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I am trying to write a song in G major and I am wondering if it would be ok to use this chord progression in G major:

G - Em - D - Am

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    You'd actually be writing the song 'in G major' key, and probably using the notes from the 'G major' scale, and as the answers say, it'll work just fine. 'Is it ok to use...' Heck, yes! Don't feel there are restrictions to writing; basic 'rule' is - if it sounds good - it is!. – Tim Dec 27 '18 at 17:16
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    What do you mean "ok"? You don't have to stick to any keys/scales, you don't have to stick to the chord-and-melody approach, you don't even have to stick to using 12 notes. We might be able to help you out better if you give us an idea of the kind of music you're trying to create. – Sarkreth Dec 27 '18 at 18:55
  • What kind of consequences are you afraid of? What if you used those chords, and then it later turned out that it was not ok, what bad would happen? Is this for a music theory exam or what? – piiperi Dec 27 '18 at 22:21
  • Here are 14 songs containing this chord progression : hooktheory.com/trends#node=1.6.5.2&key=rel – Eric Duminil Dec 28 '18 at 1:22
  • @EricDuminil a good resource, though Fluorescent Adolescence is definitely not G Em D Am - pretty sure it's in the key of Amaj for starters ...musicnotes.com/sheetmusic/mtd.asp?ppn=MN0064914 – treyBake Dec 28 '18 at 11:27
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Of course, In the key of G major the following chords are part of the scale:

G Maj, A min, B min, C Maj, D Maj, E min, F# dim.

That pattern is valid for any Key, {I, IV, V} are Maj, {ii, iii, vi} are minor, vii is diminished.

Your progression is a I --> vi --> V --> ii.

On another note you can use any chords you want if they sound cool.

  • V-ii is an unacceptable chord progression in common practice period harmony. – Dekkadeci Dec 28 '18 at 9:07
  • @Dekkadeci Why? – wizzwizz4 Dec 28 '18 at 11:33
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    Absolutely NOT @Dekkadeci. Get your hands on a harmony book. There are many reasons why this is acceptable. ii is a substitution for the IV so this is similar to a V --> IV-->I. It is a variant of a common progression. An example of a Plagal cadence. – ggcg Dec 28 '18 at 12:30
  • @ggcg well, I wouldn't say “there are reasons this is acceptable” but “there are ways you can make it acceptable”. is certainly a bit against the grain of common-practice, and is usually justified by putting the in second inversion so it can be seen as a tonic with ⁶₄ suspension. can be done too, but makes common-practice voice-leading more difficult. You should perhaps add an example... — Anyway, most pop songs don't really obey common-practice rules at all, so this is hardly relevant here. – leftaroundabout Dec 28 '18 at 13:02
  • @ggcg - I got my hands on the harmony books recommended by the RCM program more than a decade ago for lessons. The only chords they say should follow a dominant-function chord are I (and i, and inversions), vi (and (b)VI, and inversions), and iv6. That's it. Somehow, they don't even mention secondary dominants of V as an option. – Dekkadeci Dec 28 '18 at 17:31
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Of course you can use any sequence of chords that you want.

...in G major?

This is more specific as you want the music to identify as being in a major key.

The traditional way to define a key is with the dominant chord V. People often think - very naturally - it's the tonic I chord which defines a key. Of course the tonic chord defines the tonic, but we need more harmony information to know if the music is in a major key rather than being in a mode. For example the difference between the key G major and the mode G mixolydian. The dominant will define that.

All your chords give the tones for the G major scale and you have the dominant chord D so it is clearly in G major. If you had omitted the D chord, the tonality would be a little ambiguous.

Also, compare this with saying the chords are from E minor. You have the right set of tones for the key signature of E minor. But the dominant of E minor would be B. It isn't there, so this isn't E minor. You could call it E aeolian in that case.

Once you have a key established you are not precluded from using chords outside the key signature! That's fine too. It would be called chromatic harmony. There are many ways to do it.

  • An interesting idea of needing the dominant of a key to establish the tonic.Where does that leave Sweet Home Alabama? – Tim Dec 27 '18 at 18:22
  • @Tim, dominant establishes being in a key, the tonality. You asked me before about that song, but I don't understand why. It goes V iV I over and over except that part that goes bVII I. To the extent that a rock song can be in a key, it's in G major. – Michael Curtis Dec 27 '18 at 18:40
  • I meant V IV I above... uppercase – Michael Curtis Dec 27 '18 at 18:54
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Sure. G, Em, Am, D7 is the cliché progression, but you can put them in your order if they fit the melody.

You could also use Bb, A7, Ab7 or just about anything else and still be 'in G major'. The scale is a framework, not a restriction.

  • 1
    Please quote that quote you always quote... – coconochao Dec 27 '18 at 18:00

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