The four chords that most songs are composed of

There’s nothing we love more than driving home from work and shoving on the radio, rolling down the windows and blasting the latest tunes. Because really, do you even drive home from work if you don’t sing along at the top of your voice and embarrass yourself at traffic lights? We think not. However, as you embark on your daily commute, you may have noticed that many of the songs in the charts sound very similar. Well, that’s because they are. In fact, most songs nowadays are composed of the same four chords.

The chords

So, what are the chords? Well, they are I V VI IV. Of course, to the layman musician, this just looks like a bunch of lines shoved together. However, if these chords are all played in the key of C Major, they will correspond to C, G, Am, and F. In today’s day and age, many musicians and songwriters actually choose to keep these chords in the same order. Because of this, they are pretty darn similar. If you listen to the backing tracks of songs like ‘Hey, Soul Sister’ by Train, ‘Paparazzi’ by Lady Gaga and ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey, you’ll realize they are virtually the same.

Has it always been this way?

Nowadays, you just have to play a few modern songs to someone over the age of 70, and they’ll come out with the traditional ‘oooh, all of these new songs sound exactly the same!’ However, musicians have been using these four chords for hundreds of years. In fact, this phenomenon has been found in ancient music from the likes of Pachelbel and Bach. One of the most prominent examples of this four chord progression is in Pachelbel’s Canon – which was written between 1680 and 1706. After its initial success, the song was lost and re-emerged into popular culture in 1919.

The Doo Wop progression

In recent years, the four chord progression has come under another name. During the 1950s, these chords were called the Doo Wop progression. If you listen to many of the songs released throughout this era, you will recognize the similar sound of the four chords. A timeless classic to come out of the 1950s was ‘Heart and Soul’ which is used by many piano teachers to teach children and beginners the basics of chord structure. After its release, this song was then used in the popular advertisement for Quaker Oats porridge – and uses the same chord structure as many of the famous songs today.

Axis of Awesome

If you’re still wondering what the heck we’re talking about, Axis of Awesome will show you just how it’s done. This comedic rock group from Australia went viral a couple of years ago when they played their ‘Four Chord Song’ for all of the world to see. During this performance, they continuously played the four chords that are commonly used in music to perform a mashup of around 50 songs that all used the same chord progression. The video now has over 30 million views on YouTube and is continuing to wow viewers each day – especially ones that didn’t realize music was so highly dominated by these chords.

Although many people believe this common four chord progression is a negative – it is quite the opposite. In fact, many researchers have discovered that these four chords played in a particular order will evoke more emotion and interaction than any other chords. So, although you hate to hear the same notes over and over again on the radio… they’re there for a reason!