Common Chord Progressions

Chord progressions are just a way to get the harmony to support the melody. In any key, if your melody sticks to the key you are in then the one chord will harmonize three notes, the five chord will harmonize two additional notes and the four chord will harmonize the remaining two notes.

So the I IV V chords will harmonize every note in a given melody providing it stays in key. You can replace the two chord for the four chord, so now we get the 2 5 1...

You can expand the one chord, meaning if you are sitting on it for a while
you can play different bass notes under to help create motion. That is where we get the 1 3 6 2 5 1... the vi chord and the iii chord fill in for the 1 chord and the vii fills in for the V chord. The vi chord can also lead to the IV chord.

All this may seem confusing but it all starts with the I chord and the V chord and the IV. If you just use these three chords you can play with most songs. I wrote 3 Chords You Just Gotta know! You can check it out here:

When you get more advanced you can use the 2 5 1 as a little intro to each new chord you will play.

So to introduce the I chord you play ii V and then I... When you want to go to the IV chord you introduce it by playing a ii V I in the key of the IV chord. So if you were in the key of C and you want to go to the F, you introduce the F by playing g min7 C7
Fmaj...2 5 1... Now you have it! 2 5 1 are derived from 4 5 1 and they have over time become embellishments as well static chords to rest on to support the melody.

Where to apply them:
2-5-1 is used most times at the end of a piece of music to resolve the progression back to 1. See both examples below.

No Weapon by Fred Hammond Example-Key of Ab

/Ab, Bb, C – There, is, No
8. Ab-Ab/EbGBbC, Bb, Ab – Weapon
7. G-G/DbFGBb(7), C/DbEGBb(3)- Formed (Circle of 4th – G, C, F or 7-3-6)
6. F-F/EbFAbC(6), Bb, Ab – Against Me
5. Eb-Eb/DbGbBb(5), Ab-Ab/CGbBb(1) – That Shall (Circle of 4th – Eb, Ab, Db or 5-1-4)
4. Db-Db/EbFAbC(4), Bb, Ab – Not Prosper

(Now look at the last five notes of the Ab ex. Above C, F, Bb, Eb, Ab – all using the circle of 4th 3-6-2-5-1)

3. C-C/BbEbAb(3), FCEb/BbCEbAb(6)– Use this chord instead of previous
2. Bb-Bb/CDbFAb(2) – It Won’t
Eb-Eb/DbFAbBb(5) - Work
1. Ab-Ab/EbGBbC(1), Bb, Ab – Weapon

Jesus is Love by Commodores-Key of Ab

8. Ab-Ab/EbGBbC – Father
7. G-G/DbFGBb(7), C/DbEGBb(3)- Help Your (Circle of 4th – G, C, F or 7-3-6)
6. F-F/CEbAb(6) – Children
5. Eb-Eb/DbGbBb(5), Ab-Ab/CGbBb(1) – And Don't let them (Circle of 4th – Eb, Ab, Db or 5-1-4)
4. Db-Db/AbCEbF(4) – Fall

(Now look at the last five notes of the Ab ex. Above C, F, Bb, Eb, Ab – all using the circle of 4th 3-6-2-5-1)

3. C-C/BbEbAb(3), FCEb/BbCEbAb(6)– by the side of the
2. Bb-Bb/CDbFAb(2) – road.
1. Ab-Ab/EbGBbC(1) – Walk-on

2 5 1 (or ii V I in roman numerals as most theory books will use) is a basic cadential progression throughout music. In other words it leads to a "resting" point, temporary or permanent. The thing is you need to think beyond the ii V I of just the given key (such as in F -- G C F) because, although the song is in F, there may be ii V I patterns leading to other keys.

Take the beginning of "Amazing Grace"

C7 F Cm7 F7 Bb C7 F
A - Mazing Grace How Sweet the Sound

The Cm7 F7 Bb is ii V I in the key of Bb and we have temporarily rested in Bb
Note that IV and ii are almost functionally identical and often interchangeable. A Bb6 chord has the same notes as a Gm7. We could then add a Gm7 between the Bb and the C7 and get a II V I in F.

Am7 Dm7 Gm7 C7 F
Was blind but now I See

Again Gm7 C7 F is ii V I in the key of F.
Note that you could change the Gm7 to a G7

Often ii V I is taught the ii is minor and V is Dominant and I is either Tonic Major or Minor. But actually, they can be about any quality -- the II dominant 7 etc. Note that the Am7 Dm7 G(m)7 progression could be ii V I in G (though functionally here that is stretching things a little bit.

Learn to listen to the bass line for that pattern and note that it may not be in a temporary key of a song.

Another common chord progression is the I IV V IV I... You'll hear this chord progression in Rock, Gospel and Jazz.

Then there's the 12 Bar Progressions, those blues chord progressions.

A great source for these blues chord progressions can be found at the Classic Cat

C is the one chord- I Major
Dm is the two - ii minor
Em is the three - iii minor
F is the four - IV Major
G is the five - V Major
Am is the six - vi minor
B diminished is the seven - vii diminished

When you know every chord in the key of C, we can create a chord progression. Here are ten common progressions in the key of C:

I - V
C - G
I - vi - ii - V
C - Am - Dm - G
I - IV
C - F
I - vi - IV - V
C - Am - F - G
I - vi
C - Am
I - vi - ii - vii
C - Am - Dm - Bdim
I - IV - V
C - F - G
I - vi - IV - vii
C - Am - F - B dim
I - ii - V
C - Dm - G
I - vi - V
C - Am - G

Songs which use a simple chord progression (some are above):

1. (I - IV - V) 'La Bamba' - Richie Valens
2. (I - IV) 'You Can't Always Get' - Rolling Stones
3. (IV - V - I) 'Mr. Tambourine Man' - Bob Dylan

My friends over at HearandPlay have posted great information on their blog regarding common chord progressions:

Stray411 has shared a great video for us on how to build chord progressions using minor chord progressions for an example.

Then there are great ear training and fun, free games about learning chord progressions!

Plus, you can print out this great newsletter from Jermaine Griggs on Gospel Chord Progressions.

So, chord progressions are definitely related to the scale!

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