Popular Song Tutorials

Playing 4 Chord Songs on the Piano

By Claire Robertson
4 chord songs

Discover why four-chord songs are so popular and how to play many of them on piano

Did you know that the same four chords are the basis of many of our favorite pop, rock, and classical songs? You’ll find these chords in pop songs from the Beatles’ “Let it Be” to Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well.” These chords combine in different ways to make emotionally varied and versatile music – change the order of the chords, and a pop ballad turns into a rock anthem! With our list of video tutorials and popular songs that use four chords, you’ll be playing along to your favorites in no time. 

With our free videos for four-chord songs, you’ll learn the skills you need to play easy pop progressions. Below, we’ve included a free piano chord reference video about chords and progressions to build your skills. Read on to the end for our selection of five favorite four-chord piano songs that are easy and fun to play. Whether you love pop hits like “Firework,” the uplifting power ballad “This Is Me,” or classical pieces like “Silent Night,” Hoffman Academy offers video tutorials that make adding chords to the melody fun and engaging. 

Ready to add harmony to your piano practice with our chord chart resources, video tutorials, and more? Try Hoffman Academy Premium today! 

Why are four-chord songs so popular?

From Beethoven to the Beatles, four-chord progressions are at the heart of Western music. In pop music, the 1 chord, the 4 chord, the 6 chord, and the 5 chord are musically satisfying and familiar when heard together. 

Four-chord songs also provide an emotional journey and a musical story. The most common four-chord progression starts with the tonic chord as a musical “home base.”  Then the music travels to more distant tonal places –  the dominant chord (V or 5), the subdominant chord (IV or four), and the submediant chord (vi or six chord). 

In both pop and classical music, four-bar phrasing offers an explanation for why four-chord songs dominate. A musical phrase, like a sentence, has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A song’s lyrics fit into four-bar phrases because of the poetry’s cadence and musical phrasing. Each measure, or bar, tends to have one chord in the four-chord progression because our ear likes the consistency of one chord played throughout a measure. So four-bar phrases tend to go hand-in-hand with a four-chord progression.

What four chords sound good together?

The I chord, IV chord, V chord, and vi chord sound particularly beautiful together because we are used to hearing them in many styles of Western music. Much of our folk music–from Appalachian folk to Irish tunes to Au Clair De Lune–begins with the three-chord I-IV-V progression. The inclusion of the vi chord in popular tunes kicked off in the 1930’s and peaked in the 1950’s, which is why this four-chord progression is sometimes called a ’50’s progression. From there, change up the order, and you’ve got four-chord pop progressions and more!

These chord progressions can change and evolve, like the altered pop progression Yiruma uses in River Flows in You. Add a iii chord for extra minor flavor and extend the four chords to an eight-chord progression, and you get the distinct pattern of Pachebel’s Canon, which was written in the 1600s! 

You can practice your I-vi-IV-V progression in the song Heart and Soul in our video below!

For more information on how to pick piano chords that pair well with the song you are playing, check out our article how to choose the correct piano chord.

What are the four chords in many pop songs?

Most four-bar chord progressions are diatonic, meaning their chords use only the notes of the key that the song is in. The pop chord progression often uses the I-V-vi-IV diatonic chords to create a song’s harmony. You can learn more in our article about diatonic chords and progressions. The video below teaches how to build diatonic chords and put them together into progressions. 

The four-chord pop progression incorporates:

  • the I chord, or tonic
  • the V chord, or dominant
  • the IV chord, or subdominant
  • the vi chord, or submediant

In the key of C, these would be C major, G major, F major, and A minor, respectively. To change the emotion or sound of the chord progression, you can change the order in which you play the chords. This changes the way they function harmonically, creating different sequences of stability and instability. 

If you need more help getting started, this video tutorial will teach you the three most common chords in pop and classical music:  Easy I-IV-V Piano Chords

What easy piano songs have four chords?

Many genres of music use only four chords. They combine in different orders to create different sonic landscapes in genres ranging from pop, to musical theater, to rock and beyond. Below, we have five easy piano songs with four chords or less:

“Let it Go” from Frozen is a famous four-chord progression song, using I-V-vi-IV. By playing C major, G major, A minor, and F major, you can add them to the song’s melody.

“This is Me” from The Greatest Showman uses the 1-6-4-5 chord progression (or I-vi-IV-V). Even though The Greatest Showman musical film was released in 2017, this version of the four-chord progression was popular back in the 1950’s. Our free video tutorial teaches you the melody and chords. 

“Silent Night” primarily uses the same four chords as the pop progression. You can purchase the sheet music for Silent Night from our store Silent Night (Intermediate Version) or Silent Night (Elementary Version).

“Firework” by Katy Perry is also a four-chord progression song, but it exchanges the dominant V chord for a ii chord. This fun pop song starts with a G major chord, the tonic I or 1 chord. Then, in the next measure, it adds in the ii chord, or A minor, in a variation of the pop progression.  Next comes E minor, the vi chord  and C major the IV chord. You can purchase the sheet music for our arrangement of this 2000’s pop hit in the key of G major here.

“Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift can be played with just three chords! Using C major, G major, and A minor, you can add chords to this arrangement of Taylor’s sunny pop hit from 1984. This melody-only arrangement of “Shake It Off” is available in Mr. Hoffman’s Popular Hits for Piano. For a challenge, try adding your own chords by comparing the notes in the melody to the notes in each chord. 

We hope you enjoyed our selection of easy four-chord songs to learn on piano! If you’re ready to take the next step on your musical journey, give Hoffman Academy Premium a try! 

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