Here is an overview of some of the most popular or well known chord progressions. Instead of showing the actual chords, the list uses the roman numerals for the scale chords, steps, functions, however it is called in your country. When choosing a major or minor scale in MelodyBuilder, these chords are highlighted with a blue background colour and given a roman number. This makes it easier for you to use a progression in a scale you like.

I-V-VI-IV – The pop progression

This progression is certainly one of the most popular progression in pop history. Let it be by the Beatles, Someone like you by Adele, Forever young by Alphaville, … there are numerous songs using this progression. A youtube video published some years ago paid tribute to this popular chord progression.

Common variations of the I-V-VI-IV chord progression are created by replacing the V chord with the II, III, IV or I chord.

VI–IV-I-V – Pop progression variant

That’s seen as a variant of the I-V-VI-IV chord progression and according to Wikipedia it “was dubbed the sensitive female chord progression by Boston Globe Columnist Marc Hirsh”. An example for a song solely built around this progression is Joan Osborne’s What If God Was One Of Us.

Another variation is the IV–I–V–VI progression, used for example in Rihanna’s song Umbrella.

I-VI-IV-V – The 50s progression

Common in the western music of the 50s and early 60s of the 19th century was the progression I-VI-IV-V (e.g. in C major scale it’s the chords Cmaj, Am, Fmaj, Gmaj). A variation of this progression is to replace the IV chord with the II chord which creates the chord progression: I-VI-II-V which includes the so-called “II-V-I turnaround” – a cadence popular in jazz music and other modern genres.

Songs using this progression:

  • Baby – Justin Bieber
  • I saw the sign – Ace Of Base
  • Walking in Memphis – Macr Cohn
  • Complicated – Avril Lavigne
  • Lucky – Britney Spears
  • Let’s Dance – David Bowie

Other variations:

  • I-VI-II-IV-V7
  • I-VI-II-IV-V7-II
  • IVI-IV-V

I-V-VI-III – Pachelbel’s progression

This progressoin is named after a canon by the German Baroque composer Johann Pachelbel that was using this chord progression in the D major scale. The building formular for the original Pachelbel progression is: I-V-VI-III-IV-I-IV-V. In modern music you see more often only the first part being used: I-V-VI-III.

Songs using this progression:

  • Super Smash Bros Melee Onett – Nintendo
  • Cryin’ – Aerosmith
  • Holding out for a hero – Bonnie Tyler
  • Under the bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Basketcase – Green Day

VI–II–V–I – The circle progression

This progression is the result of a very simple formular: start at the VI chord and count 3 steps upwards (VII(1), I(2), II(3)). You end on the II chord. Then again count 3 chords upwards, you come to the V chord. From there count again 3 steps upwards until you reach the final I chord.

This method described for the circle progression can be used in all forms. For example, descending fifths (or ascending fourths) are chord progressions that start at a certain note in the scale and move forward or backward by a certain number of halftone steps (in this case 5). I-IV-VII-III-VI-II-V-I is a very well known descending fifths progression.

A popular ascending fourths sequence is I-III-V-VII which for example can be heard in Yann Tiersen’s Comptine d`un autre ete – l`apres-midi.

More progressions

  • IV-I-V-VI: Life is life, Opus
  • I V VI IV: With or without you, U2
  • VI7-II7-V7-I (Ragtime progression): Charleston, James P.Johnson
  • I-I-IV-I-IV-IV-I-I-V-IV-I-I (12 Bar Blues): Rock Around the Clock, Bill Haley & His Comets
  • I-IV-I-V-I-IV-I/V-I (Passamezzo moderno): Honky Tonk Women, The Rolling Stones
  • II-IV-V: House of the rising sun, The Animals
  • VI-IV-I-V: Snow, Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • VI-V-IV-III: California dreaming, The Mamas and Papas
  • II-I-V/VII-VII(-VI): As my guitar gently weeps, The Beatles
  • I-IV-V: Twist and shout, The Beatles
  • I-V-VI-I-IV: Ameria, Paul Simon