Most Common Chord Progressions In Pop Music

Most Common Chord Progressions In Pop Music

 

Pop music or popular music comes in different colors and moods from various genres. One thing most of them have in common are catchy chord progressions. They create the bones of a song.
Are there patterns in pop music that can be useful for songwriters?
The answer is yes of course!
There are only 12 notes that can be played in different ways. Today you will see that a lot of pop music songs use the same chord progressions!

What Is Pop Music?

The goal of pop music is to become popular and in the best case get on the charts. Pop songs aim to get the widest audience in order to sell a lot of copies.
There are certain elements that can be found in pop songs to make them relatable and popular.

  • Song structure consists of verses and multiple (repeating) choruses.
  • A catchy rhythm, sometimes danceable
  • Length reaches from 2 1/2 minutes to 5 1/2 minutes
  • Really relatable lyrics with high recognition value

Of course there are exceptions like “Hey Jude” by The Beatles which is 7:06 minutes long or “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen which is 5:54 minutes long.
Pop music is changing throughout the years and new trends develop.
Throughout the 90’s and earlier 2000’s there are a lot of boybands and teen pop interprets like Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake.
Nowadays there is a big emphasize on Hip-Hop and electronic elements. Also unique sounding voices and post production like Billie Eilish are really popular right now.

Don’t mistake Pop Music for Pop Art.

I’m not a huge fan of pigeonholing anyone, so I’m not taking any definitions too seriously.

Common Keys In Pop Music

I have found a really interesting chart on insights.spotify.com that I really wanted to show you. (Click to enlarge)

The chart is taken from 2015 but it still shows a major trend.
The top 4 most common keys are all fairly easy to play. C Major has no sharps or flats, G Major has only the F# flat, D Major has F# and C# and A Major has the most with F#, C# and G#.

This tells me that the most popular keys are also fairly simple. Simplicity makes recognition easier and the goal is to make these songs popular.
With that comes easy to sing along melodies that are very memorable.

What else can we find out about this chart?

Major Or Minor Keys?

Almost half of the songs released in 2015, on Spotify, are written in a major key.
That’s weird because many songs I listen to have a sad or even melodramatic tone, right?
Just because a song is written in a Major key doesn’t mean they have to sound all happy.

Songs like “Someone Like You” by Adele or “Ride” by Lana Del Rey are written in major keys. (A Major and C Major)

Why is that?

I found out that most songs are written in keys that are either easy to play on guitar or piano.
Although it’s true that keys with less sharps and flats are easier to play on the piano, I don’t have problems playing them on the guitar because of my capo. But when it comes to writing them down in a DAW or playing them on a midi keyboard, then I do like it the easy way, too.

As I mentioned before the most common keys are the easiest ones and a lot of people start creating songs on the piano.
Now that answers my personal question why most of the songs I sing, are written with similar chords.

As you can see the easiest keys are the most commons. It’s okay to be a little lazy!

So now that we figured out which keys are the easiest and most common ones to use, there are ways to shake things up with different chord progressions.

Top 5 Most Used Chord Progression

I’m using the C Major key for all the examples. Why? Maybe you guessed it already…it’s the easiest key to play.

I-V-vi-IV (C-G-am-F)

Taylor Swift All Too Well
Adele Someone Like You
Shakira Waka Waka
Mika Happy Ending
Ed Sheeran Photograph

As you can see there is a lot of variety in those songs. Ranging from really sad songs like “Someone Like You” to more dancy songs like “Waka Waka”.

IV-I-V-vi (F-C-G-am)

Taylor Swift Bad Blood
P!nk Try
Blink-182 What’s My Age Again?

The chord progressions rotate but the actual chords stay the same.

vi-IV-I-IV (am-F-C-G)

Toto Africa
One Republic Apologize
Sia Cheap Thrills
Avril Lavigne Complicated
Green Day Holiday

We can see the same pattern about those songs. Even though I think there are more songs you can dance to with this kinda progression.

3 Chords Progressions I-IV-V(C-F-G) & I-V-vi-V(C-G-am-G

Green Day Good Riddance
Simple Plan Welcome To My Life
Lynyrd Skynyrd Sweet Home Alabama
The Proclaimers I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)
Maroon 5 She Will Be Loved

These progressions only feature 3 chords but they are enough to create beautiful and memorable songs.

An easy cheat sheet for you guys.

Is Pop Music Predictable?

Like I said in the beginning, there are only 12 notes to choose from. That essentially means, you have a limited amount of possibilities and chord progressions.
In my opinion, chords alone don’t make the whole song. There are certainly songs that, to me, are a little bit boring because they don’t bring anything fresh or new. They are kind of predictable. A standard chord progression with a simple melody and only played on the piano can be rather boring. Some need that simplicity because they want you to dance to their songs.

A lot of artists get around predictability with extremely relatable and personal lyrics. Special voice effects or unique instruments also disguise the fact that the chords are simple.
Most of the time I only realize the same chord structure, when I want to cover songs on guitar. I then realize that my favorite songs are all played in a very similar chord progression.

Do I Pick A Fixed Chord Progression To Write My Own Songs?

The answer is… sometimes I do.
Mostly I play around on my guitar to figure out what kind of mood I’d like to achieve.
If I’m either really bored or completely out of ideas, I try to copy and paste a chord progression and see what happens and how I can change it up a little bit.

A lot of times I start with lyrics though. Because of a certain technique I’m never running out of lyrics. If you want to know more about that technique, read my post about object writing right here.
I think, you shouldn’t be ashamed of using tools that work for hundreds of other artists. There are other ways to make your song unique and personal.

 

 

Do you write your songs with fixed chord progressions?

Take care of yourself and I will talk to you soon.

Marc

 

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