5 Most used chord progressions in EDM

Posted by Esteban Miranda on

Do you have trouble finding nice chords to make your songs?

Are you repeating chord progressions in your music?

 

Today with Top Music Arts, we are going to be talking about the most memorable and catchy chord progressions, and also we are giving you a guide and some tips to help you make your own!

You don´t need to know a lot of Music Theory to compose the chords for your songs, here we are going to go through some fundamentals about music and chords, always trying to keep it simple and practical.

Let´s get started!

 

What is a chord progression?

 

In a piece of music (any song), the way chords are placed one after the other, is called a chord progression.
The chords in a progression have different harmonic functions (they feel different). Some chords provide the Stability, some the Departure, and some provide the dynamic Tension.

There are certain patterns as well as certain pairs of chords that do not sound especially good together. Regardless, there exist thousands of different ways to combine a limited number of chords.

It´s all about building tension and releasing it. It happens every time in every song; you just have to listen carefully and you will start noticing it.

 

How common is it for songs to share both chord progressions and tempos?

 

There are many songs that share the same chord progressions and, in some cases, even the tempo. And the reason is quite simple:

  • Pop songs often use simple chord progressions, so that they’re easy to memorize (often only 2 to 4 chords total).
  • They try to make a song sound instantly familiar by “re-using” chord progressions that they know that works.
  • The tempo stays in a very narrow range depending on the kind of song (music for dancing in the club typically lies around 110–128bpm).

Often a lot of work goes into making the song simple yet distinct by arranging or sound design.

The core of a song, the main idea, are the chords, and the melody.

You also can have the same chord progression as many known songs do, but with a different melody, for example, you will end up having a whole different song.

 

 

Why do we use Roman numbers to refer to as chords?

 

We use Roman numbers to change the tonality and have the same progressions going on in a different key.

For example, I have a simple progression like this one:
C  |  F  |  G  ||
In the C major tonality with roman numerals, it would be like this
I ( C ) |  iv ( F ) | V ( G ) ||
And in A Major would be like this:
I ( A ) | iv ( D ) | V ( E ) ||
 

Every song is in a specific key, a tonal center that all of the other chords revolve around.

That song could be in the key of C Major for example.

To play the key of C Major you just need to use all the white keys on a keyboard, it has no alterations (no sharp or flat notes). Each one of those seven notes (in the same octave) form what we call the Diatonic Scale.

We can give each one of these notes a number (or a degree). You will often see these scale degrees represented by Roman numerals in written materials.

Here is a handy chart where you can find each Major tonality with all the notes and alterations of each scale, all the Degrees (Roman numerals) with each type of chord they belong to:

  

Why should you care about diatonic scale chords?

 

Since diatonic chords fit naturally in a key, they will naturally sound good together.

Think about this: If you’d like to write a chord progression in the key of A Major, wouldn’t it make sense to know what chords naturally fit, or belong in that key?

Of course, it would.

Every major and minor key will have seven diatonic triads.

In other words, every major/minor key has seven chords that naturally occur in that key and sound good together.

There is kind of a formula, if you may say, to determine these chords.

 For major keys, it’s as follows:

 

Major Key

1

Major

2

Minor

3

Minor

4

Major

5

Major

6

Minor

7

Diminished

 

Minor keys also have the formula to determine their diatonic chords. It`s a bit different but in other order, and it has the same type of chords. It’s as follows:

 

Minor Key

1

Minor

2

Diminished

3

Major

4

Minor

5

Minor

6

Major

7

Major

 

The numbers refer to each note’s position in the scale. In the key of C, C is the 1st note, D is the 2nd note, E is the 3rd note, and so on.

This means the 1st chord in a major key is major, the 2nd chord is minor, the 3rd chord is minor, and so on.

This will come to you easily if you just try to learn it by memorizing them!

Or also try to play as many songs as you can, that will help you remember which chords sound good with each other.

 

So next, we have the 5 chord progressions most used in EDM music!

Using the concepts we just mentioned, you will see that these progressions can be easily replicated in different tonalities.

 

1.

The first one and most known in many different styles is this one:

            Am         F              G             C

            Vi            IV            V             I              

   Calvin Harris ft Rihanna - This Is What You Came For 

 

It´s a very common progression and a very common key given that C Major is the simplest tonality to play in the piano (because it only has the white keys in it). And you will see that it´s used and will keep being used because it´s a simple, memorable and catchy sounding major progression.

Here it is another example of the same 4 chords, in the same key, but with a little change in the progression. Keeping the first chord (vi), they changed the order of the rest of them, putting the F (IV) last.

Like this:

                Am         G             C             F

                Vi            V             I               IV

 Major Lazer - Light it up

 

 

Again, you can use the exact chord progression of any song or part of a song, but if you arrange it differently, or you make a different melody, it won`t sound the same.

It also helps if you sound design it differently

 

2.

Here is my favorite, this one is a variation of the progression we saw first (Vi, IV, V, I), in the key of E Major, and changing the order of the last 2 chords of the progression.

               C#m       A            E              B

               Vi            IV           I               V

 

Alan Walker - The Spectre

 

 

Marin Garrix & Tiësto - The Only Way Is Up

 

It´s a very common and used progression, and surely you will find it in more than these 2 examples. But it doesn´t make it less great!

 

3.

And next we have here, the exact same progression than the last one, but only, in the key of D Major, and with a very different sound design, here the song starts with a strumming guitar playing the progression.

See how similar, yet different they sound:

               Bm         G            D             A

               Vi            IV           I               V

 

Avicii - Wake me up

 

 

Arston feat. Jake Reese - Circle Track

 

 

They have the exact same chord progression as number 2, but in another key, so it sounds relatively different. And between each other, these two songs have the exact same chords but yet they managed to make it sound different.

This is the main idea we are trying to give you all today.

The melody and the chords define the song, so if you start a new project by using the chord progression of a song you like, focus on the sound design and different variations you can add, so you can make it sound your own way!

 

4.

Here we have another variation but in the key of Eb Major. Each tonality has its own voicings and playing the chords in the piano will give you a quick view of the notes you can play for the melody.

We strongly recommend you try them all, make some melodies, and start making your own progressions for your songs!

 

               Cm         Ab          Eb          Bb

                Vi            IV           I             V

 

Calvin Harris - I Need Your Love

 

 

Steve Aoki - Bring You to Life (Vibe Remix)

 

 

5.

For the last one we have a different variation, in the key of F# Major, you can see they are the same degrees we´ve been using so far, but in an order, we didn´t try yet. We all remember this one.

 

                F#           C#           D#m        B

                I               V             Vi            IV

 

Rihanna ft. Calvin Harris - We found love

 

 

 

 

 

Now we´re going to give you some bonus tips and advice, especially for the ones that like to dig deeper!

The chord progressions in EDM mostly vary depending on the sub-genre you are getting into.

We would say there are a few common categories between all the different ones.

Think of them as different tools in your tool shed.

 

Let`s go through them really quick:

  • Vamping on 1 chord. Typically either Major or Minor.


For this category, the section is based around a lick, melodic idea, or maybe a catchy bassline.
The “chord progression” might just be a simple stab to set up tonality or even an arpeggiator sound. The chords don´t change, nor do they need to.
Sometimes, the coolest sounding chord progression is just vamping on a single one!

(PROTIP: It is a very common thing to do for a buildup)

NOTE: A common variation on this idea is going to the iv or V of whatever chord you are vamping on in the final beat right before switching back to the I (Major or Minor).

Try this: Vamp on Am, then hit E on the last eight note, for example, before going right back to Am.

  • Pop chord progressions.

EDM takes a lot of influence from pop music. The big difference is its sound design work and what the main focus is on the arrangement. This means that you can take any of the most popular chord progressions and use them very effectively in an EDM song of yours.
Here are some examples for you to try:

I               V             vi             IV            (C G Am F)
IV            V             vi             I               (F G Am C)
IV            V             vi                             (F G Am)
I               IV            vi             V             (C F Am G)
I               V             IV                            (C G F)
vi             I               iv             V             (Am C F G)
vi             ii              IV            V              (Am Dm F G)
IV            iii             ii              iii              (F Em Dm Em)

 

(PROTIP: applying the knowledge shown in the chord progression chart up there you can try these variations in any key you like!)

 

  • 7th chord progressions


This may be for the most advanced, but have an open mind and give them a try. Until now we were only doing triad chords (3 note chords) and these chords have 4 notes (we add the 7h).
These progressions are more typically used in funkier versions of EDM, like NuDisco or Indie Dance. To keep it simple, for 7th progressions, you can simply take any of our pop progressions and use their 7th chord forms instead.

NOTE: The only chord to avoid using the 7th on is the V chord, as using its 7th chord form would make a “Dominant” chord (unless you like how it sounds). This style of chords is very obvious about itself and can ruin a flow. To get around it, simply use the triad vision instead. (Use V instead of V7.)


Here are the Examples:

Imaj7     vi7          IVmaj7  V             (Cmaj7 Am7 Fmaj7 G)
vi7          Imaj7     ii7            iii7           (Am7 Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7)
IVmaj7  iii7           ii7            iii7           (Fmaj7 Em7 Dm7 Em7)
IVmaj7  V             vi7          Imaj7     (Fmaj7 G Am7 Cmaj7)
ii7            IVmaj7  vi7          V             (Dm7 Fmaj7 Am7 G)

 

Composing the chords for a song may be a hard part of the composition process, but with the knowledge, we gave you all here today, and your favorite instrument of choice, you can create different variations and get the results you are looking for!

For a start, you could pick a key you like, and start trying progressions until you find the one you like. Or also use one progression for one part of the song, and change the order in another part of the same song.

When writing a chord progression, it’s essential to have a clear start and finish. There also needs to be a degree of emotional development and movement.

Playing a single chord four times in a row doesn’t evolve a track: it’s just the same chord over and over. Rather, playing together distinct chords creates an emotional development that more likely will attract the listener.

You can think of chords like the building blocks of a story: some will sound happy, some will sound anxious, some will sound sad, and others will sound restless. As a musician, it’s your job to put these pieces together in a way that makes sense musically.

Now that you’ve learned fundamentals of writing chord progressions, the next step is to practice. Take what you’ve learned and go practice writing!

You can find some interesting free vst for you to start working on your music right away in our last blog post here:

https://topmusicarts.com/blogs/news/top-7-free-vst-to-start-music-production

 

Which chord progression you use the most?

 

If you know any more songs with the same chord progressions or have any type of questions, feel free to leave them in the comments and we’ll be sure to get back to you as soon as we can!

There are no dumb questions.

Remember to always trust your ears, in the end, always go with what sounds best.


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