Get a FREE, Personalized 7-Day Music Making Course |

Piano Chord Progressions

Learn the most popular chord patterns on the piano.

Last Updated: January 2023 | Article Details: 2304 words (12 – 14 minute read)

We may earn commissions from purchases made through our links. Learn More.

In this guide, we’re going to take you through the most popular piano chord progressions.

Then we’ll give you tips on writing your own unique progressions.

This is a more advanced area of playing piano. It’s very useful in writing your own songs.

If you’re interested in really diving deep into this stuff, try out one of our picks for the best online piano lessons.


Deviant Noise TOP PICK Recommendation:

Flowkey Ad

In our previous piano guide, we showed you how to invert piano chords (read now). It’s very helpful in smoothing out the transitions between the chords in your progressions.

Chord progressions are just patterns of what chords to play with each other, and it what order. They are harmonic patterns, not intervallic patterns (for scales) or rhythmic patterns for piano (learn more).

Although, I guess you could consider them intervallic as well, since they are based on the various intervals within a scale/key.

You don’t need to be great at chord inversions, but to follow along with this guide you’ll need to know about the number system, scales and most importantly, putting together chords on the piano (learn more).

First, you need to understand the rules of basic diatonic harmony. Here’s a quick refresher for you (full guide below).

Major Scales:

  • I, IV, V = major chords
  • ii, iii, vi = minor chords
  • vii = diminished chord

Minor Scales:

  • i, iv, v = minor chords
  • III, VI, VII = major chords
  • ii = diminished chord

If you’re really interested in concepts of harmony, though, you should consider taking some structured online piano lessons (our top picks). They’re just able to get into things in a much more in-depth way.

Closeup of Two Hands Playing a Grand Piano

Full Guide to Diatonic Harmony

If you understood the “quick refresher” above you can skip this section.

When you’re first starting out with playing chord progressions, it’s important to know about diatonic harmony. That’s just a fancy phrase that means “in a particular scale, these are the chords you should use for each note in the scale.”

It uses Roman numerals to denote the scale degrees. So 1 = I, 2 = II, 5 = V, etc. And if the number is capitalized (ex/ III) it means the chord will be MAJOR. If the number is NOT capitalized (ex/ vi) the chord should be MINOR. 

Chords in a Major Scale:

I – ii – iii – IV – V – vi – vii(dim)

What’s that mean? If you’re in a major scale, the 1st note is a major chord, the 2nd and 3d chords are minor, notse 4 and 5 are major, while note 6 is a minor. Note 7 is a diminished chord.


Microphone Month at Sweetwater

So if you’re finding something in C Major, you can use the following chords together and they’ll sound good together:

  • C Major
  • D Minor
  • E Minor
  • F Major
  • G Major
  • A Minor
  • B Diminished

Chords in a Minor Scale:

i – ii(dim) – III – iv – v – VI – VII

If you’re in a minor scale, the 1st chord will be minor, the 2nd is diminished and the 3rd is major. From there, the 4th and 5th notes will be minor chords and the 6th and 7th notes will be major chords.

So in C Minor the chords you can use are:

  • C minor
  • D diminished
  • E major
  • F minor
  • G minor
  • A major
  • B major

Try playing those chords one after the other. You’ll notice that they sound like they fit together. That’s the magic of diatonic harmony. Once you become advanced, you’ll be able to dip in and out of various scales to form complex chord progressions.

There are a bunch of different combinations of chords you could use to build a progression – it’s limitless. But there are a few common ones that you should be familiar with.

Common Piano Chord Progressions

Now that you know how everything works, here are the most common ones you’ll hear in western music. We’ll give you the structure of the progressions below, but you’ll have to pick a scale to play in and figure out the proper chords yourself! All of these can be played in any key on the piano.

  • I – IV
  • I – V
  • I – IV – V – I
  • I – V – IV – I
  • I – IV – I – V – I (12 bar blues)
  • II – V – I (Jazz turnaround)
  • I – V – VI – IV (common pop music progression)
  • I – V – VI – III – IV
  • VI – V – IV – V
  • I – VI – IV – V
  • I – IV – VI – V
  • I – V – IV – V
  • I – VI – II – V

Popular Options

There are a few more piano 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

Advertisement:

Learn piano in a way that lets you improvise beautiful music on the spot!

HearAndPlay Ad

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 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

Pick a scale (like C Major) and practice the above pattern – you’ll quickly notice that you’re basically playing music! Hell you could even sing over top of a simple progression like the ones above, and be done with your very own song!

Voice Leading

One important (but advanced) idea we should mention on the topic of chord progressions is voice leading when you’re transitioning between chords. Basically, you want to minimize the movement between chords so everything sounds nice and smooth, instead of jarring. You do that by using common tones across your chords What’s that mean? Say you want to play a I-IV-V-I in C Major. Here are the chords you’d play in root position:

C Major -> F Major -> G Major -> C Major

If you play that on your piano, you’ll notice that your hand has to move a pretty long distance between chords.

C-E-G -> F-A-C -> G-B-D ->C-E-G

We want to minimize that movement. So what do you do? We use chord inversions (learn more) and different voicings to play chords in a way where our hand doesn’t have to move around much. So let’s use C Major in root position and play F Major in 2nd inversion and G Major in 1st inversion.

C-E-G -> C-F-A -> B-D-G -> C-E-G

Note: the B in B-D-G is played below (to the left) of the C note you’re playing. So essentially, you’re only having to move a couple of fingers to get from chord to chord. That’s voice leading. And it’s glorious.

Related Article: Get Better Piano Finger Dexterity – read now

Tips for Writing Your Own 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).

Female Hand Playing Digital Piano

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.

The important thing here is to build up your muscle memory so you’re able to build any triad without thinking about it.

Once you’re happy with the general sound/vibe, you can mess around with inversions and voicings to make your hand movements more smooth.

Again, build up that muscle memory.


Advertisement:

Sweetwater Deals

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 loop 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.


Advertisement:

Learn Jazz Piano With One of the Biggest Legends in Music

Masterclass Ad

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are Piano Chord Progressions?

Piano chord progressions are sequences of musical chords played on a piano one after the other, and sound good together – like they fit and tell a story. They provide the emotional mood of a piece of music. Progressions are used to develop a song’s harmony, which influences the “feeling” you get when you listen to it.

How Do I Practice Piano Chord Progressions?

The best way to practice progressions on the piano is to pick one that you like and memorize the pattern it’s built from (ex/ I -> V -> vi -> IV). Next, play that progression in one key, for example C Major a few times until it becomes easy. Next, try playing that same progression, in that same key but use inversions on some of the chords. Do that again until you’ve played as many versions of that as you can. Then move on to another key and do the same. Once you’re comfortable with that progression across all keys, move on to a different progression to practice.

What Are the Most Used Piano Chord Progressions?

There are several very popular piano chord progressions that exist in music. That’s because they’re beloved by both audiences and writers alike. They just work and sound great. One of the most used progressions in pop music is the I – V – vi – IV progression. In fact, it’s known as the “pop progression.”

Get Our Free Piano Course and Cheat Sheets!

Enter your name and email to instantly get access to cheat sheets for Piano Scales, Chords, Rhythm Patterns and more, plus a 7 Day Course to Better Piano Playing!

“Yes! Send me the music making cheat sheets and 7-day course. I’d also like to receive more music making tips, resources and guides from Deviant Noise!”

    We won’t send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Wrap-Up

    Use these 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.

    If you really want to level up your piano playing, there’s nothing better than learning your favorite songs. So I highly recommend you try out FlowKey – the best online piano song library around.

    Thanks for reading our complete guide to diatonic harmony!

    Up next, you should learn basic piano rhythm patterns (read now) that you can use with your piano chord progressions.

    Additional Resources

    Piano Lesson Reviews

    Related Piano Articles

    • Beginner’s Guide to Piano – Read Now
    • Various piano scales and modes – Read Now
    • How to Play the Piano by Ear – Read Now
    • Guide on Teaching Yourself Piano – Read Now
    • How to Practice Piano – Read Now

    Resources & Tools for Piano Players (affiliate links)


    Deviant Noise TOP PICK Recommendation:

    Flowkey Ad

    Go Back to Main Piano Learning Section

    About The Author:

    Photo of author

    Omar Zulfi

    Omar Zulfi is a music producer, rapper, singer, songwriter and digital entrepreneur. He is the founder and head writer at Deviant Noise. Learn more about what he's doing by clicking here.