Since the invention of the radio, chances are you probably heard the “4 Chords” more frequently than you would have expected. The “4 Chords” is a series of chords played after one another to form a chord progression which is then looped repeatedly to form the ‘backbone’ of a song. A very popular example of the “4 Chords” would be the I-V-vi-IV progression. The roman numerals correspond to specific scale degrees depending on key that is currently being played. In the key of C Major, the corresponding chords would be C maj - G maj - A min - F maj.
So how could a piece of music be composed with just these 4 chords? Watch this video as the band goes through 70+ songs with just these 4 chords.
Actually, this practice of repeating the same chords started from the Baroque period. Pachelbel’s Canon in D was built on just 8 chords! It starts out with D maj - A maj - B min - F# min - G maj - D maj - G maj - A maj and the sequence is repeated for 7 times. Fast forward to the 1800s, the popular blues progression “12 Bar Blues” features 3 chords played across the span of 12 bars with repeated chords in between. Jazz musicians take it even further by using the “12 Bar Blues” as the building blocks for their improvisation. Check out the great Oscar Peterson on "C Jam Blues”, arguably one of his best works in his career which showcases the ingenuity of the “12 Bar Blues”.
Songwriters now have embraced the “4 Chords” after appreciating its simplicity and versatility in writing new tunes. The theme is very clearly used in James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful”, The Black Eyed Peas’ “Where Is The Love?”, Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister”, U2’s “With Or Without You”, Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved” and even The Beatles’ “Let It Be”. These “4 Chords” crosses genre boundaries, periods and styles.
Here, comedian Rob Paravonian jokes about how Canon in D keeps popping up in his mind when listening to other songs. At times, tunes would even start to become predictable.
Variations of the “4 Chords” even became so iconic that different names were given to them. This includes the “Humoresque Progression” from Dvorak’s Humoresque op. 101 no.7, the “Doo-Wop Progression” found in many doo-wop songs from the ‘50s.
Want to learn more about chords and how they shape tonal harmony? Give us a buzz at 03-7498 1307 or email us at email@example.com to schedule your very first music theory lesson with us!