Pachelbel’s chord progression

The other day, Simply Piano added a chords-only version of Maroon 5’s song “Memories.” So I played the chords along with their recording of the song, and something sounded really familiar about that sequence of chords.

I thought about it for a while, and hummed it, and then realized: it’s the same chord progression as Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.”

I knew that there were modern songs that used those chords, because a while back, Stevonnie pointed me to Rob Paravonian’s comedy routine “Pachelbel Rant.” But “Memories” wasn’t one of the songs that Paravonian had listed. And regardless, it was neat (and a little disconcerting) to discover for myself that “Memories” used the same chord progression as a piece I’m familiar with. (Turns out “Memories” also uses some of the same melody as the Canon, but I didn’t notice that on my own.)

And I’m in the process of getting a clearer understanding of the Roman-numeral notation for chords, and so I started poking around and I came across this video from David Bennett Piano: “21 Songs that use Pachelbel's Canon chord progression.”

As usual with this sort of thing, I’m unfamiliar with most of the songs shown, and in several of them I can’t really hear the Pachelbel chords. But I did find something Bennett said about the Pachelbel chord sequence really useful.

In Roman numeral notation, the sequence goes like this:

I V vi iii IV I IV V

which at first just looked to me like a random set of numbers, and I was thinking if I wanted to learn that, I was just going to have to rote-memorize it.

But then Bennett pointed out that there’s a bit of a pattern in the first three pairs of chords: to get from the first chord in the sequence to the second one, you go down a major fourth (five half-steps), and the same is true for going from the third chord to the fourth chord, and from the fifth chord to the sixth chord.

So I tried that out on the piano, and saw that there’s even more of a (quasi-)pattern than that if you play those first six chords on a piano keyboard, starting out with a C chord, because then you can play it entirely as chords that consist of every other white key.

Specifically: You do a three-note chord on C (C+E+G), then move your hand three white keys left and play the chord that’s there (G+B+D), then move your hand one white key right and play that (A+C+E), then three left, then one right, then three left.

Like this:

  1. C+E+G; then left three white keys:
  2. G+B+D; then right one white key:
  3. A+C+E;
  4. E+G+B;
  5. F+A+C;
  6. C+E+G (which is down an octave from the starting point)

And then the final two chords of the full sequence are back up to F+A+C and G+B+D.

Anyway, I dunno whether this is all obvious to anyone who has a more intuitive grasp than I do on the Roman numeral notation. But I thought it was neat, and now I can pretty easily remember how to play Pachelbel’s chord progression on a piano.

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