The Ultimate Chord Progressions List

Chord progressions form the backbone of musical compositions, providing the harmonic structure that underpins melodies and rhythms. In its simplest form, a chord progression refers to a sequence of chords played in a particular order. Each chord contributes its own unique color and emotional resonance to the overall composition. This ultimate chord progressions list will be the tool you need to enhance your compositions, connect with your audience, and make your mark on the world.

Chord Progressions List

Historical Significance Of Chord Progressions

The exploration of harmonic movement throughout different eras has shaped our understanding of chords’ expressive power while transcending cultural boundaries.

In Western music, the evolution of chord progressions can be traced back to the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, where composers started exploring the use of triads and their relationships.

During the Baroque era, composers like J.S. Bach and Handel further developed harmonic language through intricate progressions, often adhering to strict counterpoint rules. This period laid the foundation for functional harmony, where chords were understood in relation to their tonic (I) and dominant (V) functions.

The Romantic era witnessed a departure from strict harmonic rules, as composers such as Chopin and Liszt employed more adventurous chord progressions to evoke heightened emotions. This shift in musical thought allowed for greater chromaticism and altered chords that added color and complexity to compositions.

In the 20th century, with the advent of jazz, blues, rock, and pop music styles, chord progressions continued to evolve. From blues’ characteristic I-IV-V progression to jazz’s sophisticated ii-V-I sequences, these genres explored new harmonic territories that challenged traditional notions of tonality.

Related: How To Read Chord Progressions

Basic Chord Progressions List

I-IV-V Progression

The I-IV-V progression, also known as the “classic” chord progression, is a fundamental cornerstone in music theory and composition. In this progression, the chords built on the first (tonic), fourth (subdominant), and fifth (dominant) degrees of a major or minor scale are played sequentially.

The I-IV-V progression has been extensively used across various genres and eras. Its simplicity allows for creating catchy melodies and memorable hooks that resonate with listeners.

For instance, one of the most iconic examples can be found in Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” The song’s main riff follows a I-IV-V pattern in the key of G major, with G-C-D chords forming the backbone of this timeless rock ‘n’ roll classic. Another prominent illustration of the I-IV-V progression is found in countless blues compositions.

Artists such as Muddy Waters and B.B. King frequently employed this sequence to establish a solid foundation for their soulful guitar solos and expressive vocal performances. Through its widespread usage, the I-IV-V progression became synonymous with creating energetic and uplifting musical experiences.

I-V-vi-IV Progression

In recent decades, another chord progression has risen to prominence across modern pop music: the I-V-vi-IV sequence.

The ubiquity of the I-V-vi-IV progression can be attributed to its inherent catchiness and versatility. By starting with the tonic chord (I), transitioning to the dominant (V), descending to the relative minor (vi), and finally resolving to the subdominant (IV), this progression creates a sense of resolution and emotional impact.

It provides a perfect canvas for pop songwriters to craft melodies and lyrics that resonate with listeners. Notable songs that employ the I-V-vi-IV progression include Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Adele’s “Someone Like You,” and Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours.”

ii-V-I Progression

This sequence is built upon chords derived from harmonizing major scales, resulting in a sophisticated harmonic foundation that underlies countless jazz compositions. The origins of the ii-V-I progression can be traced back to early 20th-century jazz pioneers such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Charlie Parker.

It gained popularity during the bebop era as musicians sought new ways to push harmonic boundaries. The inherent tension created by transitioning between chords built on the second (supertonic), fifth (dominant), and first (tonic) degrees of a scale gives this progression its distinctive jazz flavor.

Notable jazz compositions featuring the ii-V-I progression include George Gershwin’s iconic “I Got Rhythm,” which served as a template for countless improvisational explorations by jazz musicians. Additionally, Miles Davis’ timeless composition “So What” showcases how this sequence can be adapted across different styles within jazz, from cool jazz to modal jazz.

Related: How To Play Major Chord Progressions

Advanced Chord Progressions List

By venturing into the realm of advanced chord progressions characterized by modal interchange, secondary dominants, altered chords, and chromaticism, musicians can break free from traditional harmonic constraints.

Modal Interchange

Modal Interchange involves borrowing chords from parallel modes to add depth and complexity to a composition. This technique allows composers to tap into the unique tonal colors and emotional nuances offered by different modes.

For instance, a progression in a major key can be enriched by incorporating chords borrowed from its relative minor mode or other related modes like Dorian, Phrygian, or Mixolydian. This concept is employed across various genres, showcasing its versatility and creative potential.

In rock music, one prominent example is The Beatles’ classic “Eleanor Rigby,” where the melancholic verses make use of borrowed chords from the parallel Phrygian mode. Similarly, in jazz, John Coltrane’s iconic composition “Giant Steps” features frequent modal interchange as he navigates through different tonal centers with his complex harmonic progression.

Secondary Dominants

Secondary dominants are dominant seventh chords that are outside of the key but resolve to a non-tonic chord within that key. By introducing these temporary dominants, composers create heightened moments of tension and release.

A notable example highlighting secondary dominant functionality can be found in George Gershwin’s timeless composition “I Got Rhythm.” The bridge section features a series of secondary dominants leading to unexpected but delightful harmonic resolutions. This technique adds an exciting twist to an otherwise straightforward jazz standard.

Altered Chords and Chromaticism

Altered chords are chords that have one or more notes modified from their diatonic counterparts, often involving the addition of tensions or alterations such as flat or sharp fifths and ninths. Experimental genres like avant-garde jazz and contemporary classical music frequently utilize altered chords and chromaticism to create dissonant yet evocative tonal landscapes.

Take for instance Igor Stravinsky’s groundbreaking composition “The Rite of Spring.” In this piece, Stravinsky employs intricate chromatic passages and dissonant altered chords to convey a sense of primal power and tension.

Related: Major and Minor Chord Progressions Chart

Rare Chord Progressions List

The Tritone Substitution

In the realm of jazz, where harmonic complexity reigns supreme, one technique stands out as a secret weapon in the arsenal of skilled musicians – the tritone substitution. The concept behind this unconventional chord progression involves replacing a dominant seventh chord with another dominant seventh chord whose root is a tritone away (three whole steps) from the original.

The tritone refers to an interval spanning six half-steps or three whole steps. In traditional music theory, it is considered dissonant and often resolved through proper voice leading.

Jazz musicians exploit this inherent dissonance by substituting a dominant seventh chord built on the tritone interval for an existing dominant seventh chord progression.

For example, in a II-V-I progression in C major (Dm7-G7-Cmaj7), one could substitute G7 with Db7 to create an unexpected yet captivating harmonic shift.

Classic examples of the Triton Substitution are featured in “Giant Steps” by John Coltrane and “All The Things You Are” by Jerome Kern. These instances highlight how masterful jazz musicians have embraced and innovatively utilized the power of tritone substitutions to captivate listeners.

Pedal Point

When it comes to creating hypnotic atmospheres and building tension, few techniques are as effective as pedal point (or drone basslines). This unconventional chord progression technique involves sustaining a single note or a harmonic interval in the bass while harmonies change above it, creating a mesmerizing and captivating effect. Often found in genres such as ambient music, post-rock, and certain forms of classical music, a pedal point provides a foundation that anchors the composition while allowing for intricate melodic explorations above.


Exploring rarely used or unconventional chord progressions opens up endless possibilities for musical expression. The tritone substitution in jazz and the use of pedal point or drone basslines demonstrate how musicians can transcend traditional harmonic structures to create unique sonic landscapes.

These techniques challenge listeners’ expectations and provide musical experiences that are both intellectually stimulating and emotionally engaging. Embracing these unconventional approaches can invigorate compositions across various genres, pushing boundaries and paving the way for new creative horizons.

Related: Learning Guitar As An Adult

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