The Most Popular Chord Progression of All Time

I suppose “The Most Popular Chord Progression of All Time” may be a slightly pretentious title; however I think if you start looking into this a bit more, you’ll agree with me that the I – V – VI – IV progression is indeed incredibly popular.

You see, dozens and dozens of hit songs over the years have used these four chords, and although the key may change, the basic sound is always there. Look up “Four Chords by Axis of Awesome” on Youtube and you’ll see what I mean.

So I thought it might be useful for some people if I did a quick guitar lesson on exactly what those four chords are, in five different keys. Because this is one of the most popular chord progressions you’re likely to come across, it is well worth becoming familiar with it in all of it’s variations.

So learn the chords, recognize the interval similarities between each key (you can learn way more about the number system and guitar theory at my Unlocking I IV V website) and above all, have fun!

The Most Popular Chord Progression of All Time

Watch on Youtube

I mention this in the video, but in case you want a handy reference, the four chords in the five keys (key is the first chord in brackets) are as follows:

  • (C) G Am F
  • (A) E F#m D
  • (G) D Em C
  • (E) B C#m A
  • (D) A Bm G

If you’re still unsure as to why these chords belong together, or how we go from one key to another, or finding which ones are sharp, and which ones are natural in the chord progression, then I highly recommend checking out my Unlocking I IV V guitar lesson as it reveals the answers to all these questions and more.

Also, you might like to checkout another lesson I did covering 10 Popular Chord Progressions.

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18 Responses to “The Most Popular Chord Progression of All Time”

  1. geronimo February 1, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    I am 64 been playing for over 50 years played in bands in the 60s these 4 chords were used then in alot of different kinds of music just like c a minor f and g
    this was a great tip for people trying to figure out songs
    geronimo

  2. John Tarulli February 1, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    Hey Jonathan, What was the YouTube video that you mentioned in the Most popular chord progression video? I thought you said “Axis of Laws” but I cant find it. My hearing is not what it used to be. Too much rock-n-roll in the 70’s. LOL

    Thanks,
    John

  3. Don Matejek February 1, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    Jonathan, I realize this is a teaser lesson, but all of your examples are played at a fast pace(tempo)! If you COULD include examples…(without being sued for copyright infringement, of course!), then the one in A, if played slower would sound like “Fire Lake” by Bob Seger! I’ll never know it all, but in my 30 plus years of playing guitar has proven that: BE IN TUNE-EVERYTHING REPEATS ITSELF ON THE NECK-ALWAYS PLAY IT THE EASIEST WAY!!! Those are MY copywritten things about playing the guitar that everyone SHOULD know!!!

    • Randy Martinez May 14, 2014 at 8:55 am #

      Playing these chord progressions (I-V-VI-IV) do hint off to a lot of familiar songs!!! Impressively neat!

  4. Bill February 3, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    good but very difficult to determine what you are saying sometimes and especially in the key of E
    I think the 6 is Cbm but hard to tell. when you are figuring it out for yourself, I don’t know if you take only whole notes or ??

    • Jonathan February 3, 2012 at 11:33 am #

      Hi Bill, I just updated the post so it includes the chords now… you can see them underneath where the video is. The 6 in E is C#m… you can always find the 6 of a major chord by going down three frets where you started. I’d recommend taking a look at my Unlocking I IV V course, as it deals with these subjects in a lot more detail.

  5. Leo February 24, 2012 at 6:19 pm #

    Hi Jonathon; Thanks so much for the lesson on popular chord progressions. I have a chord progression I am using in a song I have written, but don’t know what key it is in. I looked through many key explanations but can’t seem to find it. The chords are Am, Dm, F and E . If you know what key this I would like to know. Thank you for your help. I bought your Scale Patterns and I IV V courses and found them very helpful. In the two years I have been playing I believe I have gotten a lot better. Thanks Leo

    • Jonathan March 5, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

      Hi Leo, I’d say it would be in A minor. That E major trick is used sometimes, often times an E7 will replace the Em expected to be in the key of Am, and in this case, the E major has substituted for the E7… complicated enough? :)

  6. Steve August 6, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    Thanks Jonathon you are so easy to understand!

  7. al726 September 14, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    Jonathan, I bought your Unlocking I-IV-V, second edition course a long time ago and since I barely have time to practice, I haven’t even opened it. However, after this tip, since you explained it so well, I’m opening it up this weekend and giving it a go! Thanks! Al

  8. Randy Martinez May 13, 2014 at 4:19 pm #

    This course has been an extremely excellent ‘Exercise’ course to help with combining my barre chords with my open chords. It even allows for alternating between different barre shapes as well! Bravo! Not to mention that it also helps to make more sense of our I IV V theory. And your right it does sound nice! Thanks Jonathan!
    Rock On!

  9. Guest May 24, 2014 at 9:11 am #

    UPDATE:
    While strummin’ through these five keys many familiar sounds have ringing out
    in my ears and even one (so far) in particular.
    So I jumped on the web
    and googled the key it might be in.
    ‘Lo and behold’ and with
    the practice I already got from this lesson ‘Key of A’ I already got a large
    part of this song down.
    So to add to my new list
    of songs I can play (and on unto perfection of course),
    ‘Tears In Heaven’ Key of
    ‘A’ I – V – VI – IV
    progression! Sweeet! You Rock Jonathan. Thanks!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxPj3GAYYZ0

  10. Guest May 24, 2014 at 9:12 am #

    UPDATE:
    While strummin’ through these five keys many familiar sounds have been ringing out in my ears and even one (so far) in particular.
    So I jumped on the web
    and googled the key it might be in.
    ‘Lo and behold’ and with
    the practice I already got from this lesson ‘Key of A’ I already got a large
    part of this song down.
    So to add to my new list
    of songs I can play (and on unto perfection of course),
    ‘Tears In Heaven’ Key of
    ‘A’ I – V – VI – IV
    progression! Sweeet! You Rock Jonathan. Thanks!

  11. Randy Martinez May 24, 2014 at 9:15 am #

    UPDATE:
    While strummin’ through these five keys many familiar sounds have been ringing
    out in my ears and even one (so far) in particular.
    So I jumped on the web and googled the key it might be in.
    ‘Lo and behold’ and with the practice I already got from this lesson ‘Key of A’ I already got a large part of this familiar song down.
    So to add to my new list of songs I can play (and on unto perfection of course),
    ‘Tears In Heaven’ Key of ‘A’ I – V – VI – IV progression! Sweeet!
    You Rock Jonathan. Thanks!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxPj3GAYYZ0

  12. [email protected] chi May 30, 2014 at 8:27 am #

    another great lesson. Many thanks

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