Chord Progression Generator

Created by Rita Rain
Reviewed by Dominik Czernia, PhD candidate and Jack Bowater
Last updated: Apr 06, 2022

The chord progression calculator (or a chord progression generator, if you will) outputs the names of chords representing a chosen chord progression pattern in a given key. Our app includes a list of the most common chord progressions like the Pachelbel progression, the 12-bar blues, and the I - IV - V chord progression. It can effectively replace your lengthy chord progression charts.

In the following text, we give a chord progression definition and explain how chord progressions work and why all pop songs sound the same. We assume you know some basic music theory regarding notes, scales, and intervals.

What is a chord progression?

A chord progression is a sequence of chords in music. We can write them as Roman numerals corresponding to degrees of a scale, e.g., ii - V - I, or list the names of the chords, e.g., Dm - G - C.

With the chord progression definition out of the way, let's dive deeper into the topic.

Chord progression definition. How do chord progressions work?

To find chords that would fit within a given key, we can build them on the degrees of a scale. We get scale degrees by numbering ordered notes of the scale. For example, in C major, we have:

1.C, 2.D, 3.E, 4.F, 5.G, 6.A, 7.B

C is the first degree of the scale, D is the second degree, F is the fourth degree, etc.

Using these notes from the scale, we can make chords which will fit in the key of C major. There's a fixed pattern determining the quality of chords. For major scales, the pattern is:

I - major, ii - minor, iii - minor, IV - major, V - major, vi - minor, vii° - diminished.

The pattern means that if you want to build a chord on the first degree of a major scale, it should be major. The second one should be minor, and so on. We use Roman numerals to denote the degrees of the scale on which we build the chords. Uppercase numerals represent major chords, and lowercase letters indicate minor chords.

Therefore, In C major, we could use the following chords:

I - Cmaj, ii - Dmin, iii - Emin, IV - Fmaj, V - Gmaj, vi - Amin, vii° - Bdim.

We also have a fixed pattern for the quality of chords that go with a (natural) minor scale:

i - minor, ii° - diminished, III - major, iv - minor, v - minor, VI - major, VII - major.

Hence, in F minor (notes F, G, A♭, B♭, C, D♭, E♭), we could have these chords:

i - Fmin, ii° - Gdim, III - A♭maj, iv - B♭min, v - Cmin, VI - D♭maj, VII - E♭maj.

A chord progression is an order in which you play these chords. i - iv - v chord progression in F minor would be Fmin - B♭min - Cmin. The same progression in A minor would be Amin - Dmin - Emin. Although the chords are different, the progression would sound similar because it's the same pattern of degrees.

The most common chord progressions

Some chord progressions sound better than others and commonly occur in music.
For example, you've likely heard a classical piece Pachelbel's Canon In D Major (even if you don't know its name). The chord progression used in it also appears often in popular music.

Another frequent progression is I - V - vi - IV. The songs that use it include: Let It Be by The Beatles, Take On Me by A-ha, It's My Life by Bon Jovi, No Woman No Cry by Bob Marley, Otherside by Red Hot Chili Peppers, With Or Without You by U2, Paparazzi by Lady Gaga, and many other. By learning the progression you can (kind of) learn a hundred of songs at once.

The chord progression generator lets you explore these and the other most common chord progressions in all twelve keys.

How to use the chord progression generator?

In the chord progression calculator you can choose from a list of the most common progressions or input one yourself. If you select a progression and choose a root note (key), the chord progression generator will output a sequence of chords in that key. Major chords are marked with capital letters only, while minor chords are followed by "min", and diminished chords end with "dim".

If you want to define a chord progression by yourself, click ("I want to") "input a progression myself" in the first field of the chord progression calculator. Then choose if you want to build the chords on a major or minor scale and how many chords your progression has. You will then need to choose the degree of a scale for each chord (represented by Roman numerals).

For example, you want to find the chords of a "ii - I - V - vi" progression in a given key. In this case, the scale has to be major (as the root note chord - I - is major). Then you would select "ii" in the Chord #1 field, "I" in the Chord #2 field, "V" as the Chord #3, and "vi" as the Chord #4. Finally, select a key. The names of chords will appear at the very end of the chord progression calculator. You can change the key to quickly transpose the progression in the chord progression calculator.

Hopefully, this app will save you some time you'd otherwise spend poring over chord progression charts.


How to write chord progressions?

To write chord progressions:

  1. Choose a common chord progression. You can change something about it - e.g., substitute some chords with their relative minors or use borrowed chords.

  2. Experiment with your instrument. Find at least two chords that sound good together. Find what key you're in and check which chords would fit according to music theory.

  3. Decide on a scale and write down all possible chords within the key. Play these chords randomly until you find a progression that sounds good.

How do chord progressions work?

There are patterns of chord sequences that repeat in music. We write these patterns using Roman numerals, which represent degrees of a scale.

For example, if you're in C major it's most intuitive to use some of these chords: I - Cmaj, ii - Dmin, iii - Emin, IV - Fmaj, V - Gmaj, vi - Amin, viio - Bdim. If you used Cmaj, Fmaj, and Gmaj, it'd be a I, IV, V progression in C major.

How to recognize chord progressions?

To recognize chord progressions:

  1. Learn the basic music theory of chord progressions.

  2. Write down the chords of a given song. Let's say you have C, F, and G.

  3. Find the key of the song. Let's say it's C.

  4. Write down the degrees of the relevant scale and chords possible within the scale, in C these would be I - Cmaj, ii - Dmin, iii - Emin, IV - Fmaj, V - Gmaj, vi - Amin, viio - Bdim.

  5. Find the chords from the song in the chords from step 4 and write down the assigned degrees. In our example - I, IV, V.

How to make a jazz chord progression?

To make a jazz chord progression:

  1. Use common jazz chord progressions:

    • ii - V - I,
    • I - vi - ii - V,
    • iii - vi - ii - V,
    • I - vi - ii - V,
    • I – I – I – I, IV - IV - I - I, V - IV - I - I (12-bar blues).
  2. Use secondary dominant chords.

  3. Add 7ths, 9ths, 11ths or 13ths to the chords.

  4. Experiment by omitting root notes and 5ths.

Rita Rain
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