Are you wondering, “what are the most common chord progressions in pop music?” If so, you’re in the right place.
Today, many pop songs are written by writing the chords first, and melody later. In fact, it would be fair to say that the backbone of the modern pop song is the chord progression. In this way, chord progressions are very important to make the song as memorable, catchy and enjoyable as possible.
Pop music has existed at least since the 1950s, amassing a great catalog of music over the decades. Interestingly, many hit songs have used similar chords. There is something magical and catchy to us when certain chords are played in a certain order. That sequence of chords is called a ‘chord progression.’
Many pop songs tend to be ‘easier to digest’ for the listeners when served within one of these chord progressions. Perhaps the success of pop music in terms of reaching to big masses lies in the reality that the melodies tend to be simple, memorable, and hence, the chord progressions also provide an approachable framework for the songs.
So, then let’s get started! Here are the five main chord progressions:
The I-V-vi-IV chord progression is one of the most common progressions in pop music. In the key of C major, this progression would consist of the following chords:
C – G – Am – F
Feel free to play this chord progression on your guitar to get a sense of what it sounds like. Does it sound familiar to you? It’s because it’s the backbone of many famous songs, such as:
“Let it Be” by The Beatles, “Someone Like You” by Adele, “All of Me” by John Legend and “Torn” by Natalia Imbruglia are some examples of the I-V-vi-IV chord progression.
As a variation of the I-V-vi-IV, progression The I-vi-IV-V chord progression has also been dubbed the 50s chord progression, mainly because of the amount of hits that were used this decade. The I-vi-IV progression is still regularly used today in many contemporary songs.
In the key of C major, this chord progression would consist of the following chords:
Some songs that include this chord progression are “Stand By Me” by Ben E King, “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys, “Every Breath You Take” by The Police, and “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran.
A third variation of the I-V-vi-IV is the vi-IV-I-V progression. This one would then consist of the following chords:
Am – F -C -G
This chord progression has also been used by a lot of songs, including “Apologize” by OneRepublic, “One of Us” by Joan Osborne, “If I Were a Boy” by Beyonce, and “The Passenger” by Iggy Pop.
I-IV-V or I-V-IV
I-IV-V is another chord progression that has been used in pop music since the 1950s. In the key of C major, this chord progression would be:
C – F – G
Two great examples of this chord progression are “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles and “La Bamba” by Richie Valens.
The I-IV-V progression can also be inverted to create a similar chord progression, which is I-V-IV. By doing this, the sequence of the chords would then change to:
C – G – F
A famous song that uses the I-V-IV chord progression is “Knockin on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan.
The ii-V-I chord progression is typically known as the ‘jazz turnaround’, but it is also used in pop music.
In the key of C major, the ii-V-I progression would be played with the following chords:
Some songs that use the ii-V-I chord progression are “Sunday Morning” by Maroon 5 and “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton.
In this article, I’ve assembled some of the most common chord progressions in pop music. While this is not the entire list, it will give you an ability to recognize and use these chord progressions in your own playing. In terms of format, I first provided the Roman numerals of each chord progression first, and then the actual chords to play in the key of C major.
For those who are curious, chord progressions are written with Roman numerals for two main reasons: The first reason is because it is easier to transpose the chord progressions for different keys. For instance, for the I-IV-V chord progression, in C major, this progression would consist of the chords C, F and D. In G major, this would become G-C-D. Since there are twelve different keys, the letter system can get quite confusing very fast as we change from one key to another. To keep this simple, we notate the chords with Roman numerals.
There is a second reason, which is to show us the function of each chord within that progression, such as tonic (I), subtonic (IV) and dominant (V), but this is for a deeper theoretical analysis which we do not need at this point.
These are the Most Common Chord Progressions in Pop Music, But There are Many More…
Keep in mind that there are many more progressions, and as you look up the chords for some of your favorite songs, you might discover more progressions out there!