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:
- Progressions that rise by fourths (or fall by fifths)
- Progressions that fall by thirds (or rise by sixths)
- 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.
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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.
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 —