I am a piano player and I can play by ear. I've done a lot of theory and I understand chord progressions quite well. However, when it comes to teaching people how to choose chord progressions what is a good method to string together chords for a simple loop-based phrase? I've discovered a couple of rules: starting on III or V chord will cause the phrase to sound modal. For some of my students their choices just seem random...because they are.

Note: I am asking this NOT from the point of view where you have a given melody and you are trying to match chords to it.

1 Answer 1


Generally speaking, and particularly for students with no great knowledge or experience, start with the home key chord. This sets the scene. And finish with it as well. This gives the piece more shape. 'I started from home, and now I'm back'.

The majority of pieces do this, because it works. You're right in that if you start somewhere else, it sounds modal. That's because you've stated a start chord, which most of us translate as 'this is the key of the piece'.

The penultimate chord is also important, often being the IV or V of the key.Cadences give a feel that something is at an end, or at least the end of that part.If, in C, for example, you played .....F, Em at the end, it really wouldn't feel like the end.

  • Actually, in pop music, it's fairly common to end on chords that are not the I chord. This is my dilemma. You can start on anything except for III and V. Frank Ocean's "Thinkin' Bout You" starts on the II chord and has the progression II I V VI. I guess when I'm talking about pop music, I'm referring more to loop-based songs as opposed to country or folk music, which generally use I, IV and V mainly.
    – 02fentym
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 13:39
  • In pop music, it's fairly common to fade out. Saves coming up with an ending ! An awful lot of all kinds of music uses I,IV and V mainly. We've got used to it in the Western world.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 13:57
  • Yeah, that is true...I guess I'm referring to top 40 type songs more. I've been trying to come to some sort of consensus, but I think perhaps there is no cut and dried method to this because there are simply too many possibilities.
    – 02fentym
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 6:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.