We Like The Same Chord Progressions – Get Over It

Art & science make great chords

Making great music is often reliant upon chord progressions that have been used again and again by other artists and composers in the past.  Don’t feel bad about rehashing the tried-and-true because music theory doesn’t really give us too many choices.

Where Chords Come From

Chord progressions are simply… progressions of chords.  So, to understand what we’re talking about you ‘ll need to know where chords come from and why they might have different qualities (like major or minor or dominant, etc.).  Check out this video to see how chords are built from a major scale.

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Watch this video about how chords are built from a minor scale if you’re interested!

As you can see from the video(s) above, major and minor contexts offer us a different collection of chords.  When we build a chord progression from chords that come from the same key we can rest assured that the chords will sound pretty good together.  Also, when the chords share a parent key, we can write melodies more easily.

How to Analyze Chord Progressions

The best way to analyze a chord progression is with Roman numerals.  Roman numerals give composers a way to talk about and think about the relationship of chords in all keys at once.  For example we can talk about the relationship between a ‘I’ chord and ‘V’ chord and that relationship would be true in the key of C.. or D… or any other key.

On the other hand, if we talk about the relationship between a C and Dm chord in the key of C major then the relationship will be totally different to the same chords relationship in the key of F major, right?  Simplifying the relationship between chords makes it much easier to compose chord progressions.

Roman numerals are simple to use.  If you are vague on how they work, you can follow this example:

  1. First, start with a key… any key will do.  But, I’ll choose E major as my example.
  2. Next, build a chord from each note (a.k.a. scale degree). That would look like this:
    1. Key of E Major: E F# G# A B C# D# (E)
    2. Chords in E Major: E, F#m, G#m, A, B7, C#m, D#ø7

Note:  If you’re unclear on where the chords above came from, watch this video about building chords from a major key.

Common Chord Progressions & Examples

Now, let’s prove my claim that “We Like The Same Chord Progressions”…  In this section, we’ll see classic examples from the 60’s, 80’s and 2000’s.

Let’s take this chord progression: I – V – vi (this chord progression often ends with a IV chord)

Elvis Presley (1961) – Can’t Help Falling In Love
In the key of C major: C (I) – G (V) – Am (vi)

Journey (1981) – Don’t Stop Believin
In the key of E major: E (I) – B (V) – C#m (vi) – A (IV)

I’m Yours (2008) – Jason Mraz
In the key of G major: G (I) – D (V) – Em (vi) – C (IV)

Voices and Voice Leading

So, you want to be creative and come up with your own chord progressions, eh?  It’s possible, but you’ll find it easier to think outside the box if you know your music theory.  For example, consider voice leading – by creating chord progressions in which single voices only move by half and whole steps you can find ways to craft smooth, yet fresh chord progressions.