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Have you ever felt short of ideas or inspiration when you want to write or compose a song? At times, you just don’t know where to start. In times like this, one trick that always works is to start with a chord progression. Naturally, the next question you want to ask is “what if I’m out of progressions?”
The good thing about chord progressions is that they have an infinite potential to give you an inspiration. It’s amazing how you can hear the same chord progressions differently just by taking a break and listening again. Other times. All you need is to raise one note by an octave, and boom, a melody pops up in your mind.
There are countless chord combinations and progressions that you can choose from, but there are some very popular ones that have birthed thousands of hits. I’ve selected 50 of those sure fire chords to make it easier for you. Here they are:
Adam Szabo and Johan Vilborg – Two to One
Not a number one on the charts, but I really love the progression. It just had to be on this list.
Alesso – Heroes
This song has its own way of lifting your spirits. The bass always seems to be climbing.
Alan Walker – Faded
This one has a bit of a roller coaster effect. The major chords give the whole song some excitement, while the minor chord, which is also the root chord has a way of keeping the excitement in check. While I wouldn’t describe the chord progression as “sweet”, by the time you add a melody on top of it, it becomes unbeatable.
Avicii – Levels
A lot of people think this is Avicii’s greatest song ever. Thes best part of the music is the harmony that the chords form with the overlaying melody.
Avicii vs Nicky Romero – I Could Be the One
When I’m playing in a minor scale, I’ve always favored moving from III to v. In this song the progression goes from III to VI and easily feel the build up in anticipation and the relief when it finally resolves.
The way the tension builds when it’s coming from VII the first time is really cool. It goes to iv rather than i as you would expect. That subtle deception is everything.
Avicii – Wake Me Up
If you play this progression on a piano and it doesn’t feel as good as the song itself, try adding an acoustic guitar. That’s why the progression felt so good on the song.
Calvin Harris – I’m Not Alone
This progression is pretty straightforward, and it has that III to VI we saw in I Could Be the One.
Calvin Harris – Feel So Close
You may be surprised at this song’s progression because three notes repeat themselves thrice in the four-chord progression, but it doesn’t feel repeated when you listen. This was achieved by giving more prominence to the bass notes, and playing them on a lower octave than the rest of the chord.
Calvin Harris – Under Control
This progression feels really satisfying to me; like a U-shaped roller coaster. It starts and finishes with exciting major chords, with the minor in-between. The best part is that the progression does not start or end with Chord i.
Calvin Harris – Slide ft Frank Ocean and Migos
All the chords in this progression are sevenths. Quite unusual for EDM, but it works really well on this song. Every chord has the G# note, which also happens to be the centerpiece of the melody. I think this adds its own flavour to the whole piece.
Deadmau5 – Strobe
Deadmau5 has really mastered the art of using long progressions. He also uses this method to keep you interested, even though the song is long. Each time the song is repeated he adds one variation or the other, while keeping the core of the progression. In Strobe, he introduces a minor chord with an added 9th note to give the song a feel of continuity, rather than just a repetitive loop.
Daft Punk – Get Lucky
It’s the way the chord progression in this song builds tension and resolves that makes it so catchy. It goes from a minor seventh chord back to major without lingering at all.On paper, the progression may not look like much, but you would be surprised at how good all the chords sound when played on piano.
Daft Punk: Around the World
This progression gives a sense of anticipation at a certain point every single time it comes back around. That anticipation comes then the IV6(Dor) chord is played. I figured it’s the dorian variation that made it so. It resolves quickly to VI and doesn’t keep the anticipation for long at all.
David Guetta ft Sia – She Wolf Falling to Pieces
This song’s chord progression ensures that the whole mood is maintained; a little melancholic despite it being in a major scale.
Skrillex – Cinema Remix
The arpeggio is the life of this song; it’s straightforward, but it does what’s needed.
Deadmau5 – Ghosts N Stuff
Deadmau5 introduces his variations here again to keep things going.He adds a VII chord after the progression comes back around the second time, before going back to i.
David Guetta ft Kelly Rowland – When Love Takes Over
This progression is tense both on paper and to the ears. It resolves to I before the repetition.
David Guetta – Love is Gone
The beginning part of this progression sounds so much like Still Dre by Dr Dre.
You can feel the pull when the second to fourth chords are being played and the release when it resolves to VI.
David Guetta ft Sia – Titanium
There’s not much to the movement in itself, it’s that sharp pluck that’s really the life of the song.
Virtual Riot – Lunar
While compiling these chord structures, I considered the lead notes as part of the chord, so what you see here was played by two instruments. It still sounds just as good when played on piano though.
Virtual Self – Ghost Voices
This progression feels quite moody, which is expected since VI is the only major chord here.
Eric Prydz – Call on Me
Repeated loop of an exciting movement.
Flume – Holdin’ On
To really enjoy this progression, you need to hear it with the original sound Flume used in the song. Even on piano, it still slaps.
Fatboy Slim – Right Here Right Now
This song’s progression shows how much emotion you can create by just adding a 6th to your chord. The second chord is a minor 6th while the last chord has a borrowed note in addition to the 6th.
Eric Prydz – Pjanoo
In this song, Eric Prydz finds a way to make repetitive movement sound interesting. The chords are not actually repetitive; it’s the melody that gets repeated. There are subtle changes in the chords that keep things interesting.
Flume ft Kai: Never Be Like You
It has more major chords, but still manages to sound melancholic; must be the second chord (ii).
Jack U -Where Are U Now
There are more major chords here, but Jack keeps the whole movement from getting too exciting be adding the vi.
Jack U feat Kiesza – Take U There
There resolution to the tonic in this progression feels so satisfying. This is partly due to the amount of tension created by the minor 6th chord before it.
Jack U feat AlunaGeorge – To U
The last two chords of this progression give a roller coaster feel to it. The VI is almost ushering in the excitement while the VIIsus2 seems to hold it off a bit, before eventually going back to i.
David Guetta ft. Akon – Sexy Bitch
It’s quite a simple movement with no surprises, the melody does all the exciting work.
Gorillaz – Feel Good Inc
The seventh note extension to the iv7 chord adds some accent to it. The next chord takes it higher before it resolves back to I.
Edward Maya – Stereo Love
Here is another melody driven song. Basic progression at best. If you will use something like this, always make sure your melody is quite catchy.
Kiesza – Hideaway
Ordinarily, there’s not much to this progression, but the chord inversions used gets us hooked to that movement.
Tim Berg – Seek Bromance
The introduction of a 6th extension in alternate chords helps this progression in keeping your attention.
Justin Bieber – Sorry
This song progression keeps you glued from start to finish; the initial three chords are repeated three times, then the last three come up. Before you even figure out the repetition, the song is almost over..
Porter Robinson – Divinity
This introduces tension from start to finish. It only becomes more or less tense in some parts, it does not really resolve throughout.
Afrojack: Take Control
This progression is quite lengthy; takes some time before it eventually comes back around. You will appreciate the movements more when you listen with the original melody on top.
Madeon – Home
The only minor chord used here is the root note. This could be why the progression has a satisfactory and exciting feel to it.
Major Lazer ft Ariana Grande – All My Love
For me, the V(maj) does the magic here. It’s normally not part of that scale, but it creates a good variation to with.
Nicky Romero – Toulouse
This progression explores more than just different chords. It uses varying chord lengths to give an exciting vibe.
Mat Zo feat Linnea Schossow – The Sky
The whole progresion keeps you feeling like something big wants to happen, and each time the anticipation just gets bigger. It’s a long progression on paper, but it doesn’t feel that way.
Porter Robinson – Language
Porter probably knows how hard it is to keep up with too much excitement. He adds the minor tonic to the major chords every now and then to keep it under control.
Otto Knows – Million Voices
In this progression, a slash chord occurs once. I believe it’s because the composer needed to keep that constant highnote till the last chord.
Pendulum – Witchcraft
Straightforward, predictable movements. The melody does the magic in the song.
Calvin Harris – Sweet Nothing
Short, repetitive progression. It builds up then resolves to the first chord everytime.
Odesza ft Zyra – Say My Name
For this progression, it’s magic from start to finish, beginning with the iv7 chord and continuing into the VI-i7 transition.
Porter Robinson and Madeon – Shelter
This progressio shows how well you can use a sevenths and sus chords. They made this song so beautiful.
Skrillex – Summit
Again, we have a succession of chords that are made sweet by the overlying melody. Use this progression only when you’re sure your melody pops.
Sigma – Nobody to Love
Here, we see I6 chords being used alternately. It’s used to create a little tension with a resolution following immediately.
Calvin Harris – This is What You Came For
Rihanna’s vocals made this progression really interesting, not the other way around.
Writing this article was an eye opening experience for me. Listening to most EDM songs, you would probably put all their chord progressions down to the very basic ones. To be honest, I never really expected a lot of chord extensions, but here we are.
What this means, is that the belief that you don’t need to know music theory to create EDM is a myth. Obviously, you need some level of theoretical knowledge to even get the hang of some of these chords.
Also, some of the emotions we feel while listening to those songs are due to the progressions. It’s not always an automation issue when you’re not really “feeling” your song. Sometimes, it’s the progresion.
Even if you don’t know music theory, I’ve compiled these 50 progressions to help kickstart your composition and production process. Have fun making music!