic key of G. It actually starts out with the same chords as the verse, before moving to the relative minor of the key signature (Em.) The m11 chords built on the root notes of A and E are still diatonic to G Major, as they do not contain any notes from outside of the scale. It then moves to a non diatonic chord in Aadd9/C#. This could be viewed as a II major chord, or you could prefer to see it from the perspective of the C# bass note, which creates a #4, or b5 interval, before moving down to chord IV, which is Cmaj7. The GMaj7 and F#7 chords that follow are taken from the intro, before we move into a Be-Bop turnaround with the Bm7, E7#9, Am7 and C/D chords, which are chords III, vi, ii and V in this key.
However, don’t just take my word for it. Below are two excellent videos of Donald Fagan explaining how he came up with the chord progression to “Peg”:
I hope you have enjoyed today’s lesson on “Peg.” Steely Dan are a great band to learn from for more advanced chord types and chord progressions, as well as more interesting guitar parts and riffs. Although the band make use of jazz harmony in their music, their songs still remain highly listenable and radio friendly, a feat that requires a lot of craft and attention to detail. Please let me know in the comments if you would like me to tackle another one of their songs in the future.
Until next time,