Common Chord Progressions - Learn to Play By Ear

If you want to play piano by ear learning common chord progressions is a must. These progressions are necessary for you to play songs quickly by ear.

I remember when I was first learning to play piano by ear; I always wondered how people could play along with a song even though they never heard it before. I was like they had some kind of instinct that told them what to play.

After years of trying to figure out what it was I finally figured out that all songs have can play 90% of the songs out there.


How To Read a Progression

The common chord progressions on this page are written in the Nashville Number System. This is how professional studio musicians read music. They are given a piece of paper with a bunch of numbers on it. Each number represents a chord that is to be played.

Each number represents a note in the scale. For example, if you are in the key of G, and the progression starts with a 1, then you play a G major chord. If you were in the key of E 1 would be an E major chord.

If the progression says a 4, you would count up the scale until you get to the fourth note in the scale and then you build that three note chord.

A number by itself will always be a major chord. A number with a minus – sign in front of it represents a minor chord. So with the progression 1, 4, 6-, 5 all the chords will be major except for the 6 which will be a minor chord.


Need To Know Progressions

Here is a list of some of the progressions that you are most likely to hear in a song.

1     4     6-     5

1     5     6-     4

1     6     5     4

1     6     4     5

6     4     1     5

1     5     4     5

1     5     4     1

1     5     4


Practicing Progressions

The best way to practice these progressions is listening to your favorite song try to play along. Chances are that some part of the song will follow one of these progressions. Doing this is helpful because it helps you to learn the progressions that go together and it will help you with your ear training also.


Other Common Chord Progressions

There are a lot more chord progressions out there other than these. These are the most common for contemporary music. I would say about 70% of the songs you listen to would have one of these progressions in it somewhere. That’s not to say that a song that you want to play along with doesn’t fit with these.

There are some songs that have weird of different progressions in them. For example some songs will have a 2 minor chord, or a flat 7 chord. The best thing to do is just experiemnet with all the ways that go together. There really is no limit to how many different progressions there can be, but most contemporary songs that are out right will follow the ones listed above.

Need more help learning chords? Learn almost every chord you'll ever need with our Piano Chord Encyclopedia.

Go From Common Chord Progressions Back to the Chord Piano


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