Making use of chord progressions can help create tension in a song while building up its energy and emotion. But it’s essential that you know the rules surrounding progressions so your songs sound consistent and have a smooth flow.
As an example, we will examine a progression that begins with a tonic chord that feels at home, then moves through subdominant chords before ending on dominant chords – an often-used pattern in modern music.
1. I – IV – V – VI
The I – IV – V – VI chord progression is one of the most frequently utilized in music. Its popularity can be understood when considering that its melodic line gently progresses up and down the scale, providing a rich harmonic backdrop for vocal melodies.
As well as appearing in popular rock and pop songs such as Rick Astley’s iconic “Never Gonna Give You Up,” this term can also be found frequently used in anime opening themes!
Identification can be made simpler using roman numerals to represent each chord and note they’re built upon: I, IV and V are major chords composed from tonic and perfect fifth notes in the scale; while III and vii represent minor chords composed from second and fourth degrees respectively of that scale.
2. I – IV – V – VI
This chord progression is widely used in pop and rock songs, creating an engaging arc before returning back to its tonic chord. Songwriters frequently turn to this choice because it offers the ideal canvas for vocal melodies.
This progression is easy to recognize due to its use of uppercase Roman numerals to indicate major chords, while lowercase ones indicate minor ones. You can apply this same approach when trying to recognize chords in any key.
This progression can also be found in songs with lullaby-esque qualities, typically used to set the mood for slow ballads or sad folk anthems such as Elton John’s Crocodile Rock or Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea as examples of such songs.
3. I – IV – V – VII
This progression is one of the most beloved chord progressions available. It can be utilized across many keys and melodies, and adding secondary dominants or other chords gives this progression even more variety.
The chords I, IV and V are major triads with a minor third between their roots and 3rd notes and a perfect fifth between 4th and 5th notes. Memorizing these chords will come in handy because you will recognize them from many popular songs you love as well as original compositions.
As you compose music, keep this tip in mind when writing pieces: every composition should reach its tonal center eventually and create an enjoyable listener experience. Doing this will increase viewer connection with your work as well.
4. I – IV – V – VIII
Chord progressions help define a song’s tonality or key signature by setting its tonic chord as home base, with subdominants adding tension that needs resolution, and dominants providing energy and momentum.
This progression is an increasingly popular one used in pop music. From Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” to Howie Day’s “Collide”, this progression makes playing easy while providing great sound with many melodies.
Chords that perform similar functions can often be substituted with each other. Most often used are IV and ii chords as their notes fall in similar places on the scale – to distinguish these chords use lowercase “m” after their name to differentiate.
5. I – IV – V – IX
The I – IV – V progression is one of the most widely-used major chord progressions, often used as the starting point for songs since it’s easy to play on piano and sounds great.
An important first step to understanding this progression is becoming familiar with Roman numerals for each chord, keeping in mind that uppercase numerals indicate major chords while lowercase ones indicate minor ones.
The i vi IV V progression is an iconic pop music technique and can be heard in songs like Taylor Swift’s Clean and Aerosmith’s Cryin’. This progression utilizes bright upbeat chords to maintain an upbeat mood and foregoing the tonic (I) chord on its way back towards dominant (V). This gives rise to tension within the song as well.