Chord Progressions in Pop And Rock Music

One of the important skills you learn as a musician is the ability to listen to music, and recognize how it is structured. If you are new to playing guitar, you will soon find that you can predict and identify chord changes in rock and pop guitar music.

This is partly because you are applying the theory you have learned, and partly because of common chord progressions that are used over and over again in both genres of music.

If you know what these Pop / Rock progressions are based on, you will have a much easier time accompanying other musicians, or composing your own songs.

Diatonic Chords

For the most part, diatonic chords are used in Rock and Pop music. Major and minor chords are especially favorable, since they make use of perfect fifths. Unlike Classical music, Pop and Rock does not as much modulation, which is also why diatonic chords are so common.

Modern Music

Modern music is not bound to the same rules of composition, which applied to music from before the 20th Century. Parallel Fifths, found in chord progressions such as I, IV, V, I were not allowed in Classical music, if the same voicing was used for each chord change. This was supposed to preserve the individuality of each chord.

Three-chord progressions lend themselves to any modern music where lyrics and melody are used, with a rhythmic chord backing. One of the most common progressions is I, IV, V. It is popular because it can be used in endless variations and forms a circular progression over four bars.

Modern music makes use of a lot of repetition, syncopation and diatonic chord progressions that originate from Blues. One of the most fundamental influences on Pop and Rock guitar playing, is the basic 12-Bar Blues chord progression.

This is a variation of the basic I, IV, V three-chord progression. A typical 12-Bar Blues progression can be illustrated as follows: I ñ I ñ I ñ I ñ IV ñ IV ñ I ñ I ñ V ñ VI ñ I. Of course, there are many variations on this, and later Blues and Jazz chord progressions used chromatic chords and the ii ñ V- I turnaround.

Example Of Rock And Pop Songs

Many Rock and Pop songs make use of relative minors and majors during progressions.

ï The song Black, by Metallica. The chord progression here is vi ñ I -V- iii.

ï U2’s With or Without You makes use of the following chord progression: I ñ V ñ vi ñ IV.

ï Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit uses this progression: ii – V ñ IV ñ I.

What you should notice with these examples, is the use of diatonic chords for the progressions, and the recurring basic I, IV, V theme, with added relative minors. Dominant sevenths also feature quite a lot, especially in Pop songs, due to their ability to lead a progression back to the tonic.

To further help you understand the structure of Rock and Pop chord progressions, get into the habit of writing down the chord progressions from tablature or sheet music. This will aid you in finding and identifying recurring patterns and themes in both genres of music, making playing it on guitar much easier and instinctive.

Remember, we are using the I, III and V notes of the scale to create our F major chord. This translate to the following notes: F, A and C.

It is important that you play and listen to the different inversions. The different inversions have unique sounds and moods even though they are made up of the same notes. The next time you get you need to inject some freshness and spice up your rhythm playing, you can simply substitute inverted chords with the standard chords that you are playing.


This type of progression is perfect for advanced guitar players. It is also one of the most common jazz chord progressions, played in the key of G. The chords for this type of progression will be Gmaj7, Cm7, Am7, and D7. For Gmaj7, you will be using G, B, D, and F#. For Cm7, the chords you need are C, Eb, G, and Bb. The notes for Am7 are A, C, E, and G. And for D7, you will be using D, F#, A, and C.

It may take time to play some of these common jazz chord progressions. But with continuous dedication to practice, you are sure to play all of them. There are lots of chord progressions in jazz music so you have many options to choose from. But again, keep in mind to practice a lot.

The more you practice, the better you will become in playing all of these jazz progressions. If you find it hard to play these progressions, then ask look for tutorials. There are many instructors who are willing to teach you all these progressions.

Leave a Reply