As you advance on the guitar and learn how to play new songs, you will notice that many “different” songs actually use similar chord progressions. In fact, over time, you will begin to recognize some of the most common various chord progressions when you hear them.
Previously we have discussed one of the most common progressions found in many genres of music, the I, IV, V (1,4,5) chord progression.
You may remember that this progression has its roots in blues music, but is also prevalent in rock, pop, and country music as well. Today we will look at a popular variation of this progression, the: I, VIm, IV, V (1,6m,4,5) chord pattern. This progression could be verbalized as: “one, six minor, four, five”
The numbers, whether stated in terms of Roman Numerals or given a standard numerical value – simply represent the “scale steps” for the “root note” of each chord.
To clarify, let’s take a look at the notes in a “C” major scale: C D E F G A B C
By assigning a numerical value to each of these notes, you can begin to identify the root notes of the chords in a chord progression in the key of C.
C = 1
D = 2
E = 3
F = 4
G = 5
A = 6
B = 7
C = octave (start over)
So by using this example above, if you want to figure out the chord root notes of a I, VIm, IV, V chord progression in the key of C, simply pick out the notes that are on the 1st, 6th, 4th & 5th scale steps of the C major scale.
In this case the notes you would wind up with are: C A F G
Now, take note that the root note for the 6th scale step is “A”, but the chord progression calls for a VIm (6m) or “six minor”, meaning that the “A” should be played as an Am (A minor). That being said, the I, VIm, IV, V chord progression in the key of C would be as follows: C Am F G
You can now apply this same theory to any key signature. For example, the I, VIm, IV, V chord progression in the key of “G” would be: G Em C D
In the key of “A”… A F#m D E
…and so on.
Play those four chords and see if they sounds familiar to you. They should, you’ve heard them a million times. This progression was used quite a bit in the pop music of the late 50’s and early 60’s, and can still be heard in contemporary music of today. You can hear the progression in familiar standards such as:
- “Stand by Me”
- “Goodnight Sweetheart”
- “Hey Baby”
…just to name a few.
Now that you know how to play a I, VIm, IV, V chord progression, take a few minutes to figure out how to play it in various keys and see how many songs you can name that use this popular progression.