There are quite a few well know 4 chord progressions. The first one uses 3 chords in the progression but it goes back to the second chord after the 3rd chord. This is a common 4 chord progression.
There are others from the fifties and sixties that you will recognize. These are still used today but disquised a little better.
Let’s check out some four chord song progressions that use three chords. These chords are usually the I, IV and V chords of the major scale.
I-IV-V-IV Chord Progression
The first song that I remember this in was “Hang on Sloopy” by “The McCoys” or “Louie Louie” by “The Kingsmen”
Hang on Sloopy
Hang on Sloopy – Sheet Music (Opens New Window)
Here are the basic chords in G
Here’s a quick listen.
Hang on Sloopy Progression in G
Another song that comes to mind is The Young Rascals song “Good Lovin”
This was played in D and had a different rhythm.
Let’s move on to some 50’s 4 chord progressions that are still used. Chord progressions don’t go away they just get disquised so they don’t sound the same in every song.
4 chord progressions
This four chord progression and some variations have been used for thousands of songs.“Oh Donna” by Richey Valens was a popular one.
Here are the chords for the key of G
Oh Donna progression in G
This 4 chord progression was the king of the Doo Wop era. They didn’t try to disguise it back then. Actually they emphasized it.
50’s Doo Wop Music – mp3
50’s Pop Music (Opens New Window)
One variation of this progression is to replace the IV chord with a iim7 Chord.
D-Bm-Em7-A would replace D-Bm-G-A. Changing the G to an E minor takes away that Doo Woop era baseline and follows the cycle of fourths. It’s smoother.
The “Beatles” song “This Boy” also called “Ringo’s Theme” is a good example of this progression.
The Beatles songs aren’t available in mp3 format but here is a link to their CD’s and a sheet music link for this song
Meet the Beatles Album
The Beatles – Sheet Music (Opens New Window)
You may not hear much of a difference right now but as your musical ear develops you will. There is really only one note difference.
Chord Progression for Beatles This Boy
About the Examples
All of these examples are played without any guitar effects like reverb or anything else.
I know they sound a little crude but I want you to listen to the chords or notes in the examples not a fancy guitar sound, that’s for later.
You must train your ears to listen to music closely. Ear training is essential for playing music. This will help you in all your learning and playing.
A good way to train your ears is to listen to a song and concentrate on one instrument, like listen to the bass player. This is good for hearing chord changes. The bass player is usually but not always hitting the root note in a chord change.
Two Keys Progression
This progression comes from two related keys a minor key and its tonic major. A minor(natural) and A major if the E chord is a 7th.
It could also come from the A minor natural and the A minor harmonic minor or melodic minor.
One song that used this was an instrumental called “Walk Don’t Run” written and recorded by Johnny Smith in 1955.
The song didn’t really go anywhere until The Ventures an instrumental group from the United States west coast recorded it in the early sixties. This is where the surfing music got its start.
Here is a link for a download of the Ventures version and a sheet music link
This guitar sounds great coming out of a tube amp. The Fender guitars and amps were the Ventures sound. Back then you had Reverb and Tremelo built into the amps and maybe a Tremelo Bar for your guitar. That was it. I think the Fuzz-box came next and then an explosion of guitar effects.
Walk don’t Run Progression in A minor
When playing this 4 chord progression you only need to play the top 3 strings and you have to mute them slightly with the heel of your picking hand to get the right tone.
This stops the chords from sounding into each other which in this case you don’t want.
Enjoy Your Musical Journey