The 4-Chord Recipe for Cooking Hit Songs

by guitarkadia on December 2, 2009

in Blog

For some time I’d been meaning to compile a list of songs that have employed the very catchy I-V-VIm-IV chord progression. The most common are:

C – G – Am – F

D – A – Bm – G

A – E – F#m – D

G – D – Em – C

E – B – C#m – A

The Australian comedy group Axis of Awesome did a video on this chord progression that’s a hoot. They’ve only covered 30+ songs in this but the next time you listen to the radio, look out for the progression in play.

From the top of my head, other songs that have used this progression at one point or wholly: ‘Head Over Heels: Alanis Morissette’, ‘When I Go Around: Green Day’ ‘No Woman No Cry: Bob Marley’, ‘Since You’ve Been Gone: Rainbow’ etc etc.

How can you write your own hits with this progression? My advice: Play with different beats and let a clean melodic bass line guide you: for example – “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” or  “With or Without You” etc etc.

The rest, you will find your own way. BTW, whatever the title of this post says, if you think knowing a certain chord progression(s) is half the battle won, you are smoking it pretty often.

Video updated to one of their most recent performances.

[Hat tip: Nice Photography Magazine]

Similar post: How To Use Chord Association To Write Music.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Rob December 3, 2009 at 12:55 pm

It’s amazing that after all of those songs on the same chords, it hasn’t really become boring!

I also noticed that two of the songs were chilli peppers, which just goes to show that they know the power of a decent chord progression! You could write thousands more songs on these chords and still sound good.

emon December 3, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Hey Rob, thanks for writing. It’s one of those sweet and, dare I say, safe progressions that have worked out for so many. I can bet you out of the next few hit songs there’ll be at least one with that progression.

shawn June 16, 2011 at 12:29 am

The originals are not all written in the same cord nor key. These funny guys simply are singing all these songs in the same key over incorrect cording but if done in the proper way with good singing skills…we’ll the point is made.

It could almost be done with any song…

But yes rock and roll is filled with similar progressions but life is that way too…good art builds on previous influence.

emon June 16, 2011 at 10:02 am

I couldn’t agree with you more. They were doing it to prove a point. Thanks for visiting!

Travis July 10, 2011 at 4:19 am

Actually Shawn, it couldn’t be done with almost any song. The song would have to have that same progression pattern for it to even sound remotely correct. You couldn’t play The Wallflowers One Headlight over an Am-C-D chord progression and have it sound near correct. The progression intervals aren’t the same. You could FORCE it into the progression, but that’s not what they did. But take two songs with a different key and the same chord progression pattern, and then yes, by knowing that pattern you could transpose any song into any key you like. I can’t tell you the number of songs I know that use the same G-D-Em-C chord progression (three that come to mind are Hootie and the Blowfish’s Hold My Hand, Matchbox 20′s 3am, and Third Eye Blind’s Semi-Chatmed Life) The trick to writing music is not the progression itself but how you use it, how you play it. BTW I had never heard of Axis of Awesome. Thanks for posting this Emon

emon July 10, 2011 at 7:38 am

Thanks for visiting, Travis!

Anung July 29, 2011 at 3:26 pm

I never heard about Axis of Awesome before, but after i watched the video i can say that was really awesome. They gather a lot of song that have same chord and sang all the song in medley. That was great performance.

kerem bekman August 21, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Axis of Awesome is very good band. Your compiled chords is the major scala notes’s I – vi – IV – V keys.. But I think, minor scale notes is more using than major scale keys.

Ayeni Emmanuel November 19, 2011 at 6:04 am

Yes is the fact that the minor key or chord are used more often than the major keys bcos of the melodious sound it give,than the major keys

Adam Lessnau June 24, 2012 at 9:07 pm

Or, how about we stop encouraging musicians to use the same, tired progressions? Write original music – you’ll feel better.

Joel February 25, 2013 at 2:30 am

This progression follows one simple standard theory as taught and learned by any serious musician. 1234567 = M m m M M m Dim or I ii iii IV V vi vii = Major minor minor Major Major minor Diminished. It shows that less is best. When you start to use too much theory you will create music that is not popular. Popular salable music is music that the mass market can digest easily. The majority of people high 99 percentile do not understand music theory and do not play any instrument well enough to write songs. They are listeners and that is the market, over compose and you will decrease your market exposure.

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