Top 5 Chord Progressions

Top 5 Chord Progressions

By Jacques Bekker
In Feb 2, 2021

The top 5 chord progressions are the order in which chords are played in a song. They are the foundation of harmony in Western music from the Classical period to the 21st century. Chord progressions define how the melody and rhythm of a song will be determined.

Chord progressions are identified by using Roman numerals, this enables players to quickly transpose to a new key and recognise the song’s progression.

All styles of music have their own popular progressions which can be synonymous to the style itself:

  • Jazz: ii7-V7-I7 (2-5-1)
  • 12 Bar Blues: I7-IV7-V7 (1-4-5 Dominant)
  • Pop: I-V-vi-IV (1-5-6-4)

Let’s look at five popular chord progressions:

Chord Progression 1



Composers often begin pieces with this progression as it clearly defines the point of origin in the key.

The VI is known as the perfect cadence. A cadence is a melodic or rhythmical arrangement that creates a sense of resolution.

Knowing the theory is one part, but listening to the progression will give you better insight on the subject.

Here are some examples:

Chord Progression 2


I7 – IV7 – V7

Like I said, some progression can be synonymous to a certain style of music.

The I7-IV7-V7 progression is the basic rundown of the 12-bar blues.

Alteration in chords may vary but the basis of the progression will always stay I7-IV7-V7.

Here are some examples;

Chord Progression 3 & 4



By adding a minor six to the I-IV-V progression, the possible variations are almost unlimited.

So, what happens is; the vi and I share two similar notes to build the vi and I chords, these shared notes are known as common tones.

Chord: I

C Major
1 3 5


Chord: vi

A minor
1 3 5


The 1(C) and 3(E) of the I chord are the same as the 3(C) and 5(E) from the vi chord. These chords can be used interchangeably due to the common tones.

Sticking with the subject of common tones, you can also switch the IV with an ii to create popular chord progression number 4;

I – vi – ii – V

This is a very popular progression, here are some examples:

Chord Progression 5


I – V – vi – iii – IV.

This is one of the oldest and popular progressions, first popularised by Johann Pachelbel with his “Cannon in D”

This progression can be cheerful and bright or pessimistic and gloomy depending on the order of the chords in the song.

  • I–V–vi–IV, (cheerful)
  • vi–IV–I–V, (gloomy)

Here are some examples of the I – V – vi – iii – IV progression;

Here are some songs using the vi–IV–I–V progression:

These top 5 chord progressions have no copyright law and are free to use as you please. You can use these progressions to write your own hit songs or just as reference point when composing. There are still various combinations to explore, but this should give you a good basis when composing your own song.

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* Studied jazz and popular music at Tshwane University of Technology * Has over 3 000 hours teaching experience *Been playing in bands since the age of 16 * Has biceps bigger than any 12 tone scale * Currently in a ``complicated relationship`` with Jazz

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