Piano Chord Progressions
Learn the most popular chord progressions on the piano.
Last Updated: Nov 2020
In this guide, we’re going to take you through the most popular chord progressions on the piano. Then we’ll give you tips on writing your own unique progressions.
To follow along with this guide, you’ll need to know about the number system, scales and how to put together piano chords.
You also need to understand the rules of basic diatonic harmony. Here’s a quick refresher for you.
- I, IV, V = major chords
- ii, iii, vi = minor chords
- vii = diminished chord
- i, iv, v = minor chords
- III, VI, VII = major chords
- ii = diminished chord
If you’re really interested in chord progressions and concepts of harmony, though, you should consider taking some structured online piano lessons. They’re just able to get into things in a much more in-depth way.
Popular Chord Progressions on the Piano
There are a few different chord progressions that you’ll find used in music over and over again – because they work. We’ll go over them in this section.
But they aren’t the only ways to put chords together. They’re a great starting point, but always experiments with rhythms, chord qualities and chord voicings to put your own twist on them.
Once you’re comfortable with these progressions, you can try creating your own with our advanced tips below.
Major Scale Progressions
- I – IV – V
- I – vi – IV – V
- ii – V – I
- I – vi – ii – V
- I – V – vi – IV
- I – IV – vi – V
- I – iii – IV – V
- I – IV – I – V
- I – IV – ii – V
Minor Scale Progressions
- i – VI – VII
- i – iv – VII
- i – iv – v
- i – VI – III – VII
- ii – v – i
- i – iv – v – i
- VI – VII – i – i
- i – VII – VI – VII
- i – iv – i
Other Common Chord Patterns on Piano
Experiment with both major and minor keys with the following chord progressions.
- i – bVI – III – bVII
- I – ii – iii – IV – V
- i – V – i – iv
- i – bVI – iv – bVII
- I – V – vi – iii – IV – I – ii – V
- I – IV – I – V – I
- IV – I – V – VI-V
- I – V – vi – I/iii
- vi – ii – vii(dim) – I
Notes: bVI means the FLATTENED VI chord. I/iii means to play the I chord with a iii note as the bass
Circle Chord Progressions
A circle chord progression is one where each successive chord seems to naturally flow from the previous chord.
Try them out for yourself:
- I – IV – VII – III – VI – II – V – I
- I – IV – V – I
Tips for Writing Your Own Chord Progressions on Piano
It’s always great to work with a pre-set starting point, like with the common progressions we went over above.
But sometimes, it can be fun to come up with your own, completely unique chord patterns.
So here are some basic tips to help you work through the writing process.
Use a Key You’re Familiar With
If you’ve memorized all 24 scales on every key of the keyboard, you don’t need to worry about this one.
But if you’re just starting out, when you’re writing a progression start in a key you’re familiar and comfortable in.
For most beginner’s that’ll likely be either C Major or A Minor (all the white keys).
It’s ok if you want your progressions to be in other keys. Once you’ve written it, you can spend the time to transpose it to another key.
But when you’re starting, you don’t want to be bogged down by finding notes and chords. You want to be able to move quickly.
So start in a key you’re comfortable with.
Start With Basic Triads in Root Position
Again, when you’re first starting out you don’t have every variation memorized, so it’s best to start with the things you know well.
In this case, triad chords in root position.
That’s because most beginners will have an easier time structuring an outline of their progression using basic triads in root position.
You won’t have to think as much when trying different combinations.
Once you’re happy with the general sound/vibe, you can mess around with inversions and voicings to make your hand movements more smooth.
Add Complexity and Rhythm Afterwards
Once you’ve got a basic idea going – you have the general chords you want to use and their order – you can now start to experiment with complexity.
Since you’re vibe is basically set now, you can start to complicate the overall emotion listeners will feel by using chord extensions or advanced chord qualities.
Throw in some 7ths and 9ths. Try out a sus chord.
Be creative here.
And now work on the rhythm. is it a ballad or an upbeat song? Experiment with different note lengths until you’re happy.
You Don’t Have to Be Conventional
Although it’s really helpful to follow conventional rules about diatonic harmony when starting, don’t think you have to stop there.
You don’t HAVE to always start on the root note (i.e. the I chord).
And you don’t have to ALWAYS stay in the same key. You can try borrowing chords from other keys.
For example, if you’re using a Eb minor chord in your progressions, try and see how the Eb MAJOR chord sounds in it’s place.
The only rule you NEED to follow is that it sounds GOOD to you.
Expand Your Basic Progression
It’s easy to start by building out a 4-chord chord progression. It’s a great way to get a starting point, and even writing your entire song around it.
But if you want to ramp up the complexity of your progression even more, stretch it out.
Say you want to use 8 total chords. Start by using 4 chords. Find places to use your primary chords (I, IV, V). Then play around with the seconday chords (ii, iii, vi, vii) in between those primary chords.
Once you’ve got a nice 4-chord progressions going, take your last chord (the 4th chord you’re using) and turn it into a “I” chord. And go from there.
The circle of fifths is a useful tool here, as it shows you the movement between keys in perfect 4ths and perfect 5ths.
Obviously this is a bit more advanced, but it’s can result in amazing emotional progressions that are unexpected and unique.
Use the piano chord progressions and tips for writing your own to create amazing emotional pull in your next song. Spend some time on it and it’ll pay off, as it’s the foundation of the rest of your song’s vibe. Now go learn more about how to use what you’ve just learned in piano practice sessions.
If you’re looking for a great online piano lesson with more structure, check out Playground Sessions, the Melodics Training App, Piano For All or Piano Marvel. Or read our guide on teaching yourself piano.