Practical Music Theory unit 11: Other common progressions


  • Other common chord progressions

  • Other Common Progressions

    In the previous lesson, we covered I – IV – V chord progressions, and especially the V7 – I resolution.  The truth is that an awful lot–almost everything, really–about chord progressions can be explained with these concepts.  But there are a few other progressions that are worth noting because they’re so common.  And you’ll notice in these that the I, IV, and V (and again the V-I) still play an important role more often than not.

    II – V – I  (2-5-1)
    and  III – VI – II – V – I  (3-6-2-5-1)

    The II – V – I progression is far and away the most common progression used in jazz.  Jazz players like to use 7th chords, so it’s likely to appear as IIm7 – V7 – Imaj7 in jazz tunes.  In the key of C, it would go like this:  Dm7 – G7 – Cmaj7.  Or more simply, Dm – G(7) – C.

    A progression that goes III – VI – II – V – I is really just a further extension of a II – V – I progression.  In the key of C, this would read Em – Am – Dm – G(7) – C.

    And–by the way–remember the lesson on “motion in fourths?”  This progression is a perfect example of a “circle of fourths” chord progression.


    I – VI – II – V (1-6-2-5) 
    and I – VI – IV – V (1-6-4-5)

    This is a common chord progression that tends to sound a bit cliché and old-fashioned in some contexts.  In the key of C, it would go C > Am > F > G, or C > Am > Dm > G.  Some famous songs that use this progression:

    • “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King
    • “Everyday” by Buddy Holly
    • “D’yer Mak’r” by Led Zeppelin


    I – V – VI – IV (1-5-6-4)

    This might very well be the most cliché chord progression on the planet at this point, especially starting with pop music in the last 20 years or so.  In the key of G, it would go G > D > Em > C.  Instead of me listing all the songs, check out this YouTube by the Axis of Awesome.  (it’ll open in a new window).  And I think about 100 more pop songs have shown up with this progression since this video was made.  Latest culprit: “Demons” by Imagine Dragons. “Wagon Wheel” has pretty much beaten this one into our heads lately.

    I have actually developed some kind of aversion to this progression at this point…though there’s no denying that it’s a good-sounding sequence of chords.

    12-Bar Blues

    The 12-Bar Blues progression is used a bit less nowadays than it was back in the 60′s and 70′s…probably because (like the I – V – VI – IV today) it got beaten to death by all of the blues/rock bands back in those days.  A 12-bar blues progression, at least in it’s simplest form, is a I – IV – V progression.  For an in-depth look at the 12-bar blues progression, and the sound of the blues in general, check out the HCG Blues Primer.

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