Free Guides

Chord Progression Basics - Major Keys

learn music theory major key major key notes music theory Sep 04, 2021

A huge part of a story is its flow. Does it move naturally from one part to another? Does it make you feel suspense, resolve, worry, and sorrow exactly when it wants? Does it push and pull your emotions over time as it progresses from one part to the next?

Your chord progression is the same. And that’s part of why it’s so important.

Today we’re going to use an analogy to help you understand chords in a major key.


I – Home

Ah, home. It’s where you start your day. It’s where you feel most relaxed. It’s where you have the desire to go after a busy day.

No matter what your day was like, being able to come home and relax is a huge relief.

At home, you are king or queen of your castle (maybe a prince or princess if you’re still living with your parents).

This is what the I chord is in a major key. It feels like home. It’s the most powerful chord. It’s where the song often starts and where it often ends.

Any time you want the listener to feel comfortable and like something was resolved, I is a great place to go.

Purposefully avoiding I can also be a powerful tool. I once wrote a song where the entire chorus went without the I chord. Why? The main point of the song was going to come at the end in what I call a “finale”, and I wanted to give the listeners a feeling of “yeah, but there’s more” until that part came.

By time that I chord hit in the finale, listeners know, “ah, this is the point right here”.


IV and V – Parents and In-Laws Houses

Friends may come and go. They may move away. But, regardless of where your parents live, you will visit them.

You’re contractually obligated to. Or at least that’s what they think.

But your parents’ and In-Laws’ houses should feel like a home away from home. They should still be a place you’re comfortable.

And you’re going to visit fairly often. Your family is an important piece of your life and, while it isn’t the same as your home, it’s the next closest thing.

This is like your IV and V chords. They are your bread-and-butter chords. Besides the I chord, they are the other major chords you have to work with. They sound familiar, although not quite the same as I.

So how do we distinguish IV and V?

IV is your parents’ house. One reason is that a IV chord contains the I of the key. So it’s a piece of home to you. You grew up here. IV feels closest to I of all the chords.

So that leaves V to be your in-laws’ house. Why is this? Well, V desperately wants to go back to I. And you love your in-laws and all, but after a little bit that mother-in-law is going to get to you. All of a sudden you really want to get home.


vi, ii, iii – Your Best Friend and Coworkers

Your best friend’s place is a great place to go. It has a different feel than home and your family’s houses, but it’s a great place to go for a nice change-up.

You probably visit them about the same amount as your parents and in-laws. Maybe a little less. But it’s always a refreshing change up. It also seems like a little piece of home though, because you and your best bud are tight.

This is like the vi chord. This is used about as often as the IV and V and is by far the most commonly used minor chord in a major key. Even pop songs are willing to use it!

It feels closest to home of the 3 minor chords, because it is the only one that contains the I note. (The vi triad is 6, 8 [same as 1], and 10 [same as 3])

Some of your co-workers are pretty cool. You definitely wouldn’t want to spend quite as much time with them as your family or best friend, but they definitely can add a certain level of interesting to your life.

While you could probably visit your parents, in-laws, and best friend just about any day, some days you wouldn’t feel like visiting your co-workers. You see them every day at work already! And that’s fine, they don’t like you THAT much either.

Co-workers are like the ii and iii chords.

A ii chord often likes to go to the V or iii. The ii often to the vi, IV or ii.

I LOVE going from a iii to a IV. It almost feels like the iii was hanging on a cliff and IV pulled it up. Try it sometime!

Both IV and vi often sound great going to ii or iii. And ii and iii often sound pretty good from one to another.

Regardless of all that, I would say it is best to experiment with all different variations. With the right melody on top, one can make so many interesting chord progressions work. You can utilize the push and pull of different chord changes to add so much to your song.


vii – Weird Uncle Bobby

You’ve tried to visit him before. But he almost shot you when you arrived. He claims you looked like “them neighbor boys”, because this apparently justifies being shot at in his mind.

He hasn’t stopped smoking something that most certainly is not cigarettes since before you were born, and your mom stopped bringing you on visits after he attempted to give you whiskey at the ripe age of 4.

He hates you. Not because you’re a terrible person, but because he hates commies and Nazis and everybody in between. Which is about everyone.

That’s the vii chord. Honestly, just don’t use it. Ignore it harder than you ignored that friend request from your ex who posted a video of herself burning all your belongings while doing what may or may not have been a demonic chant.

Start Songwriting right now...

Get my free guide on 10 different ways to start writing a song!