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Chord progressions: How to structure chords in your compositions

If you are wondering how to write a song and don't know where to start your arrangement, chord progressions are the best starting point.

In this article, you will learn what chord progressions are, how to build better progressions, and how to integrate them into your songs.

What are chord progressions?

A chord progression is a sequence of chords that are repeated. In a pop or rock song, one or several chord progressions will usually appear based on the chords of the main key of the song (usually the Major Key or Natural Minor Key).

The chords of a progression are represented by Roman numerals and defined by a scale.

They also play a very important role in the narrative aspect of your songs. A given chord at a given moment in the progression can drastically change the narrative thread of your song, from happy to sad, from light to dark.

A major, minor, or diminished chord has no narrative value if it is isolated. But even simple, repetitive chord progressions have the power to create a complex set of emotions and musical ideas.

With a good progression as a base, other elements of your song-such as the main melody or the bass line-are much easier to create, in large part because of this base.

Even simple, repetitive chord progressions have the power to create a complex set of emotions and musical ideas.

Roman Numbers in Music

Roman numerals are the most commonly used symbols to describe how chords work on each guitar scale. Musical scales are sets of notes built on repeated patterns-such as major and minor.

Good news if you're not a big fan of complicated theoretical concepts: All major and minor scales on guitar have exactly the same repetitive chord sequence.

Simply memorize two sequences, and you'll have an easy way to understand the progressions.

Major scale chords

Let's start with the larger scale chords. As you can see, if you use C major as an example, the progression would look like this:


This example shows chords in the C scale, but this group of chords is in any other major scale.

Capitalized Roman numerals such as I, IV and V represent the major chords. Lower-case Roman numerals like i, iv, and v represent the minor chords, and the last one, also in lower case, with the circle, represents a diminished chord.

Minor scale chords

The sequence of Roman numerals in the minor scale is as follows:

Let's use A minor this time. Your chord progression in A minor would be as follows:


The sequence of minor chords has the same types of chords as the minor ones but in a different order.

Popular chord progressions in music

Certain chord progressions, such as the 12-bar blues, are very common in popular music.

The twelve-bar blues chords are I, IV, and V, and everyone from punk bands to jazz composers have used them in their compositions.

There is also this chord progression: I-V-vi-VI. You can hear it in "Let It Be" by The Beatles.

How to use the chord progressions in your songs First Steps

Depending on the style of music you create, your chord progressions can range from simple, repetitive, and predictable to complex and erratic.

This is not common, but there are many songs built with only two chords. If you are new to composition, start by building a progression with two or three chords.

The only way to compose something that really works is to give yourself the time and freedom to explore the connections between chords. Use the tables above and build your progressions according to their sound. There are no strict rules for progressions. It all depends on your ear.

Expand your progressions

This article serves to learn how to understand chord progressions in the same scale and as a starting point for composing.

Once you understand the basics, try experimenting with scale changes and chord variations on your own.

Theory is very helpful in explaining why music works the way it does, but nothing can replace the power of musical intuition in your own ears.

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