A great way to play the piano is by using chord progressions. Chord progressions create a wonderful foundation for a song, but leave lots of room for creativity (scroll down for your chord progressions chart).
Get a Chord Progressions Chart
Here’s a Major Key Chord Progressions Chart showing four popular chord progressions in every major key. You can get a copy below and use it as a reference at the piano:
What Are Chord Progressions?
Chord progressions are when chords move from one to another.
Here’s a common chord progression:
C – Am – F – G
If you listen to this chord progression, you’ll probably recognize it from a lot of different songs. It’s been used over and over again in many songs and many keys through the years.
Identifying the Key for a Chord Progression
One way to identify the key a chord progression belongs to is to find the chord that sounds like it resolves the progression.
If the progression is from the key of C major, then it will sound like it resolves with a C major chord.
The C – Am – F – G chord progression is from the key of C major, because it sounds complete, or resolved when we play a final C chord.
Another way to help identify the key for any given chord progression is to look for primary chords. These are the most commonly-used chords in any key, and they are often found in popular chord progressions.
In the C – Am – F – G progression, you may notice the chords C, F, and G are the three primary chords in the key of C major.
So looking for primary chords is another way to identify the key for a particular chord progression.
Learn Piano Chords Printable
Get started learning piano chords with this 25-page PDF. These charts will lay a great foundation for you at the piano, and will be referenced again and again!
How to Play a Chord Progression in Any Key
Once you learn a particular chord progression, you can play it in any key by substituting the chords from another key.
In an earlier post, we looked at identifying the chords belonging to a major key, and how we can build a chord off each note of a major scale, using the notes of the scale to build the chords.
The chords belonging to the key of C major are:
C – Dm – Em – F – G – Am – Bº – C
An upper-case letter indicates a major chord, an upper-case letter followed by a lower-case “m” indicates a minor chord, and the “º” indicates a diminished chord.
These are the types of chords we’d find, no matter which major key we were using. The notes would change, but the types of chords would be consistent (since all major scales are built using the same pattern, their chords would also follow a pattern).
Using Roman Numerals to Label Chord Types
To simplify, we can use Roman numerals to label chord types:
I – ii – iii – IV – V – vi – viiº – I
Upper-case Roman numerals indicate major chords, lower-case Roman numerals indicate minor chords, and the “º” symbol still indicates a diminished chord.
The first chord is built off the first note of the scale, the second chord is built off the second note of the scale, etc.
So let’s take our chord progression, C – Am – F – G, and substitute Roman numerals:
I – vi – IV – V
This means our chord progression started with the first chord of our major scale (C), then moved to the sixth chord of the scale (Am), then the fourth chord (F), and then the fifth chord (G).
Playing the Progression in G Major
If we wanted to play the chord progression in another key, now we just need to find the I, vi, IV and V chords of another key.
Here are the chords for the key of G major:
G – Am – Bm – C – D – Em – F♯º – G
We can substitute the appropriate chords:
G – Em – C – D
These are the I – vi – IV – V chords of the G major scale, or key.
Other Common Chord Progressions
Here are some other popular chord progressions for major keys:
I – IV – vi- V
In C major, this would be:
C – F – Am – G
In G major:
G – C – Em – D
I – IV – I – V
In C major:
C – F – C – G
In G major:
G – C – G – D
I – V – IV – V
In C major:
C – G – F – G
In G major:
G – D – C – D
There are lots of other chord progressions, but these can get you started!
It’s lots of fun playing the piano with piano chords. There’s so much room for creativity and personal expression!
Chord progressions are the foundation for impromptu playing, and now that you know how to build different chord progressions, you’re on your way!
What a wonderfully clear teaching and tools. I wish I had this when my mom sent me down the street as a kid to a neighbor lady to study piano: $3 for half an hour lesson. She was a far better teacher than I was a student.
Thank you for the encouraging words! $3 for a half-hour lesson is quite a deal!
This is getting complicated. I need to go over the whole lot again. You explain it very well though.
It can take some time, but it does get easier with repetition!
Thank you Julie, I have been playing by the hunt and peck method, for many years, (Right hand only).
I want to learn to play harmony, along with the many old songs that I know, so that I can play them on my Modified, WurliTzer Pipe organ console that sounds “somewhat like the origonal, theater pipe organ”.
I will start with the basic C progression and then try to move onward !
You’re welcome, I’m so glad it’s helpful, and that you have such a neat instrument to practice on!
Julie, I love the chord progression chart. Thank you so much for all you do and star with all of us. Can you tell us how to transfer from an Eb key to ? Thank you.
You’re welcome Irene! To transpose from one key to another, you can find the keynote for the key you’re in, then count the number of whole or half-steps up or down to the keynote of the new key you want to use. So if you’re transposing from E flat up to G, you would find an E flat note and count up two whole steps to G. Then everything you were playing in E flat would be moved two whole steps up. I hope that helps!
Thanks for your tutorials.
What is the trick of getting melody from chords? for example, how to play melody having known the chord progression of a song such as amazing grace
You’re welcome! When I’m adding the melody of a song into a chord progression, I try to find the inversions for the chords that keep the melody at the top of the chord, since it’s easier to hear the melody when it’s the highest note being played. So I’m still playing the chord progression with my right hand and doing something simpler with my left hand, but I’m trying to use the inversion with my right hand that keeps the melody at the top. This takes some practice, but it gets easier over time. Another option would be to only play the melody with the right hand, and then use chords or octaves with the left hand.
Also what is the best practice for getting left hand to play.. it is kind of challenging to play with both hands
Yes, this can be tricky at first! The best thing to do is to practice with your hands separately until they each can play their part pretty easily. Then when you bring both hands together, slow everything way down, and play as slowly as you need to to keep your hands playing together. Then you can gradually increase your speed.
Hi Julie. I learned piano when I was around 12, but only stayed with it for about 6 months. I got a good grounding ing music theory though. I would love to compose. How would I use the chord progression charts to do this. I used your example C Am F and G and instant started playing Hallelujah. To say I was thrilled is an understatement.
Oh wonderful, I’m so glad to hear that! The chord progressions chart can help you get familiar with some common chord progressions, but to go beyond that, the best thing to do would be to get familiar with the chords for different major keys. I have a series of posts teaching the chords for each major key, which you can find here under the “Start/Major Keys” section: https://www.julieswihart.com/major-keys/ The chords that belong to the key of C major are the chords you can use to start creating more complex chord progressions in the key of C, so this is a good place to go next. I hope that helps! Have fun!
Thanks so much for offering these easy guides. I have played piano from sheet music all my life but never had any theory to back it up. I learn so much from these easy to follow lessons.
Thank you so much Diane, I appreciate the encouragement!