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Guitar Chord Progressions

Guitar Chord Progressions is part 3 in a 10 part series on How to Write Songs. Now that we understand how I, IV and V are used, let's add in some other diatonic chords (ii - subdominant, iii tonic and vi tonic) and see what songs emerge.

Again, notice how all progressions contain tonic, subdominant and dominant chords. Piano chord progressions work the same as on guitar, so all of this applies there as well.


*To review chords in a key visit: G Major Chord and G Guitar Chord

This time let's look at the key of G to change things up. However, all of these rules apply to any key in you're in. In lesson 1, authentic cadence, we talked about the 3 tonal regions tonic, subdominant and dominant. A good song has all 3. This knowledge will help you write your own music.


G Maj is the I chord (tonic)
A min is the ii chord (subdominant)
B min is the iii chord (tonic)
C Maj is the IV chord (subdominant)
D Maj is the V chord (dominant)
E min is the vi chord (tonic)
F#dim is the VII chord (dominant)

*The songs below are not all in the key of G, but the patterns are the same no matter the key.

I - V - vi - IV (tonic - dominant - tonic - subdominant)
*Perhaps the most popular of guitar chord progressions in current pop music. Something about alternating tonic with subdominant and dominant. You can cycle this progression and not get tired of it.

Listen to The Axis of Awesome as they do a brilliant spoof on this progression with their tune 4 CHORDS

*NOTICE: The V to vi is a deceptive cadence

Hey Soul Sister - Train
I'm Yours - Jason Mraz
Let it Be (verse) - The Beatles
No Woman No Cry - Bob Marley
With or Without You - U2
Where is the Love - Black Eyed Peas
Don't Stop Believing - Journey
Africa - Toto
Down Under - Men at Work
Paparazzi - Lady Gaga
The Edge of Glory - Lady Gaga
Beast of Burden - Rolling Stones
Love Story - Taylor Swift
Superman - Five For Fighting
Soul to Squeeze - RHCPs
Cryin' - Aerosmith
Breakaway (chorus) - Kelly Clarkson

vi - IV - I - V (tonic - subdominant - tonic - dominant)

*NOTICE: The IV to I is a plagal cadence

Apologize - One Republic
Building a Mystery - Sarah McLachlan
If God Was One of Us - Joan Osborne
Zombie - Cranberries
Behind These Hazel Eyes - Kelly Clarkson

I - vi - IV - V (tonic - tonic - subdominant - dominant)
Bleeding Love - Leona Lewis
Complicated - Avril Lavigne
One Fine Day - The Chiffons
Unchained Melody - The Righteous Brothers
The Reason - Hoobastank
D'yer Maker - Led Zeppelin
Every Breath You Take - The Police

I - IV - ii - V (tonic - subdominant - subdominant - dominant)
Run Around - Blues Traveler
Meet Virginia - Train
All For You - Sister Hazel
Bit%& - Meredith Brooks
More Than This - Roxy Music

(more guitar chord progressions)

I - vi - V - IV (tonic - tonic - dominant - subdominant)
You Learn - Alanis Morisette
Surrender - Cheap Trick
How Sweet It Is - James Taylor
You're a God - Prince
Let it Be (chorus) - Beatles
Purple Rain - Prince
I will Always Love You - Whitney Houston / Dolly Parton

I - V - ii - IV (tonic - dominant - subdominant - subdominant)
Closing Time - Semisonic
Our House - Madness
You Belong With Me - Taylor Swift
Irreplaceable - Beyonce

I - IV - vi - V (tonic - subdominant - tonic - dominant)
More Than a Feeling - Boston
Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Pat Benatar
Good Life - One Republic
Dirty Little Secret - All American Rejects
Say - John Mayer

I - vi - ii - V (tonic - tonic - subdominant - dominant)
Sherry - Frank Valli and the 4 Seasons
Hey Paula - Paul and Paula
Good Night Sweetheart - The Spaniels
Return to Sender - Elvis Presley
Wonder of You - Elvis Presley
I've Got Rhythm - Gershwyn
Blue Moon - Rogers and Hart

I - IV - ii - V (tonic - subdominant - subdominant - dominant)
Bad Day - Daniel Powter

I - IV - V - vi (tonic - subdominant - dominant - tonic)
The Warrior - Scandal

(even more guitar chord progressions)

*NOTICE: The V to vi is a deceptive cadence

IV - I - V - vi (subdominant - tonic - dominant - tonic)
It Girl - Jason Derulo
Learning to Fly - Tom Petty

*NOTICE: The V to vi is a deceptive cadence

vi - iii (tonic - tonic)
White Flag (verse) - Dido
V (dominant)
White Flag (prechorus) - Dido
IV - I - ii - vi (subdominant - tonic - subdominant - tonic)
White Flag (chorus) - Dido

I - ii - vi - IV (tonic - subdominant - tonic - subdominant)
*(This one is interesting as there is no V chord until it's snuck in at the end of a chorus…listen closely)
Firework - Katy Perry

ii - vi - iii - IV (subdominant - tonic - tonic - subdominant)
Abm - Ebm - Bbm - B
Everything You Want (verse)
ii - I - vi - V (subdominant - tonic - tonic - dominant)
Abm - Gb - Ebm - Db
Everything You Want (chorus) - Vertical Horizon

vi - V (tonic - dominant)
She Will Be Loved (verse) - Maroon 5
I - V - vi - V (tonic - dominant - tonic - dominant)
She Will Be Loved (chorus) - Maroon 5

Look up a song in this astonishing listing of thousands of popular songs and who sang them. All popular music types are included: Rock, pop, country, disco, soul, rap, hip-hop, oldies, etc.


I - V - vi - iii - IV - I - IV - V
C - G - Am - Em - F - C - F - G
Canon in D minor - Palchelbel

Ok, now let's look at guitar chord progressions that use chords from different keys. This is called modal interchange or chord substitution. We'll also look at the neapolitan chord as we continue to explore pop piano and guitar chord progressions.

Continue to Part 4, Chord Progressions 3

Return to Top of Guitar Chord Progressions

Return to How to Write a Song

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