Have you heard of “the four chord song” – it is one of the cornerstones of modern pop progressions – it should come as no surprise.
Many songs employ this progression, although not necessarily throughout an entire track or song – typically just in one section (such as verse or chorus) which also incorporates other aspects such as melody, lyrics, rhythms and arrangements to set them apart from one another.
Simple and catchy
Popular music has always been driven by simple ideas, from 2- or 3-chord songs from the 1950s and 60s, to strict harmonic patterns in traditional jazz, and even basic harmonies used throughout classical genres for centuries. If you are new to making pop music or an experienced musician just starting out, learning these four chord progressions will equip you with all of the tools to craft your own original work.
Start by exploring variations on this progression, like changing chord order or adding extra notes to an existing triad, to give the song a distinct sound and add tension or release. Some great examples can be heard in Justin Bieber’s Ghost where chord changes go beyond each bar; or Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger where she uses an augmented sixth to create more dramatic sounds.
Assuming you have the skills of a musician, four chord songs can make for simple yet catchy compositions with ease. Key changes and pitch tones can add texture, while key changes and different pitch tones add extra character. But for multifaceted and emotional songs it would be wiser to veer away from this simple four-chord pattern altogether.
Also great about chord progressions is their simplicity – they can easily be learned and applied across different genres and styles, from slow ballads to dance tracks and can even feature different instruments from strings to synthesizers!
One of the most famous and versatile chord progressions is I-V-iv-IV. Used by numerous popular artists throughout their careers – including ABBA, Coldplay, The Beatles and Michael Jackson to name just a few – you’ll often hear this progression featured prominently. Dua Lipa and Sam Smith among many other contemporary pop artists are employing it regularly and more and more songs each year feature this progression as part of their songs.
Easy to learn
Pop songs rely heavily on modern production techniques and glossy vocals, but stripped back they reveal a simple but catchy composition of chords that makes for easy learning for beginners. Songwriters can employ various chord progressions within this structure making learning and picking up easy – though variations such as I-IV-V-vi are popular choices in pop music.
With these four chords, it is possible to compose any tune in a major key. They are built upon the first, fourth, and fifth degrees of the key (called primary triads). Furthermore, all four chords have major qualities; therefore any tune harmonized using these chords will sound simple yet vibrant.
Four chord progressions have become an indispensable feature of rock and pop songs since their introduction during the ’50s; from ballads to dance tunes like Louie Louie and Hey Joe they are ubiquitous throughout music history. Punk bands such as Green Day and Blink-182 later adopted it for their tunes – and this trend continued into the 2000s when more artists included this simple chord progression in their hits.
This chord progression has become so ubiquitous that some music theorists consider it formulaic. While other genres allow more room for creativity such as jazz, the I-IV-V-vi pattern has become a standard in today’s chart-topping hits.
Pop music 4 chords can be created using any number of chords, but the most crucial aspect is an acute ear. Once yours is tuned in, experiment with various chord combinations until you find what sounds best together. Pianos may come in handy but any instrument will do; just be mindful when choosing chords.
To play chords easily and smoothly, use your thumbs for notes in the bass and your index finger for chords in the melody. Practice these chords alone or with other musicians until you master it; once familiarized, add extra notes such as an augmented sixth for more complexity and impactful sounds.
It’s easy to make mashups
Utilizing chord progressions as the basis of songs makes mashups of other artists’ work easy, and has become increasingly popular as more genres have gained prominence on charts in recent years. Furthermore, this trend makes it easier for new songwriters to find their voices and write catchy melodies reminiscent of classic hits. While this trend may not last forever, it provides listeners who would otherwise not know them an introduction into new styles that otherwise may not exist.
Not surprisingly, most pop songs feature four chords. This is no accident: chord progressions are simple and instantly recognizable, leading many bands to copy them from already successful songs in hopes of creating their own hits. Plus melodies cannot be copiedrighted; so bands often use similar chord sequences in their music.
Some songs may slightly vary the order of chords, yet still retain a similar sound. This is particularly prevalent in popular music where rhythm and melody take precedence over individual notes. Musicians may incorporate more complex chords if desired; these will typically only be utilized occasionally as accents to the main choruses and verses of their songs.
Although certain genres provide greater room for creative freedom than others, chord progressions of most pop songs still adhere to a consistent formula. This holds true across rock, country and blues as well as more traditional genres like Bach. A popular chord progression used throughout many hit songs over time has been I-IV-V-VI; its use was especially prominent during the ’80s and ’90s hits like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey and U2’s tearjerker “With or Without You”.
Though this trend will likely fade in time, other movements could take its place. Artists such as Jacob Collier and Bad Bunny are pushing the limits of pop music by incorporating sounds from around the globe; though these have yet to reach mainstream popularity they are slowly beginning to do so.
It’s not a coincidence
Pop, rock, country and blues music share similar fundamental ideas; even classical musicians utilize harmonic patterns over and over. If you keep hearing four chords over and over again in any style of music – whether pop, rock, country or blues – that is no coincidence; instead it could be something more.
The four-chord progression first became popular during the doo-wop craze of the 1950s. Due to its easy implementation, its simplicity helped make it appealing for non-musicians as well as experienced musicians alike. Since then, its use has become ubiquitous within pop songs; its variations allow artists to convey different emotions with every note played – making this progression essential knowledge! This pattern remains relevant today with variations being applied by musicians everywhere from amateur groups up through professional ones! This makes learning even a few basic chords so invaluable!
While certain genres allow more freedom of creativity than others, most genres share fundamental ideas. Even jazz may feature more intricate harmonic structures; nevertheless it still adheres to similar fundamental principles as other genres; an example would be four-chord pop songs as they serve as good illustrations of this concept.
While many modern pop songs feature similar chord progressions, there are other ways to change up melody and tempo in a song. A string section can add dramatic flair while drum beats can shift its atmosphere and set an entirely different atmosphere.
Altering the key of a song is one way to modify its sound and change its feel. A key dictates which tones and chords will be played; for instance, in C major (D, A, F# min and G), this chord progression can be played in any key. To play something in another key simply change its root note (which determines tones played and chords used).
Three-chord progression is also an ideal foundation for samba, tango and bossa nova music styles characterized by jazz-influenced rhythm and tempo; for a more contemporary sound add hip hop beats into your arrangements!
Though four-chord songs have long been a mainstay in pop music, other forms will emerge to challenge its dominance in the future, such as reggaeton and bomba. Additionally, musicians will continue pushing musical boundaries to explore fresh approaches.