R&B music is known for its soulful melodies and infectious rhythms. Its sound is a unique blend of jazz, blues and gospel styles, mixed with modern synthesizers, drum machines, and samples. One of the most important elements of R&B music is its chord progressions.
Chord progressions are the foundation of R&B, providing the core structure and harmonic backbone for the music. Chord progressions are the building blocks that create the signature sound of R&B.
They are essential for songwriting and arranging and can be used to create a variety of different sounds and moods. In this article, we’ll explore 20 of the most common R&B chord progressions and how they are used in contemporary music.
Basic Music Theory for R&B Chord Progressions
Key signatures are used to represent the tonal center of a piece of music. A key signature tells musicians which notes belong together and which notes should be avoided.
In R&B music, the most commonly used key signatures are C major, G major, A minor, and E minor. Knowing the key signature of a song can help to create interesting chord progressions and can also provide a reference point for improvisation.
Diatonic chords are chords built on the notes of a particular key. For example, in the key of C major there are seven notes: C, D, E, F, G, A and B. The diatonic chords are the triads built on each of these notes.
In the key of C major, the diatonic chords are C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major, A minor, and B diminished. Knowing the diatonic chords of a key will help you to create interesting chord progressions and can be used as a reference point for improvisation.
Extensions are notes added to a chord that extend its range. Commonly used extensions in R&B music include seventh chords, ninth chords, and augmented chords. Seventh chords are four note chords made up of notes from the diatonic scale, plus a seventh.
Ninth chords are five note chords made up of notes from the diatonic scale, plus a ninth. Augmented chords are three note chords made up of notes from the diatonic scale, plus a sharpened fifth.
These extended chords are often used to add flavor and texture to R&B progressions and can provide an interesting contrast to the simpler diatonic chords.
Classic R&B Chord Progressions
I – IV – ii – V (Example: C – F – Dm – G)
This classic R&B chord progression starts with the I chord (in this example C major) and then progresses through a IV chord (in this example F major), followed by a ii chord (D minor) and then ending on a V chord (G major).
It’s important to note that the ii chord should be a minor chord to make it sound right. This chord progression is a staple of the classic R&B sound, with many of the classics written in this style and the progressions can be heard in many different genres.
It’s also very easy to learn and is a great way to get started with learning chord progressions.
ii – V – I – IV (Example: Dm – G – C – F)
The ii – V – I – IV chord progression is a very common chord progression found in jazz, blues, and other genres of music.
This particular progression is made up of four chords: a minor ii, a dominant V, a major I, and a fourth chord which is usually a major IV.
For example, the progression in the key of D would be Dm – G – C – F. This chord progression is often used to create a sense of unity and flow within a piece of music.
The minor ii chord adds a sense of tension and suspense which eventually resolves into the major I chord, creating a sense of resolution and finality.
The dominant V chord adds a sense of energy and drive while the major IV chord serves as a bridge back into the original key or tonality.
The ii – V – I – IV progression is a great way to create interesting and unique harmonic progressions while staying within the confines of a key or tonality.
I – iii – IV – V (Example: C – Em – F – G)
This I – iii – IV – V progression in the key of C major (C – Em – F – G) is a common and popular chord progression used in many popular genres of music, such as rock, pop, and folk.
It has a timeless quality to it that allows it to be used in many different styles of music. The I chord, C major, is the tonic or root and is the home base of the progression.
The iii chord, Em, is a minor chord and provides a contrasting texture to the major tonality heard in the tonic C chord.
The IV chord, F, is a major chord and gives a feeling of rising tension in the progression. And finally, the V chord, G, is a major chord and gives a feeling of resolution and satisfaction. Together, these chords provide the perfect framework for a great song.
vi – IV – I – V (Example: Am – F – C – G)
The vi – IV – I – V chord progression (Example: Am – F – C – G) is a popular chord progression in modern music. It is a four-chord progression that can be used in a wide range of musical styles and genres.
The vi chord is typically the minor sixth, or the relative minor of the major key in which the song is written. In the example progression, the vi chord is an Am.
The IV chord is the fourth chord in the key, often referred to as the subdominant. In the example, the IV chord is an F.
The I chord is the tonic chord, or the root of the key. In this progression it is a C. Finally, the V chord is the dominant chord, or the fifth chord in the key. In the example progression, the V is a G.
The vi – IV – I – V progression is a versatile and powerful tool for songwriters, as it can be used to create tension and resolution in the music.
It can be used in a wide variety of genres, from pop, rock, and folk, to jazz and classical. The use of the minor sixth in the progression gives the music a unique and interesting sound.
The vi – IV – I – V chord progression is an important part of modern music, and has been used by countless songwriters to create memorable and powerful songs.
I – vi – IV – V (Example: C – Am – F – G)
The I – vi – IV – V progression is a very common chord progression in music. It is often referred to as the ’50s progression, as it was particularly popular in rock and roll songs of the 1950s.
The I – vi – IV – V progression is built on the I (tonic) chord, followed by the vi (subdominant) chord, then the IV (submediant) chord and finally the V (dominant) chord.
The above example of C – Am – F – G is a very common use of the I – vi – IV – V progression. The C major chord is the tonic, Am is the subdominant, F is the submediant and G is the dominant.
This progression creates a strong sense of tonal motion, with the chords taking the listener away from the tonic and back again in a circular motion.
The I – vi – IV – V progression is particularly well suited for pop and rock music and is very often used in these genres.
It is also commonly used in blues music, and can be used for a range of different sounds. It is one of the most versatile and adaptable chord progressions out there, and can be used to create a variety of different emotions and sounds.
R&B Chord Progressions with Extended Chords
I7 – IV7 – V7 (Example: C7 – F7 – G7)
This chord progression is an example of a classic R&B style chord progression. Consisting of three dominant 7th chords, this progression is a classic I-IV-V structure with extended chords.
The I7 (C7) chord acts as the tonal center and is usually followed by the IV7 (F7) chord which acts as the point of tension and release. Finally, the V7 (G7) chord resolves the tension of the IV7 chord by taking the listener back home to the tonic.
Another common variation of this chord progression is to substitute the IV7 chord with a major chord. This creates a more uplifting and bright sound.
In addition to the I7 – IV7 – V7 progression, extended chords can be added to the progression to create a more complex sound.
Adding an extended chord on the V7 chord often creates a richer tone and a more harmonically rich chord progression. This can be done by either adding a 9th, 11th or 13th chord to the V7 chord.
Finally, this I7 – IV7 – V7 progression can be used in a variety of contexts. It is a popular choice for blues, soul, funk, and jazz. It can also be used as the basis for more complex chord progressions if extended chords are added.
ii7 – V7 – I7 (Example: Dm7 – G7 – C7)
The ii7 – V7 – I7 progression in the key of C Major would be a Dm7 – G7 – C7. This is a common progression in jazz and blues music, and is known for its characteristic sound. It starts with the ii7 chord, which typically resolves to the tonic or I chord.
In this case, that would be the C Major chord. The V7 chord is the dominant or G7, which is a key component of the blues sound. It then resolves to the tonic chord, which completes the progression.
Imaj7 – IVmaj7 – V7 (Example: Cmaj7 – Fmaj7 – G7)
This Imaj7 – IVmaj7 – V7 progression is a common jazz chord progression. It is often used as a framework for improvisation due to its versatility and harmonic possibilities.
The Cmaj7 chord sets up the harmonic context, while the Fmaj7 and G7 chords provide contrast and tension. The G7 acts as a pivot chord, leading back to the Cmaj7.
This pattern can be repeated to create a harmonic loop. It is also possible to extend this chord progression by adding chromatic chords between the main ones.
For example, Ebmaj7 between Fmaj7 and G7. This progression is often used in a variety of musical styles, from jazz to pop and can be used as a basis for songwriting or improvisation.
I9 – ii7 – V7 (Example: C9 – Dm7 – G7)
This I9 – ii7 – V7 progression would be in the key of C major. The I9 chord would be C9, the ii7 chord would be Dm7, and the V7 chord would be G7. The progression could be expressed in roman numerals as I9 – ii7 – V7, or in letter names as C9 – Dm7 – G7.
vi7 – IVmaj7 – I7 – V7 (Example: Am7 – Fmaj7 – C7 – G7)
The progression of vi7 – IVmaj7 – I7 – V7 (Example: Am7 – Fmaj7 – C7 – G7) is often referred to as a “circle progression” because of the way it moves around the circle of fifths.
This progression is quite common in jazz and is often used as a turnaround or as a way to transition between sections. The Am7 chord is the tonic minor chord and functions as the starting point for the progression.
The Fmaj7 chord, which is a fourth up in the key of C, is the subdominant major chord and provides a momentary tonal contrast. The C7 chord is the tonic dominant chord and is the pivot of the circle progression, leading back to the tonic minor chord.
The G7 chord is the subdominant dominant and helps to connect the progression between the tonic and subdominant chords. All the chords in this progression are diatonic and can be used to create interesting jazz solos and melodies.
R&B Chord Progressions with Chromatic Passing Chords
I – #Idim7 – ii7 – V7 (Example: C – C#dim7 – Dm7 – G7)
This classic chord progression is popular in the world of R&B music. It features a I chord, followed by a chromatic passing chord in the form of a diminished seventh chord, followed by a ii7 chord and finally resolving on a V7 chord.
An example of this progression would be in the key of C, in which the chords would progress from C to C#dim7 to Dm7 to G7.
This progression makes use of the chromatic passing chord to add a unique flavor to the progression as it creates a smooth transition between the I and ii7 chord.
While playing this progression, it is important to give the diminished seventh chord the correct emphasis, as this chord adds a lot of color to the overall sound. When used correctly, this chord progression is an effective and powerful way to create a strong R&B sound.
I – iii7 – #iiidim7 – IVmaj7 (Example: C – Em7 – F#dim7 – Fmaj7)
This progression begins with a C Major chord (I), followed by an E minor 7th (iii7), then an F# diminished 7th (#iiidim7), and finally an F Major 7th (IVmaj7).
The C Major chord serves as a strong foundation, while the E minor 7th provides a contrast in sound.
The F# diminished 7th adds a dark and mysterious flavor to the overall harmonic texture, and the F Major 7th is a bright and happy resolution. Together, this progression creates a satisfying journey through different traditional chord qualities.
vi7 – bVII7 – I7 – V7 (Example: Am7 – Bb7 – C7 – G7)
This progression of vi7 – bVII7 – I7 – V7 (Example: Am7 – Bb7 – C7 – G7) is an example of a dominant seventh chord progression, or a two-five-one progression.
This type of progression is commonly used in jazz and other genres of music. The progression begins with the vi7 chord (Am7), which is the relative minor of the tonic key (C Major).
This is followed by the bVII7 chord (Bb7), which gives the progression a touch of tension and unpredictability. Finally, the progression resolves to the I7 chord (C7) and the V7 chord (G7).
The V7 chord is important because it creates the tension needed to propel the progression forward. This type of progression is used in a variety of genres, including jazz, rock, and blues, and is a great way to give a song a sense of forward motion.
I7 – #Idim7 – II7 – V7 (Example: C7 – C#dim7 – D7 – G7)
The I7 chord in this progression would be a C7 chord, which is a Dominant 7th chord built on the root note of C. The #Idim7 chord would be a C#dim7 chord, which is a Diminished 7th chord built on the root note of C#.
The II7 chord in this progression would be a D7 chord, which is a Dominant 7th chord built on the root note of D. Finally, the V7 chord in this progression would be a G7 chord, which is a Dominant 7th chord built on the root note of G.
R&B Chord Progressions with Modal Interchange
I – IV – iv – I (Example: C – F – Fm – C)
The I – IV – iv – I chord progression is a popular choice in R&B music, as it often creates a sultry, sensual atmosphere.
This chord progression is a basic one, with the I chord (in this example, C major) followed by the IV (F major) and then the iv (F minor) before finally resolving back to the I.
This progression, known as a “modal interchange,” allows for a smooth transition from the major tonality of the I and IV chords to the minor tonality of the iv chord.
This minor tonality creates a darker, more mysterious vibe, adding a unique texture to the composition.
By playing around with the order of the chords and the emphasis placed on each chord, musicians can explore the many nuances of this harmonic progression to create a variety of musical expressions.
I – bIII – IV – iv (Example: C – Eb – F – Fm)
This I – bIII – IV – iv progression in the key of C Major would consist of the notes C, Eb, F, and Fm. This is a common chord progression found in many popular songs, often used as a verse or chorus.
It has a strong sense of resolution, with the last chord (Fm) resolving back to the root (C). It has a very classic, traditional sound, and evokes a feeling of nostalgia and sentimentality. It is often used to create an uplifting, joyous mood, or to express contentment and optimism.
vi – bVI – V7 – I (Example: Am – Ab – G7 – C)
The vi – bVI – V7 – I (Example: Am – Ab – G7 – C) chord progression is an incredibly versatile and widely used harmonic structure that has been used by composers for centuries.
The progression involves a key diatonic chord (the i chord) followed by a major chord a perfect fourth lower, then a seventh chord a perfect fourth lower from that, and finally a tonic chord.
In this example, the progression is Am – Ab – G7 – C. This is a great way to create a variety of harmonic sensations, and it has been used in countless songs to bring a more interesting and dynamic sound to the composition.
It is also a great way to modulate to a new key, as the tonic chord acts as the pivot. The harmonic possibilities of this progression are endless, and it is a great way to add complexity and depth to your music.
I – bVII – IV – I (Example: C – Bb – F – C)
The I-bVII-IV-I chord progression (C-Bb-F-C) is an incredibly powerful and often-used chord progression in music. It is used in a variety of genres, such as pop, rock, jazz, and classical music. It is sometimes referred to as the “Heart and Soul” progression, due to its frequent use in popular love songs.
The I-bVII-IV-I chord progression begins with the I chord, which in the key of C is a C Major chord. This is followed by the bVII chord, or a Bb Major chord. This is then followed by the IV chord, or an F Major chord. Finally, the progression ends with the I chord, or a C Major chord.
The I-bVII-IV-I chord progression is a great starting point for songwriters and composers, especially when writing a song about love. It is a classic and very recognizable progression, which gives the song a strong emotional impact.
Additionally, it is a progression that can be used in a variety of different keys, making it a versatile and useful tool for songwriters.
Neo-Soul and Contemporary R&B Chord Progressions
I7 – iii7 – ii7 – IVmaj7 (Example: C7 – Em7 – Dm7 – Fmaj7)
The I7 – iii7 – ii7 – IVmaj7 chord progression (Example: C7 – Em7 – Dm7 – Fmaj7) has become a very popular choice for Neo-Soul and Contemporary R&B music. It is a four-bar progression that has a strong tonal center in the key of C major.
This progression is often used to create a warm, inviting atmosphere that is perfect for slow-tempo music. The I7 chord is usually a dominant 7th chord which provides a strong resolution to the tonic chord in the key.
The iii7 and ii7 chords provide a softer harmonic texture and help to create a more relaxed, laid-back feeling.
Finally, the IVmaj7 chord reinforces the tonal center of the key and helps to move the progression forward. This chord progression is often used in Neo-Soul and Contemporary R&B music to create an atmosphere of nostalgia, peace and relaxation.
Imaj9 – VI7 – ii7 – V7 (Example: Cmaj9 – A7 – Dm7 – G7)
The Imaj9 – VI7 – ii7 – V7 chord progression (Example: Cmaj9 – A7 – Dm7 – G7) is a classic jazz progression that is often used to create interesting and unique harmonic progressions.
The Imaj9 chord (Cmaj9) is a major ninth chord that is built from a root, a major third, a perfect fifth, a major seventh, and a major ninth.
The VI7 chord (A7) is a dominant seventh chord that is built from a root, a major third, a perfect fifth, and a minor seventh. The ii7 chord (Dm7) is a minor seventh chord built from a root, a minor third, a perfect fifth, and a minor seventh.
The V7 chord (G7) is a dominant seventh chord built from a root, a major third, a perfect fifth, and a minor seventh. This progression can be used to create tension and musical interest in a variety of genres, such as jazz, funk, and blues.
In conclusion, R&B chord progressions are an integral part of the expression and creativity that sets this music apart from other genres. Through experimenting with different chords, you can ultimately create unique sounds and explore a range of nuances in your compositions.
As you become more familiar with the various chords available to you, the possibilities for creating truly original melodies will expand exponentially. With some practice, patience, and creativity, anyone can write their own R&B chord progressions!
What is an R&B chord progression?
An R&B chord progression is a sequence of chords usually consisting of two or more chords, used in R&B songs to create an interesting sound or achieve a certain emotional effect. The chords often move in a predictable pattern and can be used to create an underlying harmonic structure for a song.
What chords are typically used in R&B chord progressions?
Common chords used in R&B chord progressions include major and minor chords, as well as seventh and ninth chords. Chords such as major seventh, minor seventh, dominant seventh, and diminished seventh can also be used to create more complex sounds.
What is the “one-four-five” progression?
The “one-four-five” progression is one of the most common chord progressions used in R&B music. It consists of a root chord (the “one” chord), a fourth chord (the “four” chord) and a fifth chord (the “five” chord). This progression is often used as the basis of a song’s harmonic structure.
What is a “two-five-one” progression?
The “two-five-one” progression is another common chord progression used in R&B music. This progression consists of the second chord (the “two” chord), the fifth chord (the “five” chord) and the root chord (the “one” chord). This progression is often used to create a feeling of tension and release.
How do you create an interesting R&B chord progression?
Creating an interesting R&B chord progression requires experimentation and creativity. Try substituting fourth and fifth chords with their minor counterparts, adding in extended chords such as seventh and ninth chords, or using chromatic progressions to create unexpected changes in the sound. Experimenting with different chord progressions and combinations will help you find the sound you’re looking for.