Understanding the Circle of Chords
Although writing a new song is an exceptional experience, most songwriters find it daunting to construct the lyrics, melody, and most importantly, the chord progression. In simple terms, chord progressions are the harmonic circles that are repeated time and time again in a song. Chord progressions are expressed using Roman numbers based on the key of the song. Also, the scale has numbers from 1 to 7.
In the case of a c major scale, it starts with the c major chord, also called tonic, which is number one on the scale and then to the 6th note (VI min). Next is the second minor chord, which is the d minor, II in. And the last one is the 5th grade or g major, V on the scale.
A common chord progression is the I-IV-v which is found in the scale of C. While this progression is common in jazz songs, it can also be found in songs of different genres and styles. The chord progression might be in this order or a different order.
Styles of Piano Chord Progressions
1) 12-Bar Blues Chord Progression
Although it has endless possibilities for making a melody, this is a simple chord progression that uses only three cords: I, IV, and V. It becomes a “12-bar blues” when it is played over 12 bars. You can use the blue scale to improvise melodies on top of this chord progression. Usually, the chord progression is repeated often when used in blue songs.
For instance, in the key of C major, the progression is extended and played in a variety of timings so that it can last the 12 bars.
C – C- C – C –F –F –C- C – G- G
I – I- I – I- IV – IV – I – I- V –V –I- I
A bar of music is just a way of notating a particular number of beats or a set of time in music. Each bar in the 12-bar blues usually has four beats or counts. Also, one chord lasts only one bar.
The 12-bar blues are used in songs such as “The Thrill is Gone” by BB King, “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley, and “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley.
2) “Cadential” Chord Progression
The Cadential chord progression expresses the tonal function of the chords audibly and has an ending progression. This chord progression uses three cords (ii-V-I) and is common in the gospel, Church, and classical settings.
Although it is complete with the three cords, it can still be extended into a long progression of I-vi-ii-V-I. This progression is typical in many jazz standards like “Tune UP” by Miles Davis and “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton.
In major C, the progression would be:
3) Classic 3-Chord progression
This is the most straightforward and most versatile chord progressions; the classic 3-chord progression is found as the basis of numerous songs like modern pop. It can also be used to practice improvisation owing to the fact that it doesn’t require a lot of concentration. Songs using this progression include “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis and Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.
4) 50s Progression
This is a chord progression that was popular in the 50s but is still commonly used in Western pop music today. This progression is very versatile and has also been called the “doo-wop progression,” “ice cream changes,” as well as the “Heart and Soul” chords. “Blue moon” by Richard Rodgers was the first song to use this sequence in 1933. It also appeared in songs like “Stir It Up” by Bob Marley and “Stand By Me” by Ben. E King.
5) Songwriting & All-Purpose Chord Progression
This is a popular chord progression that comes with a dramatic sound that makes it essential in songwriting. This is made possible by the minor vi chord. It is also possible to change this progression in order to create various tonal sentiments, including drama and melancholy. This can be done by altering the progression and continuing in the same order as V- vi- IV- I.
Well-known songs like “Let It Be” by Beatles, “I’m Goin Down” by Springsteen’s, and “Beasts of Burden” by the Rolling Stones’ contain the songwriting & all-purpose chord progression.
Here is the chord in its four alterations:
C – G – Amin – F / G – Amin – F – C / Amin – F – C- G / F – C – G – Amin
I – V – vi – IV / V – vi – IV – I / vi – IV – I – V / IV – I – V – vi
6) Canon (Pachelbel) Progression
The Canon progression is common in popular music and has been popularized by the Pachelbel’s Canon in the D major. The progression is the extended version of the earlier I -IV-V progression.
However, the progression may be altered to give different tonal sentiments. For instance, some composers only make use of the four or five chords and then continue with a new second half.
The canon progression is prevalent in numerous genres, especially pop. Some of the songs that feature this progression include the “Hook” by Blues Traveler, “Cryin” by Aerosmith, and “Graduation” by Vitamin C.
7) Folk Chord progression
The folk chord has 2 major and distinguished progressions. The major chord consists of I, IV, VII, I with the major chords of C, F, B, and C. The minor chord progression is as follows: I, VI, VII with the chords on the minor c scale being c, A, B and c.
8) Pop Chord Progressions
Pop music is considered a genre that dates backs in the 1950s. Pop songs have their own chord progression as not all chords can be used in this type of music genre. The chord progression for pop songs is I-V-VI min-IV (four chords). This chord progression can also be written on the scale as C, G, A minor, and F.
A list of some of the pop songs that use the pop chord progression includes Katy Perry’s “Save As Draft,” the Beatle’s “Let It Be,” Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well,” and Calvin Harris’ “I Need Your Love.”
9) Andalusian Cadence
The Andalusian Cadence was adopted from the flamenco music. It is a chord progression that consists of four chords that are descending stepwise. The progression runs in minor key as VII-VI and is lowered by half step. This progression is common in rock songs like Del Shannon’s “Run Away.”
10) Minor Keys Piano Chord Progressions
The sequence of piano chord progressions on minor scale comes in the following format:
For instance, if A is the minor key, and the scale runs from A to G, then the sequence of chords will be as follows:
When it comes to minor scales, there are three types: natural, harmonic, and melodic. Basically, the chords can change depending on the scale that you choose. It is also important to understand that the minor melodies and the chords supporting them can differ between the minor scales.
Here are the common chord progressions in minor keys:
Ways to Identify Chords That Work Together
For every songwriter, it is paramount to have an understanding of the theory behind chord progressions. This is because there is an endless possibility of chords, and it can be daunting to identify a couple of chords that work well together.
Music is in a key, and you need to identify that key in order to know the naturally-occurring seven chords that exist in that key. Typically, a scale has seven notes. The notes for the C major are C, D, E, F G, A, B. These seven notes are the roots of the 7 chords that naturally exist in the key of C to form three-note chords, also referred to as triads.
In order to build a C chord, the first note of the scale which is C is combined with the 3rd and 5th notes on the scale which are E and G. When these notes are combined, they form a basic C major chord.
If we were to take the next note of the scale, which is D minor, we will need to combine the 4th and 6th notes on the scale. Therefore, a chord of D consists of D, F, and A notes.
Here is what you will get when you go up the scale and build triads on the C major scale:
C major: C-E-G
D minor: D-F-A
E minor: E-G-B
F major: F-A-C
G major: G-B-D
A minor: A-C-E
B diminished: B-D-F
Note: These notes are typically represented by Roman numbers like i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi, vii. You will also notice that for a major key, the chord that is built on the first note of the scale is usually a major while the second note is a minor.
For this reason, it will be easier to work on a song when you identify the seven chords that occur naturally in that key. As a songwriter, you will choose the chords that work together in a more systematic manner, and this can save you a lot of time compared to choosing the chords randomly.
For instance, if you are thinking of a D major and you know the notes of the D major scale, then you can be able to identify the seven chords which are D, Em, F#m, G, A, Bm, C#dim. Nonetheless, you can still hunt for chords depending on your preference. There is a world full of chord possibilities that you can explore – you just need to allow your ear to guide you.
If you are planning to start a new song, we hope that this guide on piano chord progression comes in handy. For most people, constructing the right combination of chords can seem scary. By learning these simple chord progressions, you will have less pressure the next time you sit down to compose a new song.
However, don’t be afraid to experiment on the piano with music that you like. Also, train your ears to get ideas that are in line with the progressions you want and learn to read the music. It can be fun to explore the different chords until you find something that works your way.