Recently, a question was asked here and the term 'ice-cream chords' was mentioned. A bit of research finds they're also known (but not to me) as the vanilla changes.

Basically, it's a 1, 6, 4, 5 sequence (sometimes 1, 6, 2, 5), equating to C, Am, F, G. (C, Am, Dm G) in key C. It's been used in many, many well-known songs, but I've always called it simply 1-6-4-5. Ice-cream/vanilla sounds more interesting, but no-one seems to shed any light on the origin. Ideas, please.

  • By the title alone I thought this was about the common Neopolitan/Napolitan misspelling!
    – nuggethead
    Commented Mar 17 at 15:09
  • @nuggethead - a big raspberry for that! Not without rum or reason...
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 17 at 15:13

3 Answers 3


A Google book search found this quote in Songwriting for Dummies (Jim Peterik, ‎Dave Austin, ‎Cathy Lynn, 2020):

G, E minor, C, and D are often called "ice cream changes" because this chord pattern harkens back to the '50s and many of the doo-wop and rock 'n' roll songs heard in the old-fashioned ice cream parlors. -- Mike Aquino, noted Chicago session guitarist

(which was my guess as well.)

It also found some other references that don't explain the origin or "no one knows" it.


Are you asking for first know use kind of origin? That might be near impossible to find, if, as I suspect, it originated in the ephemeral era of the internet. Otherwise vanilla=bland=diatonic seems to be the idea. I've heard the two progressions called "doo wop" and "standard progression" respectively. Also, the second is the beginning of "rhythm changes."

While all the different names are cute, the music theory thing to point out is the two progressions are based on roots by descending thirds and fifths, which is really basic harmony. I've seen other named progressions that alter those progressions by changing chord qualities, often changes to make one or more chords secondary dominants.

I make that last point, because I notice Google search results rank Stack Exchange pretty high. If someone find results pointing here, looking for what "vanilla changes" etc. means, they should get some simple chord theory instead of a long list of funny progression names.

  • 1
    Since it apparently has been around since the '50s, ephemeral internet can't be blamed, I think.
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 17 at 13:49
  • Not an ephemeral chord progression. The name "ice cream" applied to it is what I suspect is from the ephemeral internet. Commented Mar 18 at 15:30

I'd never come across the term 'ice-cream chords' either, but a little research reveals that it's one of the names used to describe the ubiquitous I, vi, IV (or ii), V progression. Possibly derived from 'plain vanilla' as a synonym for 'bog-standard'?

Or here's another suggestion: "...because it's smooth like ice cream, and it's sweet like ice cream, and everybody likes it, like ice cream. Except for lactose intolerant people, who hate this chord progression." https://nerdfighteria.info/v/F4ALd-Top2A/

Although the classic 'four-chord trick' (there's another name for it!) has long been I, vi, IV, V, it seems a new orthodoxy has become established, the same chords in a different order - vi, IV, I, V (or rotated to I, V, vi, IV).

Interesting discussion of the topic here: https://viva.pressbooks.pub/openmusictheory/chapter/4-chord-schemas/

and a practical demonstration here:

  • I've used the '3 chord trick' term for decades, so maybe the '4 chord trick' is just an extension...
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 17 at 13:51

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