At first glance, chord progression formulas can look like a really complicated math equation. But they’re actually simpler than you think! We filmed a short video covering what these formulas are and how to use them, but before you watch, make sure you’ve brushed up on your Roman numerals. These charts are illustrated with Roman numerals, and we’ve covered what these numbers represent in music in this blog post.

Check out this video, and stick around to dive in deeper to chord progression formulas.

Let’s recap what we’ve just covered in more detail.

Remember, these formulas are not rules, but rather, tools. If you follow these roadmaps, you’re going to come up with chord progressions that sound very pleasant and natural. Let’s review the formula for major keys.

Remember the root movements we discussed in the video. These charts follow three common root movements: movement by 5th, by 3rd, or by step. These are commonly used in music because they’re very pleasant sounding. Remember, music is not limited to these root movements.

Let’s make it a little easier to look at by replacing the Roman numerals with the chords found in the key of C Major.

Now, looking at this chart, we can see the possibilities for different chord progressions. Here are just a few:

  • C > em > am > F
  • am > F > G > C
  • C > am > F > dm

Remember, chord progressions usually repeated several times. The last chord in your progression doesn’t necessarily have to follow the formula.

You may be wondering, why do I need to know this? Well, there are a few reasons!

  • Music theory class. If you’re a music major or in any kind of music theory class, you will, without a doubt, encounter these charts.
  • Music analysis. Let’s say you’re trying to analyze a particularly tricky progression in a piece of sheet music. This chart can be a huge help! If you’re stuck on a chord or two, the chart can aid you in which chord would make the most sense and help you put the pieces together.
  • Writing your own music. If you’re a composer or aspiring to be a composer, this chart is great for getting started. Of course, as we said, you can certainly branch out from this formula, but this will give you a place to start. It can also be a great reference point if you get stuck.

And lastly, recall that the formula for minor keys is a little different.

The reason you see the major V chord and the diminished vii chord is because many songs written in minor keys make regular use of the harmonic (raised) seventh. Raising the seventh is what causes these chords, but if you’re writing in a natural minor key only, you will use the major VII chord found at the beginning of this chart, the major V would become minor, and there would be no diminished vii chord.

We don’t expect you to have these memorized right away, so make sure to check out our free printable PDF of these formulas below!

Click here for your FREE printable PDF.

Want to analyze some sheet music with these formulas? Check out the world’s largest collection of digital sheet music at musicnotes.com!


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