The term chord progression simply refers to the order in which chords are played in a song/piece of music.
Play a few different songs/pieces and you will see that there are various different ways in which composers order chords.
However, the good news is that there are a few simple guidelines which will help you massively when writing your own chord progressions.
The 5 basic rules of Chord Progressions
There are 5 basic rules to follow when writing a chord progression.
Follow these and your chord progression will definitely “work”:
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- Choose a key to write in (if you are just starting out the C major, G major, A minor and E minor are good keys to start with)
- Work out the primary chords (I, IV, V). Start to build your progressions with these. Then move on to using secondary chords (II, III, VI) to develop your chord progressions further.
- Always start and end your chord progression on chord I
- Try using some common progressions (see below)
- Try adding some circle progressions (see below)
The Common Chord Progressions
There are some chord progressions which are used in lots and lots of different songs/pieces – they have been tried and tested in many different styles and will “work”.
Learn these and you will be able to play lots of different songs and easily use them in your composing.
They will work in both major and minor keys.
Start with the following 4 progressions. (I have done an audio example in both a major key and then a minor key for you to listen to)
The Circle Progressions
Circle Chord Progressions are progressions where the chords seem to naturally follow on from one another.
You will find the following 2 circle progressions really useful.
Have a listen to the audio examples for each (again, each recording contains an example in a major key followed by an example in a minor key).
Circle Progression 1
Circle Progression 2
Quick Reference Chord Progression Sheet
I have put together this cheat sheet to give you the basic chord progressions in every key!
Feel free to screenshot it/print it out for quick reference.
You will see that some of the keys are really complex with lots of sharps and flats. If you are just starting out I suggest you choose one of the following keys to write in:
Major – C, G, D
Minor – Am, Em, Bm