Popular Chord Progressions

How to start a composition?
Have you ever stared at the piano or keyboard and were unsure of how to begin a new composition?

An easy place to start a composition is by observing popular songs and emulating their structure. You can then take their overall structure and add your melody and rhythms to construct a composition.

Chord progressions are one of the ways popular songs outline their structure.

Chord progressions are a great way to begin a harmonic based composition. Refer to Different Compositional Methods if you are confused about the difference between the melodic and the harmonic approach to composing. If you have decided to try a harmonic approach, I have composed a list of chord progressions used in some popular songs. By no means limit yourself to the ones listed below. Feel free to compose some of your own chord progressions. However, using a popular chord progression is a good way to start learning the feel of certain music. I would suggest taking one of the popular chord progressions and then add your own melody.
Popular Chord Progressions
Popular Chord Progressions

Medley of Waterfalls is an example in which I took the chord progression from the popular song by Linkin Park, Numb, as a piano chord progression and added my own melody. As you can hear, even with the same chord progressions, the song sounds entirely different. If you have a piano, try playing around with these chord progressions as either a piano chord progression or a keyboard chord progression.

Here’s the list of chord progressions for popular songs:

C major, B minor, E7, A minor, F major, G7, C major: Yesterday verse (Beatles - 1965) If you don’t understand 7th chords, please visit *How to use 7th Chords in Compositions.

The following all have the same minor chord progression.

C minor, A flat major, E flat major, B flat major

Complicated by Avril Lavigne
Otherside by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Going Under by Evanescence
Apologize by One Republic
Numb by Linkin Park

This minor chord progression is used in many popular songs. The progression is interesting because it starts as a minor chord progression, but then the ensuing chords are all major. Try messing around with the rhythm and style of the chord progression to get some uplifting sounds.

C minor, E flat major, F major, A flat major  - House of the Rising Sun by the Animals

A longer chord progression is used in the popular song

D major, A major, B minor, F sharp minor, G major, D major, G major, A major: Canon in D by Pachelbel

For a comprehensive list of chord progressions please visit Exhaustive List of Chord Progressions.

Once you have tried harmonic composition with various bass chords and feel comfortable with harmonic composition , try the melodic method and see which style suits your needs best. To learn more about composing melodies, visit Become a Melody Composer.