'50s progression

The '50s progression is a chord progression and turnaround used in Western popular music. The progression, represented in Roman numeral analysis, is: I–vi–IV–V. For example, in C major: C–Am–F–G. As the name implies, it was common in the 1950s and early 1960s and is particularly associated with doo-wop.

It has also been called the "Heart and Soul" chords, the "Stand by Me" changes,[1][2] the doo-wop progression[3]:204 and the "ice cream changes".[4] The first song to use the sequence extensively might have been "Blue Moon", written in 1933 by Richard Rodgers, and first released, with lyrics by Lorenz Hart, in 1934.

50s progression in C
'50s progression in C, ending with C (Play )


In Western classical music during the common practice period, chord progressions are used to structure a musical composition. The destination of a chord progression is known as a cadence, or two chords that signify the end or prolongation of a musical phrase. The most conclusive and resolving cadences return to the tonic or I chord; following the circle of fifths, the most suitable chord to precede the I chord is a V chord. This particular cadence, V–I, is known as an authentic cadence. However, since a I–V–I progression is repetitive and skips most of the circle of fifths, it is common practice to precede the dominant chord with a suitable predominant chord, such as a IV chord or a ii chord (in major), in order to maintain interest. In this case, the 50s progression uses a IV chord, resulting in the ubiquitous I–IV–V–I progression. The vi chord before the IV chord in this progression (creating I–vi–IV–V–I) is used as a means to prolong the tonic chord, as the vi or submediant chord is commonly used as a substitute for the tonic chord, and to ease the voice leading of the bass line: in a I–vi–IV–V–I progression (without any chordal inversions) the bass voice descends in major or minor thirds from the I chord to the vi chord to the IV chord.


50s progression in C variation
50s progression in C variation, ending with C
(Play )

As with any other chord progression, there are many possible variations, for example turning the dominant or V into a V7, or repeated I–vi progression followed by a single IV–V progression. A very common variation is having ii substitute for the subdominant, IV, creating the progression I–vi–ii–V (a variant of the circle progression) and thus the ii–V–I turnaround.

Variations include switching the vi and the IV chord to create I–IV–vi–V, as is used in "More Than a Feeling" by Boston[5] and "She Drives Me Crazy" by Fine Young Cannibals. This is also similar to the I–V–vi–IV progression.

The harmonic rhythm, or the pace at which the chords occur, may be varied including two beats (half-measure) per chord (Play ), four (Play ) (full measure or bar), eight (Play ) (two measures), and eight beats per chord except for IV and V(7) which get four each (Play ).[3]:206

"Sleep Walk" by Santo & Johnny uses a similar progression, with the IV replaced by its parallel minor iv for an overall progression of I–vi–iv–V.

Examples in popular music

Well-known examples include the Penguins' "Earth Angel" (1954), Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" and Gene Chandler's "Duke of Earl" (1962).[3]:206[6] Other examples include Sam Cooke's "Lovable" and other doo-wop material of the era.[7] A modern example can be found in Green Day's "Jesus of Suburbia".[8] Many more recent examples exist, such as Neutral Milk Hotel's "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea". The progression is also the basis for the verses of The Bangles' 1989 hit "Eternal Flame".[9] Madonna's 1986 single "True Blue" is written in the 50s progression.[10] More notable recent examples are Daughtry's "What About Now", Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls", Rebecca Black's "Friday",[11][12][13] and Ed Sheeran's "Perfect" (2017).

The A-section of the song "Heart and Soul" is often simplified as a repeating I–vi–ii–V or I–vi–IV–V progression (or even both variants, alternating) and taught to beginning piano students as an easy two-hand duet. This (somewhat inaccurate) version of the song became widely known, even to those who never studied piano. (example ).

Walter Everett argues that, "despite the unusual surface harmonic progressions", in The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" (1967), "the structural basis of the song is I–VI–IV–V–I [sic]".[14] The chorus of The Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" is an example of the fifties progression.[3]:206[15]

In the musical Grease, the progression is invoked for the purpose of self-parody in the song "Those Magic Changes". The chorus includes a backup vocal line with lyrics "C–C–C–C–C–C / A–A–A–A-minor / F–F–F–F–F–F / G–G–G–G-seven" (repeat).

Hank Green of the Vlogbrothers created a song showing the number of songs featuring the progression, including one of his own. It was featured in one of his videos and was also performed at the Evening of Awesome.[16]

The 50s progression is also commonly used in reggae, including Bob Marley's "Stir It Up", "Brand New Second Hand" and "Rocksteady".

Examples in classical music

Instances of the I-vi-IV-V progression date back to the 17th century, for example, the ostinato bass line of Dieterich Buxtehude's setting of Psalm 42, Quem admodum desiderat cervus, BuxWV 92:

Buxtehude, Psalm 42 "Quem ad modum desiderat cervis"
Buxtehude, Psalm 43 "Quem ad modum desiderat cervis"
Buxtehude, Psalm 42 "Quem ad modum desiderat cervis"

The opening of J. S. Bach's Cantata "Wachet Auf":

J. S. Bach Cantata BWV140, orchestral introduction to the opening chorus
J. S. Bach Cantata BWV141, orchestral introduction to the opening chorus
J. S. Bach Cantata BWV140, orchestral introduction to the opening chorus

The progression is found frequently in works by Mozart, such as his A minor Piano Sonata:

Mozart, from Piano Sonata K310, first movement
Mozart, from first movement of Piano Sonata in A minor K310
Mozart, from first movement of Piano Sonata in A minor K310

The opening of his Piano Concerto 22, K482 extends the progression in a particularly subtle way, making use of suspensions:

Mozart Piano Concerto K482, opening bars
Mozart Piano Concerto K483, opening bars
Mozart Piano Concerto K482, opening bars

Eric Blom (1935, p.227) hears this passage as "the height of cunning contrivance resulting in what is apparently quite simple and obvious, but what could have occurred to nobody else."[17]

See also


  1. ^ Moore, Allan (May 1995). "The So-Called 'Flattened Seventh' in Rock". Popular Music. Cambridge University Press. 14 (2): 185–201. doi:10.1017/s0261143000007431. ISSN 0261-1430.
  2. ^ Cole, Clay (2009). Sh-Boom!: The Explosion of Rock 'n' Roll (1953–1968). Garden City, NY: Morgan James. p. 56. ISBN 1-60037-638-X.
  3. ^ a b c d Scott, Richard (2003). Chord Progressions for Songwriters. New York: Writers Club Press. ISBN 0-595-26384-4.
  4. ^ Austin, D.; Peterik, J.; Lynn, C. (2010). Songwriting For Dummies. Wiley. p. 189. ISBN 978-0-470-89041-7. Retrieved March 2, 2015.
  5. ^ Bennett, Dan (2008). The Total Rock Bassist. Van Nuys, CA: Alfred Publishing. p. 62. ISBN 0-7390-5269-1.
  6. ^ Harwood, Dane (September 1982). "Review: [untitled]". Ethnomusicology. University of Illinois Press on behalf of Society for Ethnomusicology. 26 (3): 491–493. ISSN 0014-1836.
  7. ^ Guralnick, Peter (2005). Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke. New York: Little, Brown. p. 157. ISBN 0-316-37794-5.
  8. ^ "Acoustic Lesson 11B: Basic Chord Progressions". GuitarLessonInsider.com. Archived from the original on November 30, 2012. Retrieved November 4, 2012.
  9. ^ "Atomic Kitten. "Eternal Flame". MusicNotes.com.
  10. ^ "True Blue". MusicNotes.com. (Subscription required (help)).
  11. ^ "What About Now". MusicNotes.com. (Subscription required (help)).
  12. ^ "Beautiful Girls". MusicNotes.com. (Subscription required (help)).
  13. ^ "Baby". MusicNotes.com. (Subscription required (help)).
  14. ^ Everett, Walter (1986). "Fantastic Remembrance in John Lennon's 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'Julia'". The Musical Quarterly. Oxford University Press. 72 (3): 360–393 [372]. doi:10.1093/mq/lxxii.3.360. ISSN 0027-4631.
  15. ^ Riley, Tim (2002). Tell Me Why: The Beatles: Album by Album, Song by Song, the Sixties and After. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. p. 269. ISBN 0-306-81120-0.
  16. ^ vlogbrothers (30 March 2011). The Ice Cream Changes (Web video). Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  17. ^ Blom, E. (1935, p.227) Mozart. London, Dent.
Approach chord

In music, an approach chord (also chromatic approach chord and dominant approach chord) is a chord one half-step higher or lower than the goal, especially in the context of turnarounds and cycle-of-fourths progressions, for example the two bar 50s progression:

|G / Em / |Am / D7 / ||

may be filled in with approach chords:

|G F9 Em Abm |Am D#7 D7 Gb7 ||

F9 being the half-step to Em, A♭m being the half-step to Am, D♯7 being the half-step to D7, and G♭7 being the half-step to G. G being I, Em being vi, Am being ii, and D7 being V7 (see ii-V-I turnaround and circle progression).

An approach chord may also be the chord immediately preceding the target chord such as the subdominant (FMaj7) preceding the tonic (CMaj7) creating a strong cadence through the contrast of no more than two common tones: FACE – CEGB.

Approach chords may thus be a semitone or a fifth or fourth from their target.Approach chords create the harmonic space of the modes in jazz rather than secondary dominants.

At the Hop

"At the Hop" is a rock and roll/doo-wop song written by Artie Singer, John Medora, and David White and originally released by Danny & the Juniors. The song was released in the fall of 1957, and reached number one on the US charts on January 6, 1958, thus becoming one of the top-selling singles of 1958. "At the Hop" also hit number one on the R&B Best Sellers list. Somewhat more surprisingly, the record reached #3 on the Music Vendor country charts. It was also a big hit elsewhere, which included the group enjoying a number 3 placing with the song on the UK charts.

The song returned to prominence after it was performed by rock and roll revival act Sha Na Na at the 1969 Woodstock Festival and featured in the 1973 coming-of-age teen comedy American Graffiti. Musically, it is notable for combining several of the most popular formulas in 1950s rock'n'roll, the twelve-bar blues, boogie-woogie piano, and the 50s progression.

Banda Los Recoditos

Banda Los Recoditos is a Mexican Banda formed in Mazatlán, Sinaloa. It was founded in 1989 by friends and family members of Banda el Recodo by Cruz Lizárraga. Alfonso Lizárraga and Pancho Barraza, the first vocalists, were two of the more than dozen bandmembers comprising the original incarnation of the band. After releasing several albums, in 2010 the band released their album ¡Ando Bien Pedo!, featuring the single of the same title, which became a number-one hit in the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart.

Bird changes

The Blues for Alice changes, Bird changes, Bird Blues, or New York Blues changes, is a chord progression, often named after Charlie Parker ("Bird"), which is a variation of the twelve-bar blues.

The progression uses a series of sequential ii–V or secondary ii–V progressions, and has been used in pieces such as Parker's "Blues for Alice". Toots Thielemans's "Bluesette" and Parker's "Confirmation" also have similar progressions.

Blue Moon (1934 song)

"Blue Moon" is a classic popular song traditionally regarded as written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in 1934, though its authorship is disputed. It may be the first instance of the familiar "50s progression" in a popular song and has become a standard ballad. The song was a hit twice in 1949 with successful recordings in the US by Billy Eckstine and Mel Tormé. In 1961, "Blue Moon" became an international number-one hit for the doo-wop group The Marcels, on the Billboard 100 chart and in the UK Singles chart. Over the years, "Blue Moon" has been covered by various artists including versions by Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Elvis Presley, The Platters, The Mavericks, Dean Martin, The Supremes, Bob Dylan and Rod Stewart. Bing Crosby included the song in a medley on his album On the Happy Side (1962). It is also the anthem of English Football League club Crewe Alexandra and English Premier League football club Manchester City, who have both adapted the song slightly.

Chord progression

A chord progression or harmonic progression is a succession of musical chords, which are two or more notes, typically sounded simultaneously. Chord progressions are the foundation of harmony in Western musical tradition from the common practice era of Classical music to the 21st century. Chord progressions are the foundation of Western popular music styles (e.g., pop music, rock music) and traditional music (e.g., blues and jazz). In these genres, chord progressions are the defining feature on which melody and rhythm are built.

In tonal music, chord progressions have the function of establishing or contradicting a tonality, the technical name for what is commonly understood as the "key" of a song or piece. Chord progressions are usually expressed by Roman numerals in Classical music theory; for example, the common chord progression I vi/ii V7. In many styles of popular and traditional music, chord progressions are expressed using the name and "quality" of the chords. For example, the previously mentioned chord progression, in the key of C Major, would be written as C Major A minor/D minor G7 in a fake book or lead sheet. In the first chord, C Major, the "C" indicates that the chord is built on the root note "C"; the word "Major" indicates that a major chord is built on this "C" note.

In rock and blues, musicians also often refer to chord progressions using Roman numerals, as this facilitates transposing a song to a new key. For example, rock and blues musicians often think of the 12 bar blues as consisting of I, IV and V chords. Thus a simple version of the 12-bar blues might be expressed as I/I/I/I IV/IV/I/I/V/IV/I/I. By thinking of this blues progression in Roman numerals, a backup band or rhythm section could be instructed by a bandleader to do the chord progression in any key. For example, if the bandleader asked the band to play this chord progression in the key of C Major, the chords would be C/C/C/C F/F/C/C G/F/C/C. If the bandleader wanted to play the song in the key of G Major, the chords would be G/G/G/G C/C/G/G D/C/G/G, and so on.

The complexity of a chord progression varies from genre to genre and over different historical periods. Some pop and rock songs from the 1980s to the 2010s have fairly simple chord progressions. Funk emphasizes the groove and rhythm as the key element, so entire funk songs may be based on one chord. Some jazz-funk songs are based on a two-, three- or four-chord vamp. Some punk and hardcore punk songs use only a few chords. On the other hand, bebop jazz songs may have 32 bar song forms with one or two chord changes every bar.

Chord substitution

In music theory, chord substitution is the technique of using a chord in place of another in a sequence of chords, or a chord progression. Much of the European classical repertoire and the vast majority of blues, jazz and rock music songs are based on chord progressions. "A chord substitution occurs when a chord is replaced by another that is made to function like the original. Usually substituted chords possess two pitches in common with the triad that they are replacing."Given that in all of the named genres, and many others, a chord progression is repeated to form a song or tune, composers, songwriters and arrangers have developed a number of ways to add variety to a repeated chord progression. Of course, there are many ways to add variety to music, including changing the dynamics (loudness and softness) or instrumentation. This article is about the use of chord substitution to create variety in a chord progression.

Coltrane changes

Coltrane changes (Coltrane Matrix or cycle, also known as chromatic third relations and multi-tonic changes) are a harmonic progression variation using substitute chords over common jazz chord progressions. These substitution patterns were first demonstrated by jazz musician John Coltrane on the albums Bags & Trane (on the track "Three Little Words") and Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Chicago (on "Limehouse Blues"). Coltrane continued his explorations on the 1960 album Giant Steps and expanded on the substitution cycle in his compositions "Giant Steps" and "Countdown", the latter of which is a reharmonized version of Eddie Vinson's "Tune Up". The Coltrane changes are a standard advanced harmonic substitution used in jazz improvisation.

The changes serve as a pattern of chord substitutions for the ii–V–I progression (supertonic–dominant–tonic) Play and are noted for the tonally unusual root movement by major thirds (either up or down by a major third interval as opposed to more typical minor or major second intervals, creating an augmented triad. Root movement by thirds is unusual in jazz, as the norm is cycle of fifths root movement, such as ii-V-I, which in the key of C is D minor, G7 and C major.

Donna (Ritchie Valens song)

"Donna" is a song written by Ritchie Valens, featuring the 50s progression. The song was released in 1958 on Del-Fi Records. It was Valens' highest-charting single reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart the following year. (Stagger Lee by Lloyd Price was at number one.) It was written as a tribute to his high school sweetheart Donna Ludwig.


Doo-wop is a genre of rhythm and blues music developed in the 1940s by African American youth, mainly in the large cities of the upper east coast including New York. It features vocal group harmony that carries an engaging melodic line to a simple beat with little or no instrumentation. Lyrics are simple, usually about love, ornamented with nonsense syllables, and often featuring, in the bridge, a melodramatically heartfelt recitative addressed to the beloved. Gaining popularity in the 1950s, doo-wop enjoyed its peak successes in the early 1960s, but continued to influence performers in other genres.

Heart and Soul (Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser song)

"Heart and Soul" is a popular song composed by Hoagy Carmichael with lyrics by Frank Loesser. In 1938, it was performed by Larry Clinton and his orchestra with vocals by Bea Wain. In 1939, three versions reached the music charts: Larry Clinton (No. 1), Eddy Duchin (No. 12), and Al Donahue (No. 16). A version by The Four Aces with the Jack Pleis Orchestra reached No. 11 in 1952, and a version by Johnny Maddox reached No. 57 in 1956. In 1961, The Cleftones version reached No. 18 and the one by Jan and Dean reached No. 25. "Play That Song," a single by the band Train that incorporates portions of the melody, reached No. 41 in 2016.

I–V–vi–IV progression

The I–V–vi–IV progression is a common chord progression popular across several genres of music. It involves the I, V, vi, and IV chords; for example, in the key of C major, this would be: C–G–Am–F. Uses based on a different starting point but with the same order of chords, include:

I–V–vi–IV, C–G–Am–F (optimistic)

V–vi–IV–I, G–Am–F–C

vi–IV–I–V, Am–F–C–G (pessimistic)

IV–I–V–vi, F–C–G–AmThe 50s progression uses the same chords but in a different order (I–vi–IV–V), no matter the starting point.

List of chord progressions

The following is a list of commonly used chord progressions in music.

List of songs containing the 50s progression

This is a partial list of recorded songs containing the 50s progression, represented in Roman numeral analysis as I–vi–IV–V. The list does not include songs containing the progression for very short, irrelevant sections of the songs, nor does it include remade recordings of songs by other artists.

Roman numeral analysis

In music, Roman numeral analysis uses Roman numerals to represent chords. The Roman numerals (I, II, III, IV, ...) denote scale degrees (first, second, third, fourth, ...); used to represent a chord, they denote the root note on which the chord is built. For instance, III denotes the third degree of a scale or the chord built on it. Generally, uppercase Roman numerals (such as I, IV, V) represent major chords while lowercase Roman numerals (such as i, iv, v) represent minor chords (see Major and Minor below for alternative notations); elsewhere, upper-case Roman numerals are used for all chords. In Western classical music in the 2000s, Roman numeral analysis is used by music students and music theorists to analyze the harmony of a song or piece.

In the most common day-to-day use in pop, rock, traditional music, and jazz and blues, Roman numerals notate the progression of chords in a song. For instance, the standard twelve bar blues progression is I (first), IV (fourth), V (fifth), sometimes written I7, IV7, V7, since the blues progression is often based on dominant seventh chords. In the key of C (where the notes of the scale are C, D, E, F, G, A, B), the first scale degree (Tonic) is C, the fourth (Subdominant) is F, and the fifth (Dominant) is a G. So the I7, IV7, and V7 chords are C7, F7, and G7. In the same progression in the key of A (A, B, C♯, D, E, F♯, G♯), the I7, IV7, and V7 chords would be A7, D7, and E7. Roman numerals thus abstract chord progressions, making them independent of the key, so can easily be transposed.

Sixteen-bar blues

The sixteen-bar blues can be a variation on the standard twelve-bar blues or on the less common eight-bar blues. Sixteen-bar blues is also used commonly in ragtime music.

Sleep Walk

"Sleep Walk" is an instrumental tune written, recorded, and released in 1959 by brothers Santo & Johnny Farina, with their uncle Mike Dee playing the drums.

Prominently featuring steel guitar, the song was recorded at Trinity Music in Manhattan, New York City. "Sleep Walk" entered Billboard's Top 40 on August 17, 1959. It rose to the number 1 position for the last two weeks in September

and remained in the Top 40 until November 9. "Sleep Walk" also reached number 4 on the R&B chart. It was the last instrumental to hit number one in the 1950s and earned Santo & Johnny a gold record. In the UK it peaked at number 22 on the charts.

The Thin Ice

"The Thin Ice" is a song by Pink Floyd, released on The Wall in 1979.

Turnaround (music)

In jazz, a turnaround is a passage at the end of a section which leads to the next section. This next section is most often the repetition of the previous section or the entire piece or song.The turnaround may lead back to this section either harmonically, as a chord progression, or melodically.

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