My Top 5 Chord Progressions (“Chord Rotations”) + Video

I have a really, really cool trick to share with you today, and I thought I’d explain it by telling you about my Top 5 (or is it a Top 10? SPOILERS) Chord Progressions I use on a daily basis.

I’m super excited to share this one with you. Creating an interesting chord progression out of nothing is always a fun experience.

If you’d rather have all the work done for you in a long list of chord progressions, click here (it’s free).

–> Tl:dr? Check out the video instead:

#5: i or I

Doesn’t look like much, does it? It’s almost weird to call this a chord progression.

Until you look at songs like Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, Pink’s Get The Party Started or virtually every metal or funk song out there.

Using just the i (or less common, the I) has an almost hypnotic feel that draws you into the song very quickly.

But beware: Having just one chord demands a lot of you as a songwriter. Make sure that your hooks groove and that you have some memorable lyrics, otherwise this chord progression will get boring fast.

#4: vi – IV

When I write mellow, relaxed pieces, this is my go-to chord progression. Think of The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication (the verses).

It’s simple, it’s pretty and it’s all colour, no direction (More on that here). In other words: It doesn’t have any twists and turns, which makes this one an easy listen.

#3: vi – I – ii – IV

You’ll find this one used in songs like:
Alex Clare – Too Close
Nelly Furtado – I’m Like A Bird
Five – Slam Dunk (Da Funk)

#2: I – V – vi – IV

I think we’ve met before, haven’t we?

This is easily the most popular chord progression in the world – and I use it, too.

I’ll pick this one whenever I need to write something happy with a pinch of sadness (More on creating emotions with chord progressions here).

Quoting songs that use it is almost pointless – which song doesn’t use it would be a better question.

Adele – Someone Like You
Avril Lavigne – Girlfriend
Axis of Awesome – Four Chord Song 😉
Jason Mraz – I’m Yours

The list goes on and on and on. Fact is: This chord progression doesn’t get old and more hits use this one than any other chord progression.

#1: vi – IV – I – V (Chord Rotations)

Look at these chords carefully. Notice anything?

I’ll give you a little hint: Compare with I – V – vi – IV (the most popular chord progression in the world). See it now?

This chord progression is basically just a rotation of I – V – vi – IV, which is why it works so well: It’s the sad version of a progression we’ve heard a gazillion times.

Some songs that use this progr

ession include:
Bruno Mars – Grenade
Avril Lavigne – Complicated
Flo Rida – Whistle

Chord Rotations(2)

Need More Major? Here’s The Kicker:

Ok, I’ll admit it, I love sad music.

Naturally, 4 of my Top 5 Chord Progressions are in minor. But what if you’re looking for more major chord progressions?

We’ve covered Chord Rotations – let’s use the principle to come up with some interesting Major relatives of our Top 5:

vi – IV becomes: IV – vi
I – V – vi – IV or vi – IV – I – V becomes: V – vi – IV – I or IV – I – V – vi
vi – I – ii – IV becomes: I – ii – IV – vi or IV – vi – I – ii

Cool right?

Need more Minor? Start rotating:

vi – I – ii – IV becomes: ii – IV – vi – I

This way, we’ve just come up with 5 new, interesting chord progressions that sound awfully familiar (which is why I said this might just be a Top 10)

Here’s an idea: Download my free 143 Chord Progressions and rotate the hell out of them.

What’s that? That’s over 400 Chord Progressions at your disposal? Sounds good to me 🙂

Grab ‘em now.


Hit Song Chord Progressions Part 1

Hit Song Chord Progressions Part 2

QUESTIONS (Answer In The Comments)

  1. What’s your favourite Chord Progression?
  2. How can you rotate it to create new progressions?

Written by Friedemann Findeisen

Songwriting Coach & ComposerWith recommendations from industry heavyweights Erwin Steijlen (Pink, Shakira), Conrad Pope (John William's orchestrator), Jeff Rona (God of War III, Traffic) and Rene Merkelbach (Within Temptation), Friedemann started his songwriting/producing school Holistic Songwriting in November 2015.He has since written a book The Addiction Formula, a 7 Day Audio Program on songwriting and video courses on Hook/Melody-Writing and Drum-Writing.

  • Petey Wheatstraw says:

    Some of my favorite progressions are: I – v – bVII – IV (Mixolydian) for creating the feeling of being on a journey (especially in 6/8 Celtic groove). im7 – IV9 (Dorian) for a bluesy, funk vamp. For metal, I gravitate toward i – bII – bvii – bII (Phrygian) for a ‘menacing’ feel. Or for a slightly more exotic flavor using I7 – bvii (Phrygian Dominant). I – II (Lydian) with a tonic pedal is cool for creating an uplifting, soaring feeling. For a sultry smooth jazz vamp, I really like im9 – V9sus4 (Dorian). For uptempo dance club music, i – iv – bVII – iv (Aeolian) with a tonic pedal seems to work well. For an old school Beatles vibe, I really like IV – iv – I – I7. Rotating all these progressions would certainly yield many new options, although the vibe or feeling would obvioulsly change after rotating the chords. Thanks for a good article! Have a good one…

    • Hey Petey,

      Some great chord progressions you got here. Will try these out soon but I’ve used i – bII – bvii – bII for my metal stuff as well. 🙂