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  • Learn these most common chord progression types and never get stuck again…

    by Jermaine Griggs · 24 comments

    in Chords & Progressions

    When it comes to playing songs, there are tons of progressions to learn.

    But I want to focus on what I think are the 3 most commonly used types.

    And even among this group, I think the “Pareto principle” or “80-20 rule” would apply — meaning just the 1st type will probably be responsible for majority of chord progressions out there in songs (or as they put it, 20% of something will generally be responsible for 80% of a result).

    For the purposes of this lesson, let’s label each type of progression as “A,” “B,” and “C.” Others have named them “alpha,” “beta,” and “gamma” but I want to keep things simple around here (like we also do).

    Most Common Progressions:

    1. Progressions that rise by fourths (or fall by fifths)
    2. Progressions that fall by thirds (or rise by sixths)
    3. Progression that rise by seconds (or fall by sevenths)

    *Don’t be confused by what’s written in parentheses. They are essentially the same thing! For example, if you rise by a fourth from “C,” you’ll arrive at “F” (C – D – E – F). If you fall by a fifth from “C,” you’ll arrive at “F” as well (C – B – A – G – F). Yes, it’s a lower “F” but it’s “F!”


    Progressions that rise by fourths / fall by fifths

    These will dominate most popular songs.

    If you’ve been an avid reader of this blog, you know how much I talk about circular progressions and the circle of fifths chart. Most music moves in fourths and fifths. If you just mastered progressions like this, you’d probably be able to play like 80% of songs (…or more, but don’t quote me on the exact figure. I’m just “guesstimating” here).

    These are 2-5-1 chord progressions like “D minor – G7 – C major.” Notice they all moved in fourths. I honestly can’t think of very many popular songs that don’t use fourth and fifth progressions.


    Progressions that fall by thirds / rise by sixths

    Not as common as the fourth and fifth interval progressions above, these come in close though!

    You’ve undoubtedly seen progressions like “C major – A minor – F major – G major.”

    The C major to A minor to F major all move in falling thirds.

    C to B to A = minor third
    A to G to F = major third

    C down to A is a minor third.
    A down to F is a major third.

    (Oh yeah, notice the mixing and matching. That’s because it doesn’t matter what kind of third. It can fall by a major third or a minor third — as long as they are thirds. That goes for any of these progression types.)

    Particularly in C major, we know that going from C major to A minor is very common. “A” is the relative minor of “C.”

    In fact, “A minor” can outright replace “C major” in certain progressions since they are tightly related.


    Progressions that rise by seconds / fall by sevenths

    These come in at third place.

    You’ll find this among primary chords of a major key.

    For example, in C major, the primary chords are C major, F major, and G major.

    As you know, C to F is a fourth so that gets taken care of by the TOP progression above. But the F to G — that falls under this category. It’s rises by a second.

    A note about intervals:

    You may want to look at this lesson on how to correctly name intervals.

    Basically, if you’re going to call an interval a “second,” it needs to encompass 2 letter names. F to G passes that test. F is one letter name, G is the other.

    Same goes for thirds. C to E passes because C is the first letter name, D is the second (it isn’t played but it is “inside” the interval), E is third.

    Some people accidentally call Ab to B a third. Sure enough, it makes the same sound as a minor third and if you played Ab and B, it would surely sound like a minor third. But it’s considered a second because it only encompasses two letter names in its interval.

    So just remember that when you’re using these progression types.

    Ok, let me summarize.

    There are three common chord progression types.

    Type A progressions rise by fourths or falls by fifths.

    Type B progressions fall by thirds or rise by sixths.

    Type C progressions rise by seconds or fall by sevenths.

    *If you just want to think of “type A” as rising by fourths, that’s fine. You don’t have to necessarily remember the other half (i.e. – “fall by fifths”). They essentially both take you to the same note.

    Exercise: List a real-life example of any of the progression types
    from this lesson. It can be in any key of your choice! I’ll start it off.

    Hope you enjoyed this lesson!

    Until next time —

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

    Related posts:

    1. Famous “2-5-1″ Chord Progression
    2. Another altered chord progression you can try
    3. What are chord progressions?
    4. Using “5-1″ Progressions To Enhance Your Playing
    5. How I quickly learn songs in all 12 keys
    6. You don’t have to be a math whiz to master “2-5-1″ chord progressions in every key
    7. Chord progression with various altered chords

    { 24 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Jermaine

    Type A progression (rising by fourths)

    C major:

    D minor — G7 — C major


    F major

    F major 7 — B major 7 – E half dim 7 – A7 – D min 7


    2 Rob

    REally liked this post. Let me try one.

    Mixture of type A and type C.

    G major

    G major
    C major
    D major
    C major
    G major


    3 Robert

    Reslly nice this gives me something to work with in every scale thanks J.Griggs.



    Eb MAJOR [exzibit A...fourths]

    F minor
    Bb dom7
    Eb MAJ13

    gnarly dude, like totally awesomeeerrd!!!


    5 wjbillings

    Mr. Griggs I thought you were showing a video. I see nothing, Also I purchased several videos from your fleet, they dont play I will return them in hopes of recieving some that do. In the future go a lil bit slower you and your guests you got some older foks out here that cant move that fast any more tryin to learn for the first time. Thanks.


    6 Peter

    Wjbillings, his video he just announced is on this page: http://www.hearandplay.com/main/jermaine-teaches-song#comment-2692


    7 Michael Zimmer

    Mr. Griggs said:
    “Some people accidentally call Ab to B a third. Sure enough, it makes the same sound as a minor third and if you played Ab and B, it would surely sound like a minor third. But it’s considered a second because it only encompasses two letter names in its interval.”

    Mr. Griggs, I am sorry but this is wrong. I like your videos but I think you need to clarify this.
    You call Ab min by it’s correct enharmonic name G# min in the key of B major and voila you have your minor third…..
    So Ab=G# to B is definitely a minor third

    Michael Z


    8 Jermaine Griggs

    Mike I’m talking about naming intervals. Ab to B is NOT a
    third. And by that I’m implying the student should pick the right
    letter… In this case, G# as you’ve noted. But that specificity is
    to be noted. How would you like if people spelled your name Mic?
    Sure sounds the same but that’s not your name.

    Minor third is G# to B… Not Ab. Yet it doesn’t matter what key one is in, it’s common
    to say Ab to B. All I was pointing out is that’s wrong. Ab minor
    chord could be Ab Cb Eb. But Ab to B is wrong just like Mic
    instead of Mike is wrong for you. With that said, playing by ear is
    forgiving and unless you’re taking a music theory test, call stuff
    what you want…

    Perfect example. Someone will be in Eb minor and on the 4 that chord is Ab minor… Not G#. Therefore you need to spell Ab minor correctly.


    9 Jesse

    5th degree of C major is G not F. Get your facts right before writing false information.


    10 Jermaine Griggs

    Sure the 5th degree of C is G when looking at the major scale. But a fifth “down” from C is F. You get your facts straight. We’re talking intervals here.


    11 Jesse

    And the FACT is that 5 intervals down is a perfect 4th. That’s why it’s called the circle of fourths or fifths. A “fourth” is meant as 5 semitones and never anything else. Don’t be a douchebag and try to make up your own rules. A “fourth” is 5 semitones and a “fifth” is seven semitones. That is fact and nothing you can do or say will excuse your stupidity.


    12 Jermaine Griggs

    Jesse you are totally confused.

    A fourth is 5 half steps.
    A fifth is 7 half steps.

    Let’s count step by step.

    C up to G is a fifth.

    C to Db is 1 half step
    Db to D is another half step (for a total of 2)
    D to Eb is another half step (for a total of 3)
    Eb to E is another half step (for a total of 4)
    E to F is another half step (for a total of 5)
    F to Gb is another half step (for a total of 6)
    Gb to G is another half step (for a total of 7)

    Now let’s count down a perfect fifth, in other words 7 half steps:

    C to B is a half step
    B to Bb is another half step (for a total of 2)
    Bb to A is another half step (for a total of 3)
    A to Ab is another half step (for a total of 4)
    Ab to G is another half step (for a total of 5)
    G to Gb is another half step (for a total of 6)
    Gb to F is another half step (for at total of 7).

    so again, I repeat.

    A fifth up gives you G.
    A fifth down gives you F.

    Likewise, a fourth up gives you F.
    A fourth down gives you G.

    What don’t you understand about this?


    13 Jermaine Griggs

    Furthermore, where on this page did I say F is the 5th
    degree of C? I think you don’t know what intervals mean. They are
    DISTANCES. Just like you can travel 3 feet to the right and get one
    street. You can travel 3 feet to the left and get another street. C
    up to G is a fifth. Traveling C down to G is a fourth. C up to F is
    a fourth. Traveling C down to F is a fifth. So my original
    statement in the blog post holds true. It’s the only statement I
    could imagine you’re talking about because I don’t know what you’re
    talking about “F” being the fifth of C. This must be the
    statement… and mind you, it’s true.

    *Don’t be confused by what’s written in parentheses. They are
    essentially the same thing! For example, if you rise by a fourth
    from “C,” you’ll arrive at “F” (C – D – E – F). If you fall by a
    fifth from “C,” you’ll arrive at “F” as well (C – B – A – G – F).
    Yes, it’s a lower “F” but it’s “F!”

    14 Jake Jarmon

    That shut him up….


    15 Kari Dixon

    I am learning to read chords and learn gospel chord progressions on my own and have found your articles and site extremely helpful. Currently, I am unemployed and my budget won’t allow for a Starbuck’s coffee a day, let alone any extra for the courses you offer. However, I know I will use buy them when I can afford them because you have gone out of your way to keep me as a customer with all of your kind freebies. I so appreciate your willingness to share and give so much and I can’t believe how RUDE some people are in their comments! As another human being, I apologize for them in hopes that they someday find some peace and happiness. Blessings to you and yours and, again, THANK YOU!


    16 priyantha Meemeduma

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    17 Petko

    Wow… So many possible variations, practically summarized on one page. Thanks.


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    23 Chance

    Just reading over the comments and wanted to back this post up on it’s accurateness for intervals as I saw some confussion. An F is the 4th above C, but as stated going backwards it correctly would be a 5th. When inverting chords for example a perfect 4th becomes a perfect 5th and a perfect 5th becomes a perfect 4th. Major intervals become Minor, ext. Anyways, just wanted to point out the post was correct. I just finished school for music production and was just going over some old videos that mentioned intervals a few minutes ago.


    24 Lerry

    thanks alot, i just learnt real stuff from ur arguments


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