I would like to know few things about chord progression:-


These are some of the popular chord progressions.

  1. What is the logic behind these chord progressions?? why I IV V?? is it because of circle of fifth ?? or some sort interval? How did the musicians came up with this?

  2. How are these chord progression played in a song? is Chord I played first then IV and V -and the same pattern continues?? or these chords can be played randomly??

I am completely new to music, and was wondering how all this stuff works, though I know how to construct triad and seventh chords. I also know that in a major scale I IV V are Major chords, II III VI are Minors and VII is a diminished.

I'll be happy if someone could explain me all this, I tried finding it on the internet, but it was all in vain.

Thanks for your time

  • 1. They sound good. 2. You can play chords in any order you like, but generally when someone specifies a progression they mean in-order.
    – user28
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 7:03

2 Answers 2


The chords of the major scale are I ii iii IV V vi viio (Upper case = Major; Lower case = minor; Lower case with o = diminished).

Each one of those chords has a certain tension - ranging from none (I) to very tense (viio). That tension depends on the notes of the chord (how many notes it shares with the I chord and whether or not it has a leading tone):

  • I consists of 1-3-5, and is the most stable chord.
  • ii consists of 2-4-6: No notes in common with I, doesn't have a leading tone.
  • iii consists of 3-5-7: 2 notes in common with I, has a leading tone.
  • IV consists of 1-4-6: 1 note in common with I, doesn't have a leading tone.
  • V consists of 2-5-7: 1 note in common with I, has a leading tone.
  • vi consists of 1-3-6: 2 notes in common with I, doesn't have a
    leading tone.
  • viio consists of 2-4-7: No notes in common with I, has a leading tone.

There are also differences based on which notes are in the chord, as 1 is more stable than 5, 3 and 5 want to move to 1 but are stable, 2 and 7 want to move to 1 and are unstable, 4 wants to move to 3, and 6 wants to move to 5, but those differences are subtle, so we won't discuss them - just be aware that they are a thing.

We could also categorize those chords into 3 different groups based on their tension: Tonic (stable), Subdominant (some tension, doesn't have a real strong sense of resolution when resolved) and Dominant (tense, has a strong sense of resolution when resolved. I iii and vi are T, ii and IV are SD and V and viio are D.

In functional harmony, T can move to SD or D, SD can move to T or D, and D can move to T. So in all of those progressions, we can see that kind of movement:

  • I-IV-V = T-SD-D
  • I-iii-IV-V = T-T-SD-D
  • I-ii-V-I = T-SD-D-T
  • I-IV-ii-V-I = T-SD-SD-D-T
  • I-vi-ii-V-I = T-T-SD-D-T
  • I-iii-vi-ii-V-I = T-T-T-SD-D-T

And for your other question - There isn't a rule about how long a chord should last, it can last a beat, half a beat, 4 beats and so on... But mostly when talking about pop songs which are usually going to be in 4/4, it will probably last 4 beats (a measure).

  • So a chord starts on a T then SD, then D and finally T. Some websites talk about Supertonic, Mediant, submediant, subtonic, where are all these?? Do they exist in the real world or they are just theoretical concepts.
    – Indie Rock
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 8:17
  • Those are just names for the actual degrees (Supertonic=ii, mediant=iii...). You will never use these names, and they are only relevant when talking about diatonic chord progressions. Those are purely theoretical names. T, SD and D, however, are terms for describing a chord's tension, and can be heard (however there is more of a spectrum instead of just three groups). Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 14:53
  • T->SD,D. SD->T,D. D->T. Because of the concept of tension and release in music. D doesn't go to SD because it wouldn't sound as good as moving to T (however, that isn't an unbreakable rule - just regarding functional harmony). Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 14:55
  • @dudwhuknowstheory - in every 12 bar blues I've ever played, V goes to IV (bars 9, 10).
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 9:03
  • My answer regards functional harmony, and 12 bar blues is modal - not diatonic, or functional. Also, I said that is not a rule, but more of a guideline telling us about moving tension and release. So the 12 bar blues is simply irrelevant (and is about the circle of fifths - the closer two chords of the same type are on the circle of fifths - in the case of the 12 bar blues in A: A, D and E, and are all dominant seventh chords - the "better" they will sound). Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 12:06

By listening to many pieces, you will understand that while any chord can and does follow and precede any othe chord in a diatonic piece, certain tried and tested patterns occur time and time again. Check out '12 bar blues' as a format that never seems to fail!

You asked about I IV V. Put simply, I is the home chord, analogy - where a journey starts. A very common, because it sounds acceptable to us, change is up a fourth. So a chord that can follow I is IV. Now, we're about as far from I as is possible. How to get back? Use the fourths trick again, and this time, the jump is a fourth from V to I. We're home again. That's a very short journey, but it's taken us from home, back again, in a natural sounding way.

Any of the diatonic chords will fit anywhere, but some do sound more like they're meant. Take the jazz 'ii>V>I. That again uses the moving a fourth. In C, ii is Dm, up a 4th to G, up another to C. So, so common. It also works with non-diatonic chords. In C, play a bar of E (maj), up 4 to A, up 4 to D, you can see where it's going to end!

Use your ears, and try any diatonic chord followed by another. You'll very soon hear what sounds good and not so good. The 'rules' are based on these premises. Incidentally, Roman capitals usually represent major chords (with a maj 3), while lower case show minors. The dim is lower case as it has that m3 also.

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