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I listen to a lot of pop punk/emo type music. I’ve noticed theres a specific change in chords that I hear a lot and really like, but I don’t know much about music theory.

Here are some examples:

g em c cm

b f# g#m e

g d c cm

d g em7 a7

I know they aren’t in the same key, but they all seem to have a similar feel (to me at least). Does this kind of chord change have a name? I’ve been wondering why they sound so similar.

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    It’s four different chord progressions so there isn’t a single name for all four. Chord progressions don’t have names but they do have Roman numerals used to specify the same profession no matter which key they are in. These four have four different sets of Roman numerals because they are different. Dec 11 '21 at 1:51
  • @ToddWilcox not all chord progressions have names, but there are several that do,
    – phoog
    Dec 12 '21 at 10:17
  • You should use capital letters, lower case implies minor quality. So, G Em C Cm would read G major E minor C major C minor. If that's what you mean, fix the case in your post. Dec 21 '21 at 18:58
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The four listed progressions are all distinct from one another, but they all fit into the broad category of cadential progressions. A "cadence" is a harmonic progression (i.e., chord progression) that leads from a feeling of tension to a feeling of resolution, from dissonance to consonance, from instability to stability: a feeling of having "arrived" at a point of musical rest. To the degree that a person doesn't hear — or isn't trained to hear — the specific differences, cadences will tend to share a similar "sound" — a sense of tension and relaxation.

In the kind of music being referenced, there is typically a certain chord that "feels like home". Taking that to be the first chord in each of the given progressions, it's also the case that the final chord in each progression, while different from each other, are chords commonly used to "lead back" to the "home chord".

The table below shows the four chord progressions

  1. As given;
  2. Rewritten to share the same home chord (i.e., "transposed");
  3. Given in standard music theory analysis notation (i.e., Roman numeral analysis);
  4. Named according to the particular cadence type involved.
Original progression Transposed progression Analytical notation Cadence type
G Em C Cm C Am F Fm I vi IV iv Plagal cadence (IV or iv -> I)
b f# g#m e C G Am F I V vi IV Plagal cadence
g d c cm C G F Fm I V IV iv Plagal cadence
d g em7 a7 C F Dm7 G7 I IV ii7 V7 Authentic cadence

Observations:

  • Most of these are "plagal" cadences; however, unless trained to hear the difference between different cadence types, they can all sound "the same": i.e., they all sound like the music coming to rest.
  • All involve the "same" chords in the sense that ii, iv, IV, and vi can all be used interchangeably to a large extent.

The "interchangeability" of certain chords can be shown by reducing them to their "musical role". "Tonic function" chords (T) are the ones most at rest; "Dominant function" chords (D) are the most "tense" and tend to move ("resolve") to a T chord; and "Pre-dominant function" chords tend to lead to D chords. ("Tend", but not a hard and fast rule.)

In those terms, the given chord progressions can be reduced to their functional equivalents in this way:

  • T P P P
  • T D P P
  • T D P P
  • T P P D
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    Doesn’t essentially every four or three chord pop or rock progression have a cadential nature in the sense that you describe here? Is there anything these four in particular share that we wouldn’t hear in any other pop or rock chord progression? Dec 11 '21 at 1:54
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    @ToddWilcox In fairness, probably not. When a pop/rock musician strays from the basic three-or-four-chord formulae, the rest of the band tells them to stop playing jazz. (Unless it's a prog rock band, of course.) But at the level the OP seems to be asking, my feeling is that a broad answer like this fits the bill, even though it could just as well apply to chord progressions not addressed in the question.
    – Aaron
    Dec 11 '21 at 2:08
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There aren't many chord progressions that have names most musicians would recognize. So unfortunately, I don't think there is a name I can give you for these progressions. That said, there is something that stands out to me about them, something that is stylistically important and that will help you find music with similar harmonies: All four progressions are very simple!

As Aaron pointed out in their answer, the first three chord progressions are all different ways of ordering the I, IV, and V chords. These are the most common chords in most western music. The fourth chord progression has a ii V I chord movement, which is also incredibly common. The chord progressions you've listed keep it simple, don't push boundaries, and have a very clear and understandable sense of direction.

To be clear, this is not a bad thing at all!

Punk and emo music are both genres about embracing angst and giving the middle finger to a stupid world. The ethos of punk is to stick it to the man, and emo music unapologetically lets loose about how much life can suck. These are both very in-your-face genres that embrace exaggerated energy and eschew subtlety.

For these genres, very straightforward chord progressions are a strength. Loud chords with clear direction have a way of hitting like a brick wall in a way that more pretentious music theory just can't match. And keeping the chords simple means that the listener's attention is kept on the lyrics and the music's driving energy. The simple chord progressions don't come from a lack of creativity or artistic merit in the slightest. On the contrary, they are a very smart choice for aggressive music that focuses on the lyrics.

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Your progressions re-written with capitol letters and Roman numeral analysis after...

G Em C Cm  --- G:I vi IV iv

B F# G♯m E --- B:I V vi IV

G D C Cm   --- G:I V IV iv

D G Em7 A7 --- D:I IV ii7 V7

I assume all of these get repeated.

There are some similarities between them.

The only one that jumps out as having a sort of name is B F♯ G♯m E, that's the I V vi IV "Axis of Awesome" used in a thousand pop hit songs.

When if comes to finding similarities in chord progressions, it's worth pointing out that most chord progressions share similarities, because music works with common patterns. Chord progressions (harmony) is not reinvented with each new song. Similarities should not comes as a surprise.

  • when the progressions repeat you have IV iv | I in two of them. It doesn't have a name, but it's a popular thing to do, and it's chromatic, so it stands out. You can call the second chord, the iv, a "borrowed" chord, it's a subdominant, normally a major chord in a major key, but in this case "borrowed" from the parallel minor key G minor, but you can also think of it as just descending chromatic steps with the E natural to E flat to D.
  • several of the two chord progressions involve major/minor relative pairs, either the lower or upper relative: G Em, Em C, G♯m E, G Em7. There is nothing unusual about those progressions, but pop music sort of emphasizes them more than classical style. Pop might vamp back and forth between I and vi or I and iii, but classical style wouldn't do that. This may be too common to think of as a unique feature shared by these progressions. It's more like any pop progression might do this.
  • the last one - D G Em7 A7 --- D:I IV ii7 V7 - has something going on when in a particular voicing, like this on guitar D xx0232 G 320033 Em7 022030 A7 x02020. On the B string you have the half step movement from fret 3 to 2, that's a D down to C♯. That D gets emphasis as either the chord seventh, or possibly viewed as a suspension. It's not exactly analogous to the half steps in IV iv I, but there is a similarity in that, in each progression, one of the half steps is "special." In one case it's a chromatic half step, in the other it is a dissonant half step. Maybe you hear some similarity between those?

Other than the minor iv shared by two, I personally wouldn't lump these all together as sounding alike and somehow unique from other pop progressions. They sound similar is the very broad sense that they are all common pop progressions. I just laid out what you might be hearing as similarities.

Just a side note, you see the minor iv getting clever names like the "Beatle chord" or something else. It was used long before The Beatles or any other cute name. It can be involved in something called the "backdoor" progression, but that particular progression also is defined by the ♭VII chord. Unless you're really playing a backdoor progression, don't call it that.

You might like this: https://www.angelfire.com/fl4/moneychords/lesson.html

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