Chord Progression To Write A Hit Pop Song

Studying chord progressions can help you easily understand and create music of a specific genre. Let us understand the hit chord progression extensively used in writing Pop hits.

Common Chord Progression To Write Hit Pop Music Lesson Banner

 

In this lesson, I will break down the most commonly used chord progression in pop music. I will discuss its characteristics, rotations, and use in music.

But before we do that, let us first understand what a chord progression is.

What Is Chord Progression?

The chord progression is the succession of chords in a song. You can also say that chord progression is how chords are arranged in a musical composition.

Chord progressions are denoted by the Roman numeral. The Roman numeral denotes the corresponding chord interval of that particular key.

For example, if you are in the key of C Major, the chords in the key of C Major are:

 Interval I ii iii IV V vi vii°
Primary Chords C Major D minor E minor F Major G Major A minor B diminished

 

Accordingly, If in a song someone plays the chords in the key of C major

C-F-G-Am-C

The chord progression becomes

I-IV-V-vi-I

A chord progression can consist of two chords or more. To learn more about intervals and music theory, check out this lesson.

Also, if you wish to learn to play the guitar, I have a completely free guitar course for beginners. Do check it out.

Most Common Chord Progressions In Pop Music

The most commonly used chord progression in pop music is I-V-vi-IV. I-V-vi-IV or its rotations are used in songs like Shivers — Ed Sheeran, Hello — Adele, Poker Face — Lady Gaga, She Will Be Loved — Maroon 5, Love Me — Justin Bieber and thousands of other pop songs.

    I-V-vi-IV Chord Progression

    I-V-vi-IV chord progression is the most commonly used chord progression in pop music.

    • It is a four-chord progression that has made billions.
    • I-V-vi-IV chord progression can be called the hit pop music formula.
    • By learning this one chord progression, you could easily write a hit song.
    • I-V-vi-IV chord progression and its variations can be heard in over 1000  songs.
    • I-V-vi-IV chord progression gained popularity in the mid-70s and early 80s and is still widely used across several genres.

    I-V-vi-IV Chord Progression — Why it is popular and such a huge hit?

    The human brain is a complex machine. The information we perceive without even giving it any thought is just amazing.

    To a listener, the chord progression I-V-vi-IV may be easygoing, joyful, intense, fun, optimistic or maybe some other flavours of emotion. But the way it works subconsciously is the same for the masses.

    This chord progression starts at the root or tonic(I). Moves to a Dominant(V) or Fifth.

    This shift or progression from I-V  creates a sense of anticipation, without breaking the harmony (consonance). This shift makes the listener want to hear more and does not resolve.

    To explain in easier nonmusical language, the root chord(I) acts like home and the fifth chord(V) acts like please take me home. The listener does not wish the music to stop here in the I-V  chord shift.

    Next comes the vi chord. The Sixth chord is also called submediant. Submediant means middle.

    The vi chord is perceived the same way when a listener listens to it after the I-V chord. Somewhere in the middle.

    The vi chords will add a little dissonance to the progressions. This acts as a perfect breather and makes the listener wonder, what is next?

    Next comes the IV. The Fourth chord is also called the subdominant. The IV chord is in consonance with the tonic but not as strong a consonance as the Fifth.

    This chord acts as a resolution but does not completely resolve. This chord makes you want more, and hence the addiction. Let's keep going.

    Next, you play the Tonic or the root chord again, which resolves the previous loop but starts another at the same time. Making you want to keep on listening.

    If you consider the scientific point, according to Pythagoras, these sounds are in perfect rations. The I-V (perfect fifth 3:2 ratio), I-IV (perfect fourth 4:3)

    The simpler the ratio, the more consonant and pleasing the sound is.

    The notes in these chord triads I(C-E-G), V(G-B-D), vi(A-C-E), and IV(F-A-C) all behave in consonance with each other.

    Another major reason this chord progression is such a huge hit is that people are comfortable listening to the sound.

    Humans feel comfortable with what they already know. Masses have heard this chord progression a million times. Just play around with the key, change the melody lines and tonal elements, and you have a hit song recipe.

    I-V-vi-IV Rotations

    One can rotate this chord progression and create more interesting progressions that will work great in the song using the I-V-vi-IV chord progression.

    A widely used rotation is vi-IV-I-V. This rotation of the above chord progression is widely used in modern-day electronic/pop songs.

     Chord Progression Rotation Characteristics
    I–V–vi–IV Optimistic, Dream Like, Joyful
    V–vi–IV–I Resolution, Completion
    vi–IV–I–V Pessimistic, Powerful, Energy
    IV–I–V–vi Longing

     

    Songs Using I-V-vi-IV Chord Progression

    Some of the songs that use the I-V-vi-IV chord progression or its rotations are:

     Song Title Band/Artist Chord Progression
    Shivers Ed Sheeran vi–IV–I–V
    Don't Stop Believing Journey I–V–vi–IV
    No Woman, No Cry Bob Marley I–V–vi–IV
    Snow(Hey Oh) Red Hot Chili Peppers vi–IV–I–V; I–V–vi–IV
    Nobody's Perfect Hanna Montana vi–IV–I–V
    I'm Yours Jason Marz I–V–vi–IV
    Poker Face Lady Gaga vi–IV–I–V
    Love Me Justin Bieber vi–IV–I–V
    Love the Way You Lie Eminem vi–IV–I–V
    Give Me Everything Pitbull vi–IV–I–V
    I Was Here Beyoncé vi–IV–I–V
    Bad Blood Taylor Swift IV–I–V–vi
    Hello Adele vi–I–V–IV (verse)
    vi–IV–I–V (chorus)
    You're Beautiful James Blunt I–V–vi–IV
    She Will Be Loved Maroon 5 I–V–vi–IV
    With Or Without You U2 I–V–vi–IV

     

    These are some songs in I-V-vi-IV chord progression. What are some of the songs that you know in the same chord progression, do let me know in the comments below.

    If you wish to Learn Music Theory For Beginner Guitarists, Checkout This Article.


    3 comments


    • Rangkyntiew Lyngdoh

      I really want to learn chord progression


    • Udeeksh Sood

      Hey Roger!
      Thanks for our kind words. I am glad you liked the article.


    • Roger Hardy

      Nice work Udeeksh


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    Written By

    Udeeksh Sood on

    Udeeksh is an Audio Engineer and Co-Founder of learnmusicproduction.in. He loves to produce music, research music gear, play guitar, go on treks and road trips.