Zipf’s law basically suggests that the frequency of the number one item will often be double that of number two and so on. Of course this is not a hard and fast rule but it’s surprising how often it shows up. For example when we think of successful bands it would be hard to argue the success of The Beatles. They are without a doubt the most successful band of all time. In the UK No.2 is Queen as far a record sales are concerned. The Beatles had 17 No.1s and Queen had 6.
We can apply Zipf’s law to chords. There are certain chords that pretty much rule the pop music world. To explain this idea and also allowing for the beginner let me explain the 7 basic chords you will find in any key using the key of C as the example. They are as follows;
C, DMIN, EMIN, F, G, AMIN, BDIM.
In this case C is considered chord 1, DMIN IS 2 and so on. So the most popular chord combination of all time is the 1, 4, 5. In the key of C this would be C, F and G. Below I have listed the most popular keys and 1,4,5 combinations.
C F G
G C D
E A B
A D E
See how many songs you can find that use the 1,4,5 combination.
The next step is to add the 6th which is a minor. In the key of C this means adding the AMIN chord. E.g. The Beatles song ‘Let it be’ has the following chord progression.
C / G / AMIN / F / C / G / F / C.