Learn useful chord progressions
A chord progression is a sequence of chords. Three, four, five chords or so following after each other forms a progression. It's easy in theory, but the delicate aspect is to find great, and perhaps original, combinations. What makes a chord progression stand out is not only the chords it contains – many songs use pretty much the same – it' also about the rhythms and instrumentation.
On this page you will be presented to typical chord progressions. It starts with fundamental and easy progressions that include few chords and continues with progressions with more chords (the first in most categories is presented by diagrams; otherwise, the chord names can mostly be clicked on if you need to look them up).
See also Chord progressions in famous songs.
Progressions with 2 chords (vamps)
Progressions using only two chords are sometime called vamps (a vamp can also be just a single chord played). These progressions are not directly mind-boggling, but are included here for the sake of completeness and also to make you familiar with a term that you may encounter once in a while.
Am – Em
E – A – E – A
G – Gsus4 – G – Gsus4
Normally, in vamps, chords can be hold on to longer, for example, two bars each.
Progressions with 3 chords
Common progressions using only three chords:
D, G, A
D – G – A
G – C – D
A – D – E
This are the form av the most common progressions that exist in guitar playing. They can be written in Roman numerals as I - IV - V, which represent this certain sequence of chord degrees that can be transposed to all keys. See the I - IV - V and I - IV - V7 progressions in all keys.
So far, only major chords have been involved – let’s add some minor chords ...
Progressions with 4 chords (including minor chords)
Common progressions using four chords:
Em, C, D, G
Em – C – D – G
Am – E – F – C
C – Dm – G – Am
F– Bb – Gm – C
In longer progressions, there is often a need for mixing major and minor chords.
Progressions with 5 chords
C – Em – Am - F - G
If you want, you can play along with the track below (80 bpm in 4/4 time). The chord together with the music are C - Em - Am - F - G and by clicking play button ("Start music and chord progressions") you can see when to change between the chords.
You can develop the progression by using substitutions and embellishments. Such as C - Cadd instead for C, Em7 instead for Em, Am - Asus2 instead for Am, Fmaj7 instead for F and G7 instead for G.
Click here for more progressions with backing tracks.
Progressions including 7th chords
7th chords can create some flavor to progressions.
D, F#7, G
D - F#7 - G
Am7 - E7 - Dm7 - G7
Progressions including various extended chords
There are more extended chords besides the 7th and the use of different extended chords adds more "color". This simple progression ...
C - Em - Am - F - G - C
can be more colorful as:
Cmaj7 - Em7 - Am7 - Fmaj7 - G7 - Cmaj7
... and the tone color can be variated even further by including some substitutions:
Cmaj9 - Em9 - Am11 - Fmaj7 - G13 - Cmaj7
See the Illustrated Chord Progression ebook for over 200 progressions with diagrams.
A category of progressions that involve diatonic chords that follows the scale order:
C, Dm, Em, F
C – Dm – Em – F
G – Am – Bm – C – D
Chord progressions as outro
When ending a song, the standard way is to return to the root of the key. There are some common progressions for this, including that is called cadence:
F – G – C
C – D – G
Ab – Bb – C
Another ending concept is to involve a chromatic chord movement:
D7 - C#7 - C7 - G7
Another ending concept is to modulate the IV chord from major to minor:
C - Cm - G
Another ending concept is the circle progression, based on descending fifth intervals:
E7 - A7 - D7 - G
A7 - D7 - G7 - C
Progressions including chords with altered bass note
Chords with an alternate bass note can enrich chord progressions.
Dm, Dm/C, G/B
Dm – Dm/C – G/B
G – G/F# – Em
G – Em – Em/B – C – G/D – D – D/A – G
See inverted chords and slash chords for more diagrams.
Progressions including major to dominant changes
Shifting between major and dominant is one way to create variation in the harmony.
C - C7 - Fmaj7 - Dm7 - G - G7
Notice that this concept often include the I chord that shifts to dominant and when is followed by the IV chord.
Progressions including a secondary dominant
The V chord is often played as a dominant chord. In addition, a secondary dominant can be included in an otherwise diatonic progression and the secondary dominant is a borrowed chord and function as the V chord of the V chord in the relevant key. For example, in the following example the D7 function as secondary dominant, which also is the V chord in the G major key:
C - D7 - G
The process can be repeated and another secondary dominant can be included, which will be the V chord of the borrowed secondary V chord. In the following example, A7 is the V chord in the D major key:
C - A7 - D7 - G
Progressions including pedal points
Progressions with many chords in a row using the same bass note:
A/D - G/D - F#m/D - D
Notice that the shapes, which otherwise are identical, has their root notes on different frets.
Progressions including passing chords
Passing chords are often chords that don't belong to the key, used as "in-between chords" :
Dm7 – Bb7 – A7
Dm7 – G9 – G7(b9) – Cmaj7
Em9 – D#m7b5 – Dmaj7
Bb7, G7(b9) and D#m7b5 are here used as passing chords.
Passing chords can also be chords with alternative bass notes that create smooth transitions:
G – G/F – Em
C – C/B – Am
G/F and C/B are here used as passing chords. Passing chords are often played for a shorter duration and typically to make the last beat in a bar.
Chord progressions for blues
A common progression you can use to get a blues feeling is this:
E7, A7, B7
E7 – A7 – E7 – B7 – A7 – E7
Try to strum four times at each chord and give extra accent to the first and third beat. As you can see, we are using so-called dominant chords here. Try the same chord sequence without a seventh note, and you will lose the blues sound.
A bonus chord progression comes here with some minor blues:
Em – Am – Em – B7 – Am – Em
Almost like the one before but still a completely different thing.
Progressions for jazz
Let’s get a little more sophisticated with these next sequences.
Dm7 – G7 – Cmaj7
To really get the jazzy sound from your guitar you are advice to learn jazz chords. Let’s take another sequence, based on the same intervals:
Bm7 – E7 – Amaj7
Progressions for country
A typical progression is the I - IV- I - V:
C - F - C - G
Another one is the non-diatonic:
C – A7 – D
If you're interested in this genre, notice the guide to country guitar.
Progressions for rock style
This progression is associated with classic rock:
E - D - A - E
Another progression is the rock genre:
A - C - D - A
To get a rock sound you only need three barre chords:
Eb – Bb – Ab
Here you need to use barre chords to bring the “fat” rock sound to it, omit the highest e-string. Begin with Eb using an A shape and use an E shape for Bb and Ab.
Instead for barre chords, power chords can be used for a sound more familiar with hard rock:
Eb5 – Bb5 – Ab5
If you're interested in this genre, notice the guide to rock guitar.
Progression for ballads
Chains of chords that could serve in ballads …
Cmaj7, Cadd9, Aadd9, Dm7, G7
Cmaj7 - Cadd9 - Aadd9 - Dm7 - G7
D7 - Gmaj7 - Em7 - Am7
Even more color could be added by, for example, substituting Em7 with Em11 and Am7 with Am11 in the second progression.
Progression for flamenco
A typical chord sequence in Spanish and flamenco music:
Am – G – F – E
Here are some examples with longer sequences:
G – D – C – G – C – D – G
D – A – Bm – F#m – G – A – D
G – Bm – Em – C – G – D – Am – C – G
Dm7 – G7 – Cmaj7 – Fmaj7 – Bm7b5 – E7 – Am
Notice that most progressions start and end with the same chord. This is not a must, but in most cases, it will sound better if the sequence return to its tonal center. Another "trick" utilized in the examples above is to use the V chord before the last chord, because it resolves perfectly into the I chord.
Progressions including substitutions
Substitutions in this context refer to chords which normally don't fit in (diatonically), but still can sound great under right conditions. For example, the G major can be substituting G# minor in progressions in the key of E major. The reason that this works is that G is "borrowed" from the E Minor Pentatonic scale. So, in especially rock style, in which a pentatonic sound fits well a chord progression like this can sound perfect:
E - A - G - B
E - G - A
A special related area is the tritone substitution.
Progressions including key changes
Key changes, also called modulation, is common in songs and create ambiguity by shifting the tonal center. It's especially common in jazz tunes, in which the key can changes several times.
One method is to use a so-called pivot chord (a.k.a. common chord), which notes are shared by two keys. is. Using a pivot chord for shifting key is helped if the other chords are including four or more tones simply because it's more tones involved. In the following examples, the pivot chord is marked by bold text:
(starting in C key) Cmaj7 - Fmaj7 - Em - (shifting to D key) A7 - Dmaj7
(starting in G key) Gmaj7 - Cmaj7 - D - (shifting to A key) E7 - Amaj7
Miscellaneous chord progressions
F – G – C – E
Em – Bm – C – D – G
D – Dmaj7 – G – Gmaj7
Fmaj7 – G7 – Cmaj7 – E7
D – D/B – A – F#m – Em7 – A7 – D
F – C – A – Dm – Bb – C – F
C – Caug – F – Fm – C – G7
You can use all progression you find on this site in your own songs if you wish; chord progressions can't be copyrighted. See also the 500 Guitar Chord Progressions ebook.
Degrees – an essential shortcut for all songwriters
In the process of organizing chord progressions, a great way is to familiarize yourself with the term degrees. Instead of writing as G – D – C or D – A – G we can write I - V - IV and by that cover both examples. You may be puzzled with this, but the degrees are telling us the relationship of the chord according to the key (see the key and chord chart).
The notes that belong to the key of G are G, A, B, C, D, E and F#. Therefore, G is number one (I), D number five (V), and C number four (IV).
Let us now look at the key of D, the notes here are D, E, F#, G, A, B and C#. Therefore, D is number one (I), A number five (V), and G number four (IV).
With this knowledge, you can use the chord progression I – V – IV in all keys and from now on you will understand what is referred to when you see progressions written in Roman numerals. Note that minor chords are written by small letters as in the chord progression vi – I – V – IV.
Read also about chord progressions in various keys and the article about chords that sound good together.
Progression written in Roman numerals
I - IV - V examples:
C – F – G
C# – F# – G#
In depth: I - IV - V and I - IV - V7 progressions
ii - V - I examples:
Dm – G – C
Am – D – G
In depth: ii - V - I progressions
I - vi - ii - V7 - I examples:
D – Bm – Em – A7 - D
A – F#m – Bm – E7 – A
Some theory behind chord progressions
There is no formula that all chord progressions can be based on or deciphered from. Still, there are some knowledge that will help you construct your own progressions.
A rule of the thumb is that it will generally sound good if the chord includes one or more notes from the previous chord in a sequence. For example:
C – Em – Am
has the note construction: (c, e, g) – (e, g, b) – (a, c, e)
There are many connections, what can be noticed in the smoothness in the sound of the progression. This is, however, not constantly the case. Am and G works well together as a pair in sequences, but doesn’t share any notes: (a, c, e) and (g, b, d). Here it's another connection: notice that the notes in the G chord are all one step below the notes in the Am chord in the key of both A minor and G major.
When you create your own progressions it's important to understand how chords function in relation to each other. Compare these two sequences:
a) A (I) - D (IV) - Bm (ii) - A (I) comment: the progression doesn't seem ready yet to go back to the home chord (I)
b) A (I) - D (IV) - Bm (ii) - E (V) - A (I) comment: but after the V chord is added that resolves perfectly to the I chord, it feels just right
Another example with three sequences:
a) D (I) - A (V) - Bm (iv) - D (I) comment: feels too early for the home chord (I)
b) D (I) - A (V) - Bm (iv) - G (IV) - D (I) comment: sounds better by adding the IV chord
c) D (I) - A (V) - Bm (iv) - G (IV) - A7 (V7) - D (I) comment: sounds definite when landing on the home chord (I) after adding the strong dominant V as the second last chord
Create tension in chord progressions
Here are three methods by which we can add tension, which can create some excitement in progression by involve features of the unfamiliar and unexpected.
1. Cmaj7 – C#dim7 (XX2323) – Dm7
Here we use passing chords creating a chromatic sequence, notice the semi-step linking for the root notes. We could simply play Cmaj7 - Dm7 with a whole tone step (C to D), which is completely fine harmonically, but also more familiar.
2. C – C(b9) (X32020) – G
Here we are using an alternate chord, C(b9), which creates a movement (C, Db, D) inside the chords in the progression (without replacing the root). It's preferred to use the fingerings 320033 instead of 320003 for the G to better establish the C, Db, D movement on the second string. Barré chord is an option: C (X35553) – C(b9) (X35653) – G (355433).
3. C – Caug – Am
Here we use an aug chord for a semi-step movement that creates a movement and expectation which lead to Am (Dm doesn’t work as well here). In this case it’s not the root but the 5th that is shifting (G to G#) and creates tension and expectation for resolving into another chord.
For more information, Chord Progressions For Songwriters can be recommended. With its 510 pages, it will learn you almost everything there is about chord progressions. For a shorter introduction with theory in focus, see The Chord Theory ebook.
More chord progressions: Advanced chord progressions | Chord progressions converted for capo | Chord strumming with metronome
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