Are there any commonly used chord progressions in musical theatre styled pieces?

I've been trying to compose a piece in this style for a while now, and I'm having trouble finding appropriate sounding chord progressions or chords that fit in with the style.

Edit: By style, I meant the more modern, 'contemporary' musical theatre styled songs (think 'Wicked' or 'The Unauthorised Autobiography of Samantha Brown')

  • 2
    That's pretty broad. Some musical theatre can be classically influenced (Les Mis, Phantom of the Opera) others can be rocky or poppy (Rent) etc
    – scrowler
    Sep 26, 2014 at 3:09
  • 2
    @scrowler Updated question.
    – KoA
    Sep 26, 2014 at 3:16

4 Answers 4


"Musical Theater" is as broad of a category as they come. From the almost primitively classical works of Gilbert and Sullivan to modern avant garde styles that defy analysis, and every classical and popular style in between. You'll need to specify a composer or show that you want to sound similar to in order to get a specific answer.

One thing I'll point to that's very common in modern pop styles, and isn't so common outside of MT is the use of a IV chord over the 5th scale degree, which resolves to I. So in C major, that would be an F chord with a G in the bass (resolving to C). You could analyze that in a few different ways:

  • An add9 chord with the 9th in the bass
  • A plagal cadence in the treble with an authentic cadence in the bass
  • A heavily extended/modified/suspended V chord

Whatever the analysis, the result is a chord with a medium amount of tension that resolves with an amount of pull somewhere between the authentic and plagal cadences.

Edit: I just saw your edit.

So yeah, the chord above is a big part of those genres. You also see a lot of highly extended chords, in particular 6ths (call it a 13th if you like), 9 or add9, or both (6/9). Lots of first inversion chords to make stepwise bass patterns (e.g. I → V6 → vi(7)). You also see lots of suspended chords, often not resolving as they would classically but instead just substituting for their "normal" versions. In general, crunch things up a bit by sticking some non-chord tones in there that are only a bit dissonant.

Another huge part of it is rhythm. There's lots of syncopation in the accompaniment. A few common patterns:

  • 3+3+2
  • 3+2+3
  • Accents on the upbeats of 3 and 4, often with the chord change happening on that upbeat of 4 (that is, anticipating by a half beat)

I'm away from my computer with notation software installed, and I don't want to go digging through what I can find on Google, but if you're interested I can jot down some brief sketches illustrating all of the above tonight.


Every composer has their differences. They do usually add extra notes to the major or minor chords but to me in broadway I don't worry about chords. I may just have a melody playing to some normal chords with a baseline descending down the major scale starting at the tonic or the dominant. Orchestration is also crucial to broadway. Many famous writers use a little bit of jazz and classical in their songs. They may use solo instruments like violin or cello. They could just have piano playing. Play around and if something sounds good, find out why it does. I suggest you just listen to an musicals that you want to mimic (Les Miserables)(Wicked)(Phantom of the Opera)(King and I)(Adams Family)(Hello Dolly). All of these are probably what you mean.


It seems almost obligatory to end a ballad with a tonic(add 9) chord.


The 'diminished run' seems to pop up in all styles of theatre music. enter image description here

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