World-famous musicians create their music around cool chord progressions. Chords carry the emotion, tension, and stability of your sound. When you create interesting progressions, you take your listener through fascinating journeys in your music.
But what is a chord progression, and what are Roman numerals when looking at chord progressions?
This article will give you the answer.
You will also learn what makes a good chord progression and learn the popular "I–V–vi–IV” chord progression with easy examples you can follow in your DAW.
Let’s dive in by explaining what a chord is first.
Check out: FREE Chord Generator
What Is A Chord?
A chord is several notes combined to create a fuller sound. Modern music theory says the basis for a chord is a triad, meaning three notes playing simultaneously.
Chords start with a key, which relates to the root note of your instrument. A grand piano has a total of 88 keys in seven octaves, including three extra notes.
Each octave has eight white notes and twelve in total, counting the black ones.
The notes are as follows:
There are formulas and sequences you can use to create any chord you want easily with music theory. The process boils down to choosing your root note, C, for example. You then add notes in certain distances or intervals from your root note to get a particular sound.
Read more about creating chords in this article.
What Is A Chord Progression?
A chord progression in music is two or more chords played after each other in a musical piece. It's the building block for Western and traditional music styles and is the foundation on which you build your melodies and grooves.
When you know music theory, creating interesting chord progressions becomes easy. A major part of creating cool chord progressions is using Roman numerals. Let's explain what that means.
What Are Roman Numerals In Music Theory?
The Roman numeral is a type of analysis in music theory. Each roman number represents a chord within a specific key.
In music theory, the Roman numerals are:
The sequence above is 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. Why seven? Because there are seven chords within a key, no matter what note you start on.
If you're unfamiliar with those types of symbols, "I" means one, "II" means two, "IV" means four, and V means five.
Instead of saying a chord progression is CMaj, GMaj, Bdim, CMaj, you can write it out as I-V-vii°-I.
You can also see those numerals in lower case letters like this:
What's the difference between upper and lower-case Roman numerals?
- Upper-case Roman numerals (I-II-III etc.) means major
- Lower-case Roman numerals (i-ii-iii etc.) mean minor
You can also see a small degree symbol, like here in this Roman numeral example of C Major:
As you can see on the “vii°," we see that small circle symbol. That means it’s a diminished chord.
Why Roman numerals and not standard numbers?
That’s because we use numbers (1,2,3 etc.) for other reasons in music theory.
For example, a '7' can signal a seventh chord. In music theory, we only use Roman numerals for the sole reason of mapping out chords within keys. When you see the numerals, you always know what it’s about.
What Is A Good Chord Progression?
Good chord progressions have tension, resolve, and stability. Different types of chords have qualities that give you these results when combined.
Mixing major and minor chords with sevenths and diminished chords is a great way to achieve interesting chord progressions.
We want stability and balance in music. Using tension, including chords like sustained or diminished chords, we can give the listener a nice resolution by cycling between musical tension and balance.
What Is The Most Common Chord Progression?
There are many types of popular chord progressions, but the most common is the I-V-vi-IV chord progression. Spanning across several genres, you have most likely heard this chord progression in popular EDM, pop, rock, and rap music.
Famous Examples Of the I-V-vi-IV Chord Progression include:
Eminem - "Not Afraid"
Bob Marley - "No Woman No Cry"
MGMT - "Kids"
Avicii's - "Wake Me Up"
Now you might ask yourself, how can so many artists use the same chord progression with such different results?
Well, the beautiful thing about chord progressions and Roman numerals is that you can change keys and get different results.
Other things that play into the musical difference are the different melodies and instruments used. Musicians can also change the starting point of the sequence and get different results.
Chord progressions have no copyright, meaning you can also use them to build your own cool chord progressions.
Which chords can go into the I–V–vi–IV chord progression?
I–V–vi–IV : C–G–Am–F (optimistic)
V–vi–IV–I : G–Am–F–C
vi–IV–I–V : Am–F–C–G (pessimistic)
IV–I–V–vi : F–C–G–Am
Chord progressions are vital for music creation. You can hear them in the world’s most famous musical pieces and are the foundation of why we listen to music.
By learning the basics of music theory, you have started your journey to learn how to create chord progressions and take your music to the next level.
Check out: FREE Chord Generator
No matter what style of music you create, interesting chord progressions and understanding what works are key.
Plus, it becomes much more fun when you start creating cool chord progressions that carry impact and tons of emotion.
Learn Everything About Chord Progressions Today
Music is chords, notes, progressions and arrangements. To become a better producer, it's critical you have a solid understanding in all of these areas related to music theory.
Luckily, we have a bundle of our three Music Theory Courses, which are both fast and easily applicable in your own productions, whether you make Deep House, Future Bass or Techno.
Learn all the:
- Basics in chord progression and harmonies
- Secrets to crafting melodies that hooks your listeners
- Essentials in arranging a track from just an 8-bar loop
Sound cool? Check it out!
Click here to learn everything you need in Music Theory.
Thanks for reading, and see you in the next article.
About the author
Pelle Sundin is a Swedish music producer and writer, active with his chillout project PLMTRZ. He also produces psytrance. When he's not producing, he surfs, skates, and chugs coffee.