The Four Chords of Pop

Posted on April 13, 2016 by editor

funny girl student with glasses reading books

Today we are talking about the four chords of pop! It is a four chord progression widely used in pop music through the years, and it has a natural attraction that leaves no indifferent listeners. Based in the previous Doo Wop progression we discussed before, it consists of a I – V – vi – IV sequence played in major mode.

Check out these popular songs that use the four chords of pop!

  • Adele – “Someone Like You”
  • Bruno Mars – “The Lazy Song”
  • Imagine Dragons – “Demons”
  • James Blunt – “You’re Beautiful”
  • Journey – “Don’t Stop Believing”
  • Men At Work – “Down Under”
  • The Police – “So Lonely”

So the variety of the genres comprehended in this list will give you the idea of how used is this progression in a popular music context!

The Inside

How these simple chords work so well when put together? Let’s take a look at the musical techs that will answer that:

  1. Common Notes: The major part of the most catchy chord progressions we know share this particular aspect. As long as two chords with two or more common notes are put together, a well sounding effect will be achieved. Dividing the progression in two parts we get two common notes chords linked: I – V and VI – IV.
  2. Length: The duration of a chord progression is important when it comes to the song structure. Longer progressions will be used to punctuate a certain musical idea, which helps to the lyrics-music relationship. This particular progression of four chords is mostly used to express a single musical idea because of the amount of chords involved.
  3. Contrast: When putting a VI chord after a V chord, since they do not share any common notes, a surprising effect is achieved. The drastic change of moods when going from a major chord (V) to a minor chord placed just a degree above (VI) gives this progression a contrasting factor that engages the listener.

A Practical Example

We are reviewing Journey’s timeless classic Don’t Stop Believing for you to take a look at how this progression works and structures a song:

The first thing to do is to check out the key in which is it’s written: since the first chord is an E major chord and our progression starts at I (first degree), we will assume we are on E major key. Then we break said major key in its own chords and chord tones:

I – E major: E – G# – B

II – F# minor: F# – A – C#

III – G# minor: G# – B – D#

IV – A major: A – C# – E

V – B major: B – D# – F#

VI – C# minor: C# – E – G#

VII – D# minor: D# – F# – A#

After we do so, it is time to form a four-chords-of-pop progression with:

If you play this progression against Journey’s first verse you’ll see how perfectly it fits! Meaning Don’t Stop Believing first line – “She’s just a small town girl, living in a lonely world” makes use of four chords of pop to express a complete lyrical idea!

Now take a look at how common chord tones interact with each other:

Major key introduction:

I – V: E major and B major are sharing one common note – B note – and make the perfect point to establish the major key since it starts with the chord that gives it the name.

Contrasting turn:

V – VI: B major and C# minor doesn’t share any common notes. This will cause a contrasting and engaging effect on the listener. Since both chords are contained in E major key it won’t hurt the stability of the song.

Wrapping it up

VI – IV: The closing of the progression makes use of the two common notes sharing between these two chords. C# minor and A major shares both E and C# as their common notes! The subtle change of mood between them makes it a delightful closing.

Now it’s time to practice the effectiveness of this progression in your own songs and musical ideas! Remember to try all these progressions with all the major keys you can think of, so you get used to its sonority! See you next time, when we will talk about modulation – or ‘chord borrowing’, as you may heard it!

Doo Wop Progression

Posted on April 7, 2016 by songtive

funny girl student with glasses reading books

Today in we’ll be analyzing a popular chord progression. It’s called the ‘Doo Wop Progression’, and is one of the most popular harmonic cycles ever! It consists of a I – VI – IV – V progression that defined an era, as you will see. Many songs going from jazz standards to timeless classics of pop ballads and rock and roll hits spawning around 50 years of music history! Wow! Now that’s something, doesn’t it? Let’s check out some examples:

  • The Righteous Brothers – “Unchained Melody”
  • Billy Joel – “Uptown Girl”
  • Carly Rae Jepsen- “Call Me Maybe”
  • Ben E. King – “Stand By Me”
  • Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia”
  • The Police – “Every Breath You Take”
  • Destiny’s Child – “Say My Name”
  • Chubby Checker – “Let’s Twist Again”
  • David Bowie – “Ashes to Ashes”
  • Lana Del Rey – “Prom Song (Gone Wrong)”

That’s quite a list, don’t you think? And this is just a small part of the long repertoire containing this popular chord progression!

Where does it come from?

This progression is born out of the Doowop style, a genre which was very popular during the 1940s to the early 1960s. It consisted of a 3 to 4 part choir using close harmonies, usually male choirs. It takes some influence from gospel music and introduces the concept of making it just for fun, treating more relaxed subjects from everyday life, without the praising element of gospel music.

They relied on simple-but-effective chord progressions that helped to define the style, like the one we are discussing today!

Why does it work?

If look closely to the order of the chords, you can see that it resembles an authentic cadence, which is a device to give conclusion to a musical idea – as we already discussed in a previous article. The first part goes from I – VI – IV and all the chord contained in here are sharing common notes, which makes it sound good and coherent; the final part closes this musical thought with a cadence V – I which happens when you repeat the progression, making it a wonderful resource for a verse or a chorus because of its length.

A Musical Example

Let’s take Ben E. King’s ‘Stand By Me’ to analyze the effect this progression has. The overall impact ‘Stand By Me’ had in the music history is undeniable, and the mix of lyrics and 50s feel this progression gives to it is one of the elements that made it unforgettable:

From the start you can hear the bass setting up the Doo Wop Progression:

Let’s take it upon the analysis we talked before:

  1. Break the first part into chord tones:
    A major: A – C# – E
    F# minor: F# – A – C#
    D major: D – F# – A
    As you can see every chord shares two common notes with the next one, making it sound great due to consonance principles we discussed in a previous article
  2. Check the cadence:
    When you repeat the chord progression you create a cadence going from V to I. Going from E major (E- G# – B) to A major (A – C# – E) makes the G# (a leading tone) go to A (the tonic of the song), thus making it a sure hit to close a musical phrase

That’s it! Now you can go and share your musical thoughts exploring a new chord progression that will quickly structure your music using Songtive for iOS/Android/Web! See you next time!

The Minor Fourth Chord

Posted on March 30, 2016 by songtive

funny girl student with glasses reading books

Today we’re gonna learn about a curious chord progression that you all can identify in a wide number of popular songs. We are talking about the use of a minor fourth degree (IVm) that adds a melancholic feeling to the phrases’ endings – which we already discussed with the name of cadences.

There are many examples in the music literature using this little cadential chord progression, let’s take a look:

  • The Beatles – Blackbird
  • Green Day – Wake Me Up When September Ends
  • Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Doris Day – Dream a Little Dream of Me
  • Santo & Johnny – Sleepwalk

As you can see there are plenty of songs and different musical genres on the list using this small but effective chord progression!

Building a IVm Progression

This progression is made out of 2 chords: a IV chord from a major key that will be turned into a minor chord flattening its third (one fret lower/one key lower) and the I chord from the same major key. This process of altering the original IV chord is also called “borrowing”, because they do not belong to that major key’s original triads – which we discussed in a previous article. However, it can be expanded in multiple ways as we will see. Let’s check it out in detail:

  1. Identify the IV chord of a major key: You get one major key to practice and identify the IV chord (a major one) and break it into chord tones.
  2. Flat the Third: Once you got the chord tones forming the IV chord, it’s time to turn it into a minor chord by lowering the third down one half-step. If you have a C major chord (C – E – G) and you low its third down one half step it will become C – Eb –G, therefore turning it into a minor chord.
  3. Close the Progression: The next step is to bring the chord progression to an end by placing the I chord – but not limited to – right after the IVm chord; this will give us a conclusion feeling – which is what makes it work.

Three easy steps to make it sound and put into use right now! Let’s take it for a test drive:

“Sleepwalk” by Santo & Johnny

We are going to explore the possibilities of our just-learned chord progression by break it popular hit ‘Sleepwalk’ into its chord progression and analyze how the IVm chord is working in there!
Let’s take a listen:

Even when it is a mostly solo performance on a lap steel guitar, we can hear an underlying chord progression played by rhythm guitar on the background:

At 0:19 we can hear that melancholic and sweet feeling the Fm chord gives to the whole progression. Let’s get into details according to the process we learned:

  1. Identify the IV chord of a major key: Since the song starts and finish with a C major chord, we can positively assume it is written in the C major key. We identify the IV chord – that being F major – and break it into its chord tones: F – A – C.
  2. Flat the Third: Since we already know how the IV chord in C major key is formed, we flat its third to turn it into a minor chord: F – Ab – C.
  3. Close the Progression: Even when we discussed that the I chord is next in line, that principle can be expanded with the purpose of enlarging the chord progression. After the IVm chord (F minor) follows a V7 chord (G7) that will act as a leading chord to C major, since it contains the leading tone of the C major key – a B note.

Going Beyond

When it comes to learning chord progressions and harmonic principles, which is what we’re doing, the most convenient way to understand them is to explore diverse keys. This will give you a different view and a mastery of all keys, which will make you a resourceful composer!

Use our Songtive app to explore all the possibilities! Let’s transpose the ‘Sleepwalk’ progression and try it around another major keys. Remember to use the Songtive Transpose feature for easy transposition:

In D major key:

In F major key: