Apr 4, 2024

5 Must-Know Guitar Chord Progressions

5 Must-Know Guitar Chord Progressions

Music theory (and chord progressions for guitar in particular) can seem daunting at first, especially for beginner guitarists.

The good news is that you don't need to know all guitar chords to play a wide variety of popular songs like a seasoned pro.

In fact, mastering a few ol' good chord progressions can give you a solid foundation to build upon.

In this article, we'll talk about the 5 best guitar chord progressions that every beginner and seasoned player should have in their toolkit.

Once you get comfortable with these progressions, you'll be able to play countless songs or even start songwriting!

But before we jump into the nitty-gritty, let's take a look at some practical music theory concepts, like what a chord progression actually is.

What Is a Chord Progression?

A chord progression is simply a sequence of chords played in a specific order. It's the foundation of a song's harmony and provides a framework for the melody and rhythm to build upon.

Think of it as the musical equivalent of a story's plot - it guides the listener through different emotions and creates a sense of movement and resolution.

Chord progressions are typically described using Roman numerals (E.g. I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi-vii), which represent the chords' positions relative to the key of the song.

For instance, in the key of C major, the chords would be:

I - C major
ii - D minor
iii - E minor
IV - F major
V - G major
vi - A minor
vii° - B diminished

Don't worry if this looks like gibberish right now - we'll break down each progression in detail and provide easy-to-understand examples.

The Benefits of Learning Chord Progressions

Every player should learn guitar chords for a handfull of reasons:

  1. Quickly learn new songs: Once you familiarize yourself with common chord progressions, you'll be able to learn new songs much faster by recognizing chord progression patterns and structures.
  2. Improve your songwriting: Understanding how chord progressions work will help you create more interesting and engaging original music.
  3. Ear Training Exercise: As you practice different progressions, you'll develop a better ear for harmony and be able to identify chords and progressions in the songs you listen to.
  4. Jam with other musicians: Knowing a variety of chord progressions makes it easier to jam with other musicians and communicate musical ideas effectively.

Now that we've covered the basics, let's dive into the five essential progressions every guitarist should know.

Progression 1: I-V-vi-IV

The I-V-vi-IV sequence is one of the guitar common chord progressions in music. It consists of the tonic (I), dominant (V), relative minor (vi), and subdominant (IV) chords.

Chord Composition:

  • I (Tonic/Root): Establishes the key.
  • V (Dominant): Creates tension.
  • vi (Relative Minor): Adds emotional depth.
  • IV (Subdominant): Offers resolution.

In the key of C major, the chords would be C, G, Am, and F chord.

In the minor scale, the I-V-vi-IV progression would be based on the parallel minor key.

For example, if we consider A minor as the relative minor of C major, the chords would be Am, Em, F, and Dm.

Here are some popular songs that feature the I-V-vi-IV progression in both major and minor scales:

  • "Let It Be" by The Beatles
  • "Someone Like You" by Adele
  • "Californication" by Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • "Summertime Sadness" by Lana Del Rey

Chord Progression Practice:

Practice playing chord progressions with our free online metronome at various tempos.

Start slow to ensure you're changing chords smoothly and in time with the beat. As you become more comfortable with the progression, gradually increase the BPM (beats per minute) to challenge yourself and improve your timing and coordination.

Experiment with different strumming patterns and fingerpicking techniques to add variety and create unique melodic movement.

Progression 2: vi-IV-I-V

As you might have noticed, the vi-IV-I-V sequence is a twist to the I-V-vi-IV progression.

Instead of starting on the tonic (I) chord, this progression begins on the relative minor (vi) chord, creating a bit different emotional atmosphere.

Chord Composition:

  • vi (Relative Minor): Sets a more introspective or melancholic tone.
  • IV (Subdominant): Provides a sense of movement and anticipation.
  • I (Tonic/Root): Establishes the key and offers a sense of resolution.
  • V (Dominant): Creates tension and leads back to the relative minor (vi) chord.

In the key of C major, the chords would be Am, F, C, and G.

When compared to the I-V-vi-IV progression, starting on the relative minor (vi) chord gives the vi-IV-I-V progression a slightly more melancholic or introspective feel.

This is because the relative minor chord has a naturally somber quality, which sets the emotional tone for the entire progression.

However, the vi-IV-I-V progression still maintains a sense of movement and resolution, as the IV and V chords create tension and anticipation before ultimately resolving back to the I chord and then returning to the vi chord to start the cycle anew.

Here are a few well-known songs that showcase the vi-IV-I-V progression:

  • "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin
  • "All Too Well" by Taylor Swift
  • "House of the Rising Sun" by The Animals
  • "Midnight City" by M83

Pro Tips:

  • Use short notes of the scale between chords to make transitions smoother
  • Add cadences for a more defined musical phrasing
  • Experiment with different chord voicings and chord extensions to add depth and complexity to your chord progression
  • Play chords as arpeggios to add some melodic movement

Progression 3: I-vi-ii-V

The I-vi-ii-V sequence is another widely-used guitar chord progression that often appear in jazz, R&B, and pop music.

  • Chord Composition:
  • I (Tonic/Root): Establishes the key and provides a sense of resolution.
  • vi (Relative Minor): Adds a touch of melancholy or introspection.
  • ii (Supertonic): Creates a sense of movement and anticipation.
  • V (Dominant): Builds tension and leads back to the tonic (I) chord.

In the key of C major, the chords would be C, Am, Dm, and G.

This progression offers a slightly more complex harmonic structure compared to the previous two progressions, as it incorporates the supertonic (ii) chord.

The ii chord acts as a bridge between the relative minor (vi) and the dominant (V) chords, creating a smooth and interesting transition.

Here are a few examples of songs that feature the I-vi-ii-V progression:

  • "Fly Me to the Moon" by Frank Sinatra
  • "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor
  • "Thinking Out Loud" by Ed Sheeran
  • "Love on Top" by Beyoncé

Progression 4: ii-V-I

The ii-V-I chord progression is a staple in jazz music but it also appears frequently in other genres, such as R&B, funk, and neo-soul.

  • Chord Composition:
  • ii (Supertonic): Sets up the tension and anticipation.
  • V (Dominant): Builds on the tension and creates a strong pull towards the tonic.
  • I (Tonic/Root): Provides a satisfying resolution and sense of arrival.

Using solely the major triads in the key of C, the chord progression would look like this: Dm, G, and C.

The ii-V-I progression is a part of the Circle of Fifths, a concept in music theory that organizes all 12 pitches in a sequence of perfect fifths.

In this progression, the ii chord is a perfect fifth above the V chord, which in turn is a perfect fifth above the I chord. This relationship creates a strong sense of resolution and forward motion in the progression.

If you want to learn more about the Circle of 5ths, follow along to our free interactive Circle of Fifths tool.

Pro Tip: To give this chord progression more of that jazzy feeling, try incorporating chord extensions like minor 11, dominant 13, and major nine chords. These advanced chord voicings make your progression sound richer and more complex.

Progression 5: vi-IV-V-I

The vi-IV-V-I chord sequence holds its place among the common chord progression patterns that have been used across many genres from Broadway to rock, and hip-hop.

  • Chord Composition:
  • I (Tonic/Root): Establishes the key and provides a solid foundation.
  • IV (Subdominant): Creates a sense of movement and contrast.
  • V (Dominant): Builds tension and leads back to the tonic (I) chord.

In the key of C major, the chords would be C, F, and G.

The I-IV-V progression is often used in 12-bar blues, a fundamental form in blues and rock music. By mastering this progression and its variations, you'll be able to play and jam along with a wide range of songs in these genres.

Here are some well-known songs that feature the I-IV-V progression:

  • "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry
  • "Twist and Shout" by The Beatles
  • "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • "Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash

To practice the I-IV-V progression, start by playing the chords in a simple rhythm and then experiment with different strumming patterns and tempos. As you progress, try adding in blues scales, guitar licks, and bends to create a more authentic blues or rock sound.


Obviously, that would be cool to know every guitar chord and every chord progression that exist.

But mastering these 5 common chord progressions will provide you with a solid foundation to kickstart your journey as a guitarist or songwriter.

Remember, consistent practice is key to developing your guitar skills.

Don't be afraid to fail while experimenting with different chord voicings, strumming patterns, and fingerpicking techniques.

To take your practice sessions even further, consider using tools like ChordChord that has a built-in guitar chord progressions generator.

With ChordChord, you can:

  • Generate unique chord progressions for guitar based on your desired musical style
  • Visualize all chords on a virtual fretboard, making it easier to learn and play them on your guitar
  • Customize chord voicings and extensions to create a sound that's uniquely yours
  • Export chord progressions as PDF, MIDI, or WAV files for use in your favorite music software or DAW.

So grab your guitar if you still haven't, fire up ChordChord, and start exploring the exciting world of chord progressions today!