Common Chord Progressions

I had a basic chord diagram book when I was learning how to play guitar and the chords were grouped by key. I would spend hours playing chords in different combinations, and I would often stumble upon sequences that sounded like a song I had heard on the radio. Sometimes, it was easy to recall the name of the tune, and other times the chord progression just sounded *really* familiar. It turns out, there are a handful of chord progressions that are used in thousands of popular songs.

I really enjoyed the slow process of discovering each progression by learning cover tunes and writing my own songs using them, but I can also see the value in exploring them in a more systematic method. As part of a basic music theory class I teach that covers major scale harmony, I offer these common chord progressions to students as “jumping off points” for beginning songwriting and ear training exercises. Students are asked to transpose chord progressions to different keys, and customize the instrumentation, groove, tempo, dynamics, and melody. Need a music theory primer? Check out this YouTube Playlist!

To download this free Play-A-Long, install the iReal Pro app and then click the link below on your phone or tablet. If the link isn’t working, please email me and I will send the playlist directly to you:

12 Popular Chord Progressions

Chord Progression

Chord Progression

In the Key of C

Song Title

I  vi  ii  V

1 6 2 5

C Am Dm G

“Heart and Soul”

I  vi  IV  V

1 6 4 5

C Am F G

“Blue Moon”

I  vi  V  IV

1 6 5 4

C Am G F

“You Live, You Learn”

I  IV  V vi

1 4 5 6

C F G Am

“The Warrior”

I  IV  vi  V

1 4 6 5

C F Am G

“Stay, Stay Stay”

I  IV  I  V

1 4 1 5


“Brown Eyed Girl”

I  IV  V  IV

1 4 5 4


“Wild Thing”

I  IV  ii  V

1 4 2 5

C F Dm G

“Run Around”

I  iii   ii   V

1 3 2 5

C Em Dm G


I  iii  IV  V

1 3 4 5

C Em F G

“Man in the Mirror”

I  iii  vi  V

1 3 6 5

C Em Am G

“Run Away Train”

I  V  vi  IV

1 5 6 4

C G Am F

“With or Without You”

I  V  ii  IV

1 5 2 4

C G Dm F

“Closing Time”

I  V  iii  IV

1 5 3 4

C G Em F

“The World Has Turned…”

Susan Palmer has been the guitar instructor at Seattle University since 2006 and she is the author of, “The Guitar Lesson Companion” method book series. Her books are used by teachers and students all over the world, including faculty at Berklee College of Music. Learn more about her method books  and her private teaching studio to see how she can help you get more out of your guitar lessons and more out of your guitar.