The most popular R&B music chord progressions are among the simplest, yet odd. This doesn’t mean they sound strange or discordant but the patterns differ notably from other genres. This is due to the fact that R&B relies heavily on vocals, rather than instruments (especially in blues, jazz, and rock to a lesser degree). So, it’s actually more akin to country or pop in the respect that vocals drive the songs.
Most Popular R&B Music Chord Progressions
Let’s begin with a common, short sequence, vi, bVII, or minor six, flat seven. While it only consists of two chords, it boasts quite a bit of tension and has the added bonus of letting other instruments fill out the song. In the key of C Major, this is A minor and B flat Major and this simple pattern can also be combined with other progressions.
Another two-chord combo, I, vi, offers a smooth and natural transition, due to the fact there’s only a one-note difference between the two chords. But, it does require a little extra effort to make it work. That can be done by building depth in the song and including a catchy hook. With the one, six combination, it’s possible to create a groove. In the key of C Major, the chords are C Major and A minor.
The ii, V, I progression is familiar to jazz musicians, but it also works well in rhythm and blues (as well as other genres). To spice it up, just add the 7 to each chord in the pattern. But, going strictly by its sequence, the minor two, major five, major one progression in the key of C Major is D minor, G Major, and C Major.
Contrary to popular conception, the one doesn’t have to be part of any chord progression. That’s what makes the IV, vi, V stand out, since it lacks the one. By leaving the one out of the sequence, it keeps listeners interested and creates infectious pop music. In the case of R&B, it can be used to evoke dramatic emotions. In the key of C Major, the chords are F Major, A minor, and G Major.
Here again, the one is noticeably absent in the IV, V, iii chord pattern. But, this progression is a little sadder and hence, more dramatic. To give it a little more tension and jazz it up, add the 7 to each chord. For instance, instead of F Major, G Major, E minor, include the seventh: F Major7, G Major7, and E minor7.
Continuing on with the theme of leaving out the one is vi, iii, IV, ii, or the minor six, minor three, major four, and minor two. One way to make this progression work to its best is to insert some pauses or rests. Throw in a few melodies and licks and it can really create a great tune. In the key of C Major, the chords are A minor, E minor, F Major, and D minor.
Yet another chord progression that can make a strong R&B composition without the one is the IV, iii, VI, VI, pattern. It’s a nuanced sequence and can present some challenges, but with the right harmony and chord qualities (like adding the 7th to each chord), it can work really well.
The I, vi, IV, V, progression is common in most contemporary genres because it’s simple, effective, and emotional. It’s also classic, appearing in memorable songs from the past. It works best at slow tempos because faster tempos bring out its punk-rock feel (since it’s one of the most common in that genre). In the key of C Major, the chords are C Major, A minor, F Major, and G Major.
Rhythm and blues songs can easily borrow from pop music due to their similarities. And, the I, V, bVII, IV is a chord progression prime example. It can work well with ballad-type compositions and because of its pattern, it adds a little color to the chord qualities. In the key of C Major, it would be C Major, G Major, B flat Major, and F Major.