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Chord Progression is part 2 in a 10 part series on How to Write a Song. I always begin with finding the right progression. We'll look at common progressions that work for the commercial marketplace. We'll also look at why popular chord progressions work.
It is so important to transcribe (which just means to figure out songs) as many songs as you can. The best songwriters have learned, studied, analyzed, borrowed and sometimes stolen ideas from the greats.
Billy Joel used to say "the good writers borrow, the great ones steal". He talks about how he got tons of ideas from listening to Mozart. The truth is that when it comes to chord progressions there is no such thing as stealing. You can't copyright a progression, only lyrics and melody.
Certain progressions are used time and again no matter if it's rock, pop, country or R&B. They work, so why not use them?
NOTE: Sometimes minor chords are lower case like (i ii iii vi etc, however sometimes all chords are written as upper case).
Let's look at the key of C to make things easy. However, all of these rules apply to any key in you're in. In the last lesson, authentic cadence, we talked about the 3 tonal regions: tonic, subdominant and dominant. A good song has all 3.
C Maj is the I chord (tonic)
D min is the ii chord (subdominant)
E min is the iii chord (tonic)
F Maj is the IV chord (subdominant)
G Maj is the V chord (dominant)
A min is the vi chord (tonic)
B dim is the VII chord (dominant)
Here are some very popular progressions whether you are playing piano or guitar. We've established that the blues and blues rock songs use I, IV and V. Let's look at some pop songs that have progressions using I, IV and V. Some of the greatest progressions are simple but something different has been done with each arrangement to make them interesting.
*REMEMBER: when a chord change has a IV-I it is a plagal cadence and V-I is an authentic cadence
I - IV - V - IV (tonic - subdominant - dominant - subdominant)
Joker - Steve Miller
Louie Louie - Richard Berry
La Bamba - Richie Valens
Dancing With Myself - Billy Idol
Summer Lovin' - Grease
I - V - IV - I (tonic - dominant - subdominant - tonic)
Yellow (verse) - Coldplay
Bubbly - Colbie Caillat
Chasing Cars - Snow Patrol
V - I - IV - I (dominant - tonic - subdominant - tonic)
What I Like About You - The Romantics
I - V - IV - V (tonic - dominant - subdominant - dominant)
Fallin' For You - Colbie Caillat
I - I - IV - V (tonic - tonic - subdominant - dominant)
Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) - Green Day
V - IV - I (dominant - subdominant - tonic)
Hands in My Pocket (verse) - Alanis Morisette
I - IV - I - V (tonic - subdominant - tonic - dominant)
Free Fallin' - Tom Petty
Brown Eyed Girl - Van Morrison
The Lion Sleeps Tonight - Lion King
Another Saturday - Sam Cooke
V - IV - I - IV - I - IV - V
I - IV - V - V - IV - I - V
Leave the Pieces - The Wreckers (Michelle Branch)
Now let's look at some progressions that use the ii, the iii and the vi as well.