The most common pop music chord progressions rely heavily on standard, easy-to-listen-to patterns and largely (if not almost entirely) forgo complex extensions and modifications. In other words, exotic chords – though occasionally present – do not typically appear in pop music compositions. Since it’s fairly standard practice in pop music to write the music/melody first, it only makes sense that the more colorful chords aren’t usually part of compositions.
Additionally, the sequences in pop music are generally short, as songs in this genre tend to be shorter in length than other genres, particularly jazz and blues. This makes pop songs more “radio-friendly” and the majority of tracks clock in at about three minutes or less, though some draw closer to four minutes.
Most Popular Pop Music Chord Progressions
Because of these elements, pop music has generated the most hits over the years, due to the genre’s appeal to a wide audience, its simple structure, and its brevity. Unsurprisingly, many pop music hit songs use similar chord structures and patterns. So, pop music chord progressions generally make their songs memorable, catchy, and enjoyable.
One of the most common pop music chord progressions is the I, V, vi, IV, or one, five, six, four. This very sequence serves as the structure for some of the biggest hits of all time. In the key of C Major, it’s C Major, G Major, A minor, and F Major.
The popular pop music chord progression I, vi, IV, V uses the same chords, but with a slight variation, switching around three of the four same chords. This pattern is used in many contemporary songs and in the key of C Major, consisting of C Major, A minor, F Major, and G Major.
Another variation of the first example is the vi, IV, I, V chord progression. It has appeared in a number of high charting tracks and rearranges the sequence. In the key of C Major, this pattern includes A minor, F Major, C Major, and G Major.
Two more common pop music chord progressions consist of the same three chords with different sequences: I, IV, V, and I, V, IV. In the key of C Major, these are C Major, F Major, and G Major / C Major, G Major, and F Major. In many of the songs these patterns appear, the track lengths are quite short, generally less than three minutes.
Known as the “jazz turnaround,” the ii, V, I chord progression is also found in pop music. It has a melancholy feel, so it’s generally used to evoke a sad, somber emotion (which is why it appears in blues songs). Unsurprisingly, the minor two, major five, major one is well-suited for pop music ballads. in the key of C Major, this pattern includes D minor, G Major, and C Major.