11 Key Of C Chord Progressions [With Examples]

Key Of C Chord Progressions

When it comes to music, it’s not just about the chords. It’s about how you put them together in a sequence. That’s the essence of chord progressions.

Chord progressions form the very foundation and structure of most songs, even those that are primarily “riff” based.

And, when you’re first getting started in the world of progressions, it can be both fascinating and frustrating taking it all in.

Which is why we’ve complied several chord progressions in the key of C for you to try (and even write songs with)!

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I – IV – V – IV

In the key of C: C | F | G | F

I’m not sure if even Green Day was aware of the irony in their turn of the millennium hit, “Minority.” Lyrically, it took a typical anti-establishment punk rock stance, and musically, it couldn’t be more characteristic of the time. They declared they wanted to be the minority but were just leading the majority!

Anyway, the chorus section of “Minority” features the famous (or infamous) I – IV – V – IV progression which has that ubiquitous “heard it before” quality. Listen closely.

Notes About This Chord Progression

As Green Day demonstrates, this progression is perfect for punk rock. It has a happy, upbeat, playful vibe, and in “Minority,” the back and forth between the IV and V chords creates some movement as well.

This progression is also the essence of classic rock hits like “Wild Thing” and is sometimes considered the cliché of all clichés. That doesn’t make it good or bad, and you can always put your own twist on it, but it’s always good to know when you’re navigating “familiar territory.”

Ultimately, this chord progression is an essential. As a musician, you must have it under your belt and stored away in your toolkit for the appropriate times. But be sure to choose your moments.

I – V – IV – IV

In the key of C: C | G | F | F

For a celestial vibe, and stories about the beauty of the stars and heaves above, this is the exact progression Train was looking for. Listen to the introduction and verse sections in their ethereal and omnipresent “Drops Of Jupiter.”

Notes About This Chord Progression

It’s a simple one, as you might expect. I, IV, and V tend to go together no matter what order you put them in, regardless of duration or tempo. Also refer to the previous progression on this list.

Although I led this section with some fun references to space, there isn’t necessarily anything special about this chord progression, it’s just a matter of how you use it. It has kind of a lazy vibe, and I could see it being great for singer-songwriter and reggae tunes.

I – V – IV – V

In the key of C: C | G | F | G

Despite being a rather “obvious” chord progression, you don’t hear this one in every song. The verse section of blink-182’s punk rock / pop crossover “All The Small Things,” however, makes good use of it.

Their music video parodying pop stars of the time is quite humorous, but this might be lost on the generation that didn’t grow up with Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, and so on.

Notes About This Chord Progression

For all those times you need a happy, upbeat chord progression, I – V – IV – V is a great choice.

As blink-182 demonstrates, it works great in a punk rock context. It offers a bit of a different feel when played as cowboy chords, though, almost like a Bob Dylan singer-songwriter vibe.

IV – I – vi – V

In the key of C: F | C | Am | G

As the Backstreet Boys discovered, the IV – I – vi – V chord progression makes for a great sequence of chords for the intro and chorus of a ballad. Have a listen to “As Long As You Love Me.”

This song features surprising sophistication for a pop song, especially by today’s standards.

Notes About This Chord Progression

Starting on the IV chord of the key can sometimes create a slight bit of suspense, despite it being a major chord. And while it is typical for songs to end on the I chord, in the 90s it became in vogue to end songs on the IV, which provided a bit of suspense. I’m quite fond of ending songs on the IV myself.

Anyway, this chord progression is a fun variation on a typical I – IV – V style “heard it before” chord progression, and even with the vi chord in the middle, it can still sound quite happy, even when played fast.

IV – iii – IV – iii

In the key of C: F | Em | F | Em

In the 60s, this probably would not have been considered an atypical chord progression, but these days, you don’t see it in pop music. Of course, even in his time, David Bowie was considered eccentric and avant-garde, and his “Space Oddity” certainly hints at what was to come.

The IV – iii chord progression can be heard in the intro and chorus of this breakthrough hit.

And while “Space Oddity” is not a hard song per se, it’s more sophisticated than the average song.

Notes About This Chord Progression

Although there are musical situations where you see this chord progression more frequently, it’s not terribly common in pop.

In “Space Oddity,” Bowie uses it in the intro as well as the chorus, though the chorus has a tag with a different progression (the part that goes “Planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do”).

And, in Bowie’s case, it’s worth noting that he plays the IV chord as a maj7, not as a plain major. But one is not right and the other wrong.

Depending on how it’s played, though, this progression can have a calm, soothing, groovy vibe, and that makes it great for funk, disco, soul, R&B, and so on (especially an octave up from middle C).

vi – IV – I – V

In the key of C: Am | F | C | G

There’s no way you haven’t heard this chord progression before. The entirety of Eagle-Eye Cherry’s “Save Tonight” (see below) features it, but there are plenty of other songs with this progression (especially in chorus sections), because it’s just that effective.

Notes About This Chord Progression

Obviously, it’s good to know that this is a minor and emotive chord progression. Played fast, though, it can come across as punk rock. If that’s not your intention, then keep the tempo moderate.

It’s often been said that most pop music is made up of just three to four chords, and this is one of those chord progressions that demonstrates this fact. These four chords work nicely in any order – it just depends on what you’re going for.

This is a great progression to use when the mood of the song is a mixture of sadness and longing, just like “Save Tonight.”

vi – V – I – IV

In the key of C: Am | G | C | F

It’s basically a variation on the chord progression we just looked at, but the vi – V – I – IV chord progression does carry with it a slightly different vibe – one you’re likely familiar with as it’s been used in songs like Cyndi Lauper’s oft-covered “True Colors” (in this case, in the intro section).

Notes About This Chord Progression

It isn’t just about the chord progression, but also about how you play the progression.

In “True Colors,” you’ll notice that each chord lasts for half a bar, and there’s even a bit of a push on the IV chord, or in this case, F.

You’ll also notice that the bass line goes from A to B (instead of G), then to C and F. This adds some interest and color to the progression. And B is a third above G, so it works great as a harmony note (that makes it a slash chord – G/B).

The takeaway here is that you can take typical chord progressions and make them your own by changing up the duration of each chord, as well as considering the bass or harmony notes that bridge each chord (although those aren’t the only areas you can mix things up!).

Compared to the previous chord progression, this one features a little more “resolution” in the middle. But the IV chord at the end creates a bit of suspense before cycling back to the vi chord.

vi – IV – vi – IV

In the key of C: Am | F | Am | F

You’ll know this chord progression from the intro and verse sections of the Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Californication.”

Red Hot Chili Peppers, by the way, seem to favor songs in C major or A minor, which are basically the same key.

Notes About This Chord Progression

First, you’ll probably notice that this chord progression is quite simplistic. It’s just two chords repeating.

The example noted earlier, “Californication,” has more than two chords in it (namely in the chorus section), but there are songs whose entire structure revolves around just two chords! So, you can’t entirely write it off for being too simple.

Second, this is a minor chord progression. So, while it is technically in C, it owes more to its relative minor, which happens to be A minor. Fundamentally, though, the keys of C and A minor are the same thing!

Third, the Am – F – Am – F chord progression has kind of a dark, serious vibe to it, at any tempo. Great progression for songs that need a solemn vibe.

vi – vi – I – V

In the key of C: Am | Am | C | G

Bands like 3 Doors Down made a career out of arpeggiating cowboy chords (even “Kryptonite” follows the formula), and their heavy sounding “When I’m Gone” is no exception. Have a listen to this chord progression in the intro section.

Notes About This Chord Progression

As with 3 Doors Down’s “When I’m Gone,” when you have one chord that lasts for longer than the others (in this case Am), it’s nice to add a bit of flavor. You can arpeggiate the chord, as 3 Doors Down does, or you can even transition to variations on Am like Am7 (i.e., Am | Am7 | C | G).

This chord progression has decided for itself that it’s going to be minor and serious sounding, no matter how you play it, and at what tempo. So, only use it if that’s the type of song you’re thinking about writing.

Of course, you can always use it for shorter sections of your song rather than having it go on for longer. It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve.

vi – V – iii – IV

In the key of C: Am | G | Em | F

This chord progression is the essence of Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” specifically the verse section. In the studio version of the song, the chords are mostly implied, because the bass and synth parts are kind of minimal. Still, you can hear this powerful progression utilized to perfection in this tune.

Notes About This Chord Progression

Even when played as cowboy chords, this progression can end up sounding quite dramatic. It’s a minor chord progression, as you probably figured out by now, and that IV chord at the end, for whatever reason, always wants to push to a V. It can’t hurt to add that in, even if just for half a bar, before going back to the vi.

This could be a great progression to solo over as well! So, keep it in store for future jam sessions.

vi – IV – V – vi

Songs in the key of C

In the key of C: Am | F | G | Am

Here’s another chord progression that could be considered the very definition of minor chord progressions. And you’ve heard it before in songs like the Eurythmics’ “Here Comes The Rain Again.” Have a listen to the verse section here:

Notes About This Chord Progression

This one tends to be a dark and brooding chord progression. So, it works well for sad songs and serious subject matter.

That said, as someone who loves to solo every chance he gets, I can tell you right now that the vi – IV – V – vi progression is a fun one to jam over! It has a bit of a “Stairway” vibe, and that’s because it’s quite close (the solo section to “Stairway” features a vi – V – IV – IV type progression).

Top Key Of C Chord Progressions, Final Thoughts

Chord progressions tend to be the easiest to understand in the key of C, because the key of C is made up exclusively of white keys on the piano, or “natural” notes, if you will.

At first, your goal will likely be to learn to play each chord progression. It makes sense. That’s really the fun part.

But you’ll also want to explore the theory of it, because it can really help you in your own songwriting and music creation efforts. Understanding the connection between different chords can give you some serious “aha” moments!

With that, we wish you all the best on your journey to mastering chord progressions!

P.S. Remember though, none of what you've learned will matter if you don't know how to get your music out there and earn from it. Want to learn how to do that? Then get our free ‘5 Steps To Profitable Youtube Music Career' ebook emailed directly to you!

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