Looking for the perfect chord progressions for your songs? Here's the ultimate list.
These chord progressions will fit any song — even if you don't know music theory.
Read the entire post to learn extra harmony tricks that will help your songs become more meaningful by supporting the delivery of your message.
The best chord progressions for pop songs are the simplest
In pop music, traditional (functional) harmony is not so important. Not anymore.
What's always important is simplicity.
Listen to the biggest hits: most of them are super simple.
Of course, you'll find exceptions.
One of the best exceptions I've heard lately is "Leave the door open."
This harmony is a bit more complicated than your usual pop song.
But if you know a few chord progressions and understand major and minor chords, you'll be able to make great pop songs.
Chord progressions don't have to be unique
Your melody has to be unique. But your chord progression doesn't.
There's no such thing as chord copyright.
So don't feel afraid or embarrassed of using the progressions below just because they've been "overused" by songwriters.
No one cares. These chord progressions simply work.
All the audio examples for the following progressions are in the video above.
10 Best Chord Progressions for Pop Music
Chord Progression #1 — I-V-vi-IV
In the key of C major, that's C-G-Am-F. You can transpose the chords to any key you want.
This is the famous songwriter progression.
It's the most versatile progression in the world.
You can play pretty much any pop song over these chords.
I'm sure you've seen "The Axis of Awesome," right?
Everyone uses this progression — don't be afraid of using it too.
It sounds good. I use it all the time.
Chord Progression #2 — vi-IV-I-V
If you play that same progression but start from the vi chord instead, it emphasizes the minor chord and gives it a different flavor.
In the key of C Major (or its relative A minor), that's Am-F-C-G.
Same progression, different focus, and flavor.
Chord Progression #3 — I-vi-IV-V
Change the sequence of those chords, and you'll end up with this variation, which is also super fun.
In the key of C Major: C-Am-F-G.
Chord Progression #4 — IV-V-I-vi
Now, if you start that progression from the IV chord — playing the same loop — you'll get a different vibe.
In the key of C Major, that's F-G-C-Am.
Just by changing where the progression starts, the mood changes.
Chord Progression #5 — I-vi-ii-V
Also, replace the IV chord with the ii chord on that progression, and you end up with the 1950s progression.
In the key of C Major: C-Am-Dm-G.
Chord Progression #6 — I-ii-V-I
This one is fun too! You may recognize it from "All about that bass" by Meghan Trainor.
In the key of C Major, it's C-Dm-G-C.
Chord Progression #7 — I-IV-V-IV
The more you use Major chords, the happier the song will sound.
So if the goal is a super happy song, try this chord progression with only major chords.
In C Major, it's C-F-G-F.
Chord Progression #8 — IV-I
This one is simple but effective.
I chose it for the chorus of my song "Maybe Tomorrow."
Feels very relaxing to me.
Chord Progression #9 — vi-ii-iii
If you focus on minor chords, the song will sound sad and bitter — especially on a slower tempo.
On the other hand, it may sound sexy on a faster tempo — if combined with the right rhythm.
In the key of C Major: Am-Dm-Em.
A side note: most people frequently use different numbers to refer to this progression because it sounds like you're in a minor key.
However, I like to number my chords by thinking of the Major key. It's easier this way.
Replacing iii with III
It's worth mentioning that you can replace the minor iii chord with a Major III chord.
That's a common thing in minor keys. It becomes Am-Dm-E Major.
This chord progression sounds powerful.
Chord Progression #10 — ii-vi-I-V
How about a progression that sounds super dark?
It comes packed with 2 minor chords right at the beginning.
In C major, that's Dm-Am-C-G.
Here's a free download link for the MIDI files of every chord progression in this list.
Harmony tools to make your songs memorable
In this section, we'll delve into Functional harmony.
That's a fantastic subject — too bad it's not so present in popular music these days.
The most essential device is the Cadence — which is actually used in some of the chord progressions above.
How Cadences work
To simplify it: the V chord (dominant) moving to the I chord (tonic) causes a strong sense of resolution.
The tonic sounds like home — like the end of a journey.
The dominant chord sounds like "please take me back home." This tension can only be fully resolved by going back to the tonic chord.
If you don't release the tension but instead go somewhere else after the dominant chord — usually the vi chord — that's called a deceptive cadence.
The feeling you'll get is: "ugh, I thought we were going home. We were so close."
It's a great tool to delay the resolution of tension — hold on to that tension — whenever the lyrics ask for it.
Here's an example. My song "Maybe we'd be together." On the transition from chorus to bridge:
Another cadence that resolves beautifully but doesn't have that strong sense of resolution like the "V-I" is the "IV-I."
Going from the IV chord (subdominant) to the tonic chord.
This one is actually my favorite. In C Major, that's F to C.
It sounds especially nice when it borrows the minor iv chord.
So it goes from Major IV to minor iv to I.
In the key of C Major, that's F-Fm-C.
This is the Plagal Cadence. Some people also call it the Amen cadence.
Adding another note to your chords
An easy way to spice up your chords and give them an entirely different flavor is by adding another note, like the seventh note.
You can incorporate that into any chord progression and give it your own spin.
Major seventh chords, like Cmaj7, sound dreamy and fluid.
You can also use chord inversions. That means the root note of a chord is not the lowest note (the bass).
Pick any chord and invert the order of the notes. Make sure the lowest note is the fifth or the third (or even the seventh) instead of the root note.
On a C Major chord, turn G into the bass note instead of the usual C. That's one of the inversions.
Chord inversions can help reduce the feeling of resolution when you use them on the tonic chord — if that's your intention.
You can also borrow chords from different keys.
No rule says you can only use chords from the same key.
Here's a chord that's frequently borrowed: the major II chord.
It works really well in a progression like I-II-IV-I.
In the key of C Major: C-D-F-C.
This progression has a very distinct sound.
Remember the song "Forget You" by Cee Lo Green?
They borrowed the II chord on that song.
I used a diminished chord on my song "Silence Hurts More" to create this disturbing tension to match the lyrics.
It lasts longer than the other chords to emphasize the emotion and delay the resolution.
A note about functional harmony in pop music
I wrote this section on functional harmony because I absolutely love it.
I'm obsessed with harmony and how we can make the sounds lead the listeners somewhere.
But remember: pop music doesn't have to lead anywhere anymore.
Often it makes us feel like it's roaming and drifting. And that's fine.
The chord progression doesn't have to make sense harmonically, as long as it loops well.
Sometimes they don't even use the tonic chord from the major scale — it's OK if they make no sense from a traditional harmony standpoint.
The best example I can think of is "Shape of You" by Ed Sheeran.
Huge song. It beat all the records.
The progression is vi-ii-IV-V.
In the key of C Major, that's Am-Dm-F-G.
Now it's your turn
These are my favorite chord progressions for pop music.
- There are no rules;
- It's your music — you can write anything you want;
- Get creative.
But before you go, check out these songwriting tips and tricks. They will transform how you write music forever.
For more resources on how to write pop music, visit my website.