50s progression

50s progression
50s progression in C, ending with C About this sound Play

The 50s progression is a chord progression and turnaround used in Western popular music. 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 Ice-cream changes by Hank Green, a popular video blogger and musician, in his Youtube video with the same name.[1], the"Stand by Me" changes[2] [3], and the doo-wop progression.[4]

The progression is: I vi IV V (see chord (music)#Roman numerals). For example, in C major: C Am F G (macro analysis).



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 thirds from the I chord to the vi chord to the IV chord.


50s progression in C variation, ending with C About this sound 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 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.[citation needed] 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 About this sound Play , fourAbout this sound Play (full measure or bar), eightAbout this sound Play (two measures), and eight beats per chord except for IV and V(7) which get four eachAbout this sound Play .[6]

"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.[citation needed]


Well-known examples include the Penguins' "Earth Angel" (1954) and Gene Chandler's "Duke of Earl" (1962).[1][6] Other examples include Sam Cooke's "Lovable" and other doo-wop material of the era.[7] Green Day's "Jesus of Suburbia" or Nena's "99 Red Balloons".[8] Many more recent examples exist, such as Neutral Milk Hotel's "In the Aeroplane over the Sea".[citation needed] A more notable recent example is Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls".[citation needed]

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."[9] The chorus of The Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" is an example of the fifties progression.[10][6]

In the musical Grease, the progression is invoked for the purpose of self-parody in the song "Those Magic Changes."[citation needed] 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]".


  1. ^ a b Review: [untitled]. Dane Harwood. Ethnomusicology, Vol. 26, No. 3 (Sep., 1982), pp. 491-493. Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of Society for Ethnomusicology
  2. ^ "The So-Called 'Flattened Seventh' in Rock". Allan Moore. Popular Music, Vol. 14, No. 2 (May, 1995), pp. 185-201. Published by: Cambridge University Press.
  3. ^ Cole, Clay (2009). Sh-Boom!: The Explosion of Rock 'n' Roll (1953-1968), p.56. ISBN 1-60037-638-X.
  4. ^ Scott, Richard (2003). Chord Progressions for Songwriters, p.204. ISBN 0-595-26384-4.
  5. ^ Bennett, Dan (2008). The Total Rock Bassist, p.62. ISBN 0-7390-5269-1.
  6. ^ a b c Scott (2003), p. 206.
  7. ^ Guralnick, Peter (2005). Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, p.157. ISBN 0-316-37794-5.
  8. ^ "Acoustic Lesson 11B - Basic Chord Progressions", GuitarLessonInsider.com.
  9. ^ "Fantastic Remembrance in John Lennon's "Strawberry Fields Forever" and 'Julia'". Walter Everett. The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 72, No. 3 (1986), pp. 360-393. Published by: Oxford University Press.
  10. ^ Riley, Tim (2002). Tell Me Why: The Beatles: Album by Album, Song by Song, the Sixties and After, p.269. ISBN 0-306-81120-0.

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