4 chords and the truth

I often show students this video – where Australian comedy rock band Axis of Awesome demonstrate cleverly how dozens of pop songs not only use the same four chords, but use them in the same sequence – specifically 1 5 6 4 and 6 4 1 5.

Let It Be, No Woman No Cry, With or Without You, Don’t Stop Believin’ – many huge hits are included.

This fun video is backed up by some research done here, where the author analysed the chord patterns from 1300 hit songs from the US Billboard 100 Chart and comes to the conclusion that the pattern 1 5 6 4 is the most used.

But you can use the data in a fun way to find out other interesting chord similarities between songs.

For example, if you change the order of the four chords used in the video above to 1 6 4 5, you get the chords used in the verses of such songs as Crocodile Rock and Stand By Me. And if you keep the same chords but just double the speed at which they change, you get the chords for the chorus of Total Eclipse of the Heart, the verse of Eternal Flame and the chorus of Ace of Base’s The Sign.

A variation on the above pattern is to switch the 4 chord with it’s minor equivalent, the 2minor, so the pattern becomes 1 6 2 5. These are the chords used in the verse of Last Christmas and the bridge of Uptown Girl, or if you speed the rate of change up, the intro of Wouldn’t It Be Nice and the verse of The Beatles’ I Will.

Finally, the intro of Sweet Child of Mine, the outro of Hey Jude, The outro of Elbow’s One Day Like This and the verse of Roxette’s The Look also all use the same chord progression – 1 7 4 1. It can be fun to try and sing one over the other.