Common Chord Progressions On Guitar – Top 5

Last month we talked about chord progressions. We learned that there are three simple steps to understand a chord progression.

First, we have to be aware of the scale we’re playing in, and which are the notes in that scale. Secondly, we have to figure out which root notes belong to which roman numeral. Lastly, we look at which chords are major and which notes are minor.

If you’re interested in the theory behind chord progressions, the lesson I linked to above will give you a more detailed explanation.

This post focuses on some common chord progressions you can play on guitar. We’ll look at the 5 most common chord progression in pop music and see how different they can sound depending on the artist who uses them.

Common Chord Progressions On Guitar – Top 5

The five chord progressions we’ll be looking at are:

  1. I – V – vi – IV
  2. ii – V – I – (vi)
  3. vi – IV – I – V
  4. I-vi-IV-V
  5. I-IV-V

Understanding and being able to play these chord progressions in different key signatures will unveil hundreds of the most popular songs for you.

Chord Progression 1: I – V – iv – IV

This might be the most used chord progression in pop right now. Our first example is U2’s With or Without You:

U2 – With or Without You

With or Without you uses the I – V – iv – IV progression throughout the entire song. Somehow when I think of this progression, this is always the first song that comes to mind.

The key signature of With or Without You is D major.

Step 1: What are the notes of my key signature?

D – E – F# – G – A – B – C#

Step 2: What are my roots?

I: D
V: A
iv: B
IV: G

Step 3: Major/minor?

I: D major
V: A major
iv: B minor
IV: G major

Conclusion: The chord progression of With or Without You is: D – A – Bm – G.

Jason Mraz – I’m Yours (B)

This song is another perfect example of the I – V – iv – IV progression.

The key signature of I’m Yours is B major

Step 1: What are the notes of my key signature?

B – C# – D# – E – F# – G# – A#

Step 2: What are my roots?

I: B
V: F#
iv: G#
IV: E

Step 3: Major/minor?

I: B major
V: F# major
iv: G# minor
IV: E major

Conclusion: The chord progression of I’m Yours is: B – F# – G#m – E.

Chord Progression 2: ii – V – I (-vi)

The ii – V – I progression is very commonly used in jazz. A very large amount of jazz standards evolve around this progression. A huge example of this progression is Autumn Leaves.

Eric Clapton – Autumn Leaves

I picked Eric Clapton’s cover because it’s a bit less complicated. But feel free to look up Miles Davis’ or Chet Baker’s version.

The key signature of Autumn Leaves is D major. Sometimes it plays the I chord for two measures, but sometimes it goes to the vi chord on the second measure.

Step 1: What are the notes of my key signature?

D – E – F# – G – A – B – C#

Step 2: What are my roots?

ii: E
V: A
I: D
(vi: B)

Step 3: Major/minor?

ii: E minor
V: A major
I: D major
(vi: B minor)

Conclusion: The chord progression of Autumn Leaves is: Em – A – D (- Bm).

Now, jazz often uses seventh chords or other variations, so this is the most simplified version of this progression.

Maroon 5 – Sunday Morning

I think this is a cool example of a ii – V – I progression being used in a modern way. It sounds very popular and upbeat, but the chord progression really goes back to the ’30s.

The key signature of Sunday Morning is C major.

Step 1: What are the notes of my key signature?

C – D – E – F – G – A – B

Step 2: What are my roots?

ii: D
V: G
I: C

Step 3: Major/minor?

ii: D minor
V: G major
I: C major

Conclusion: The chord progression of Sunday Morning is: Dm – G – C.

Chord Progression 3: vi – IV – I – V

I covered this chord progression in the first lesson I ever did on this site: Basic Chords. It’s a variation of the I – V – iv – IV progression. It follows the same order but starts in a different place. Because it starts on a minor chord, it has a sadder sound.

Linkin Park – Numb

Talking about sad, Linkin Park’s Numb is a great example of the vi – IV – I – V progression.

The key signature of Numb is A major.

Step 1: What are the notes of my key signature?

A – B – C# – D – E – F# – G#

Step 2: What are my roots?

iv: F#
IV: D
I: A
V: E

Step 3: Major/minor?

iv: F# minor
IV: D major
I: A major
V: E major

Conclusion: The chord progression of Numb is: F#m – D – A – E.

Eminem – Not Afraid

Not Afraid is another example of the iv – IV – I – V progression.

The key signature of Not Afraid is Eb major

Step 1: What are the notes of my key signature?

Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C – D

Step 2: What are my roots?

iv: C
IV: Ab
I: Eb
V: Bb

Step 3: Major/minor?

iv: C minor
IV: Ab major
I: Eb major
V: Bb major

Conclusion: The chord progression of Not Afraid is: Cm – Ab – Eb – Bb.

Chord Progression 4: I – vi – IV – V

As you can see, many chords progressions evolve around these four chords. The first example of this chord progression is Every Breath You Take.

The Police – Every Breath You Take

This song is most popular for its staccato guitar riff, but underneath that riff is a very nice chord progression.

The key signature of Every Breath You Take is A major

Step 1: What are the notes of my key signature?

A – B – C# – D – E – F# – G#

Step 2: What are my roots?

I: A
vi: F#
IV: D
V: E

Step 3: Major/minor?

I: A major
vi: F# minor
IV: D major
V: E major

Conclusion: The chord progression of Every Breath You Take is: A – F#m – D – E.

The Rolling Stones – Hang Fire

When the Rolling Stones play the four exact same chords, this is what happens:

The key signature of Hang Fire is also A major.

Step 1: What are the notes of my key signature?

A – B – C# – D – E – F# – G#

Step 2: What are my roots?

I: A
vi: F#
IV: D
V: E

Step 3: Major/minor?

I: A major
vi: F# minor
IV: D major
V: E major

Conclusion: The chord progression of Hang Fire is: A – F#m – D – E.

Chord Progression 5: I – IV – V

The I – IV – V progression is one of the most common chord progressions. A lot of early rock and roll, rockabilly and country are built around these three chords.

The Beatles – Twist & Shout

A lot of early Beatles’ songs have this chord progression. It was hard not to include them.

The key signature of Twist & Shout is D major.

Step 1: What are the notes of my key signature?

D – E – F# – G – A – B – C#

Step 2: What are my roots?

I: D
IV: G
V: A

Step 3: Major/minor?

I: D major
IV: G major
V: A major

Conclusion: The chord progression of Twist and Shout is: D – G – A.

The Rembrandts – I’ll Be There For You

I’ll send you off with this upbeat song. Not the entire song uses the I – IV – V progression, but the chorus does.

The key signature of I’ll Be There For You is A major.

Step 1: What are the notes of my key signature?

A – B – C# – D – E – F# – G#

Step 2: What are my roots?

I: A
IV: D
V: E

Step 3: Major/minor?

I: A
IV: D
V: E

Conclusion: The chord progression of I’ll Be There For You is: A – D – E.

Outro

I hope this list was helpful to you. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below.

Happy strumming,

Timo

2 thoughts on “Common Chord Progressions On Guitar – Top 5

  1. I have honesty tried playing this chord progression but seeing this post I think I’m going to give it a try.  the I–V–vi–IV progression is a common chord progression popular across several genres of music. It involves the I, V, vi, and IV chords; for example, in the key of C major, this would be: C–G–Am–F. Uses based on a different starting point but with the same order of chords, include: I–V–vi–IV, C–G–Am–F.

    1. Hi Seun,

      That’s indeed the case. The iv – IV – I – V progression is a great example of that 🙂

      Thank you for stopping by!

      Timo

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