The "VI - II - V7 - I" Chord Progression

Last week we were introduced to "cousin II" -- the next most likely chord to occur in any given key after the primary chords I, IV, and V.

We said that cousin II might occur as a major chord or as a minor chord or as a 7th chord, but however she appeared, she then almost always followed the chord progression of II, V, I. So once you meet cousin II, you pretty much know where she is going, don't you? She's almost always going to V, and V is almost always going to I.

If cousin II is in her 7th form, such as II7 or IIm7, that even strengthens her predicability more -- those 7th chords REALLY want to move up a perfect 4th, for reasons we'll discuss later.

So if you're playing in the key of C, and you find yourself on a Dm7 chord, you've got an 85% chance of predicting that the following chords will be G followed by C. You don't know when, of course, but just knowing the likely path gives you an enormous advantage over the musician who doesn't have a clue.

Today I would like to introduce you to another cousin. This time, "cousin VI." Cousin VI doesn't show up as often as cousin II, but she is terribly predictable. When she shows up, it is almost a slam dunk that she is going to move up a 4th to visit cousin II. She LOVES cousin II, and is pulled irresistably toward her.

Which means, of course, that when cousin VI shows up, you can predict with DEADLY ACCURACY what the next chord will be -- II. Close to 90% of the time VI moves to II. And you already know that II likes to move to V, and V likes to move to I, so......

The VI to II to V to I chord progression in each key is:

Key of C: A D G C
Key of G: E A D G
Key of D: B E A D
Key of A: F# B E A

Key of E: C# F# B E
Key of B: G# C# F# B
Key of Gb: Eb Ab Db Gb
Key of Db: Bb Eb Ab Db
Key of Ab: F Bb Eb Ab
Key of Eb: C F Bb Eb
Key of Bb: G C F Bb
Key of F: D G C F

And here's what it looks like in printed notation:

You'll notice immediately that each progression is up a perfect 4th (or down a perfect 5th -- same thing). You may be smelling something called the "Circle of 4ths" coming up. You're right.

This page updated on October 26, 2013.