An upbeat chord progression can help turn your music into something that brightens someone’s day and makes them want to dance.
Now a chord progression isn’t a guarantee that a song will come out with a certain mood, but it can at least give some inspiration when you hit a wall in your writing.
These progressions come from some of the most famous upbeat songs ever written. And I might have grabbed some ideas from our upbeat karaoke songs list…
1. ii IV I
This upbeat chord progression comes from one of my guilty pleasure songs, “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift. I came to love this song when my two-year-old (at the time) daughter would request it and dance to it at home while watching the music video.
One underappreciated thing in this song is the prominence of the drum part. The chords in this song are very understated, and the most prominent parts are the vocal melody and the drums.
Chords from the song: A minor, C major, G major
2. I IV V I
I’m not sure about you, but I think this might be the most iconic chord progression across all genres of music. I grabbed this one from “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers, but this progression is undoubtedly found in hundreds of popular songs, from Reggae to Mariachi to Calypso.
Not to mention this song has the simplest most conventional voicings. The chords are played on a muted electric guitar and other than that it’s just a drum set with two vocal parts, melody and harmony. Goes to show that sometimes simple is best.
Chords from the song: E major, A major, B major, E major
3. VII IV I
This chord progression comes from another of my favorite upbeat songs, “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang. This is one of my go to songs when my family does an impromptu dance party in the living room. It’s seriously impossible to sit still while listening to this song.
The VII chord here isn’t the VII chord from the major scale. It’s actually the VII from the minor scale, and then the IV and I come from the major scale. Kind of weird, but take a look at the chords below and hopefully it will just make sense.
Chords from the song: F sharp major, C sharp major, G sharp major
4. I vi IV vi
This progression is from “Can’t Stop The Feeling” by Justin Timberlake, and while I can’t say it’s my favorite song from Trolls (that honor goes to “Hair Up”), it’s certainly the most upbeat.
When it comes to JT, most of his music is very electronic. You can hear heavily treated bass lines and drum beats along with synthesizers everywhere. But whatever he’s doing, it works.
Chords from the song: C major, A minor, F major, A minor
5. I IV V IV
This upbeat chord progression comes from Katrina & The Waves super fun song “Walking On Sunshine.” One of my personal favorite instruments in modern music is the trumpet, and this song uses the trumpet so effectively to create a super peppy vibe.
Another thing I’m noticing about this song that contributes to the vibe is the tempo. It’s right around what I call the “dance tempo,” which is 120 bpm. Tempo can be the difference between making you want to dance and making you just want to sing.
Chords from the song: B flat major, E flat major, F major, E flat major
6. i VII VI V
This upbeat chord progression comes from The Beach Boys’ song “Good Vibrations.” The chords in the chorus are a little boring, so I decided to take this from the verses.
One of the things that makes The Beach Boys stand out among other great bands is that so much of their rhythm is created by a cappella vocals. You’ll here drums and bass distantly in the song, but the bulk of the music comes from their voices.
Chords from the song: D sharp minor, C sharp major, B major, A sharp major
7. I V vi IV
Anytime I ask my father in law for a happy song to play, he always picks “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. He loves this song, and who can blame him? Listening really just makes you feel happy.
It’s such a simple song: guitar that you could mistake for a ukulele, Reggae rhythm (guitar hits on 2 and 4), bass and drums coming in with a standard dance beat. Everything about this song is easy to digest and puts your mind at ease.
Chords from the song: B major, F sharp major, G sharp minor, E major
8. IV I vi V
For these last three songs, I’m going to be pulling from my own collection of music. This upbeat chord progression comes from “High Hopes” by Panic! At The Disco. This album, Pray for the Wicked is one of my personal top 5 albums.
Like I mentioned earlier, I love trumpets/horns in popular music and this song does that better than most these days. Plus there’s no arguing with the incredible vocals of Brendon Urie. Just an amazing popular rock song with a hopeful message.
Chords from the song: B flat major, F major, D minor, C major
9. I V ii iv
This one comes from “Walk” by what I consider to be today’s leader in rock, the Foo Fighters. One of their most upbeat songs, although there’s a lot of screaming towards the end about dancing on graves and living forever.
Still, this five piece band (three guitars, bass, drums) manages to create a fast, loud, totally rock and roll upbeat song that leaves you feeling lifted, regardless of all the screaming and emotion that comes out.
Chords from the song: A major, E major, B minor, D minor
10. i III IV VI
I can’t go an entire article without including at least one deep cut. This chord progression comes from my favorite song by my band, Muse. The song is “Panic Station” and it’s upbeat in an empowering way. The lyrics are a bit gibberish, but overall the song leaves you feeling in control of your life.
The progression comes from the chorus, and surprise surprise, there’s a prominent trumpet part in there. I just can’t help it, I love it.
Chords from the song: E minor, G major, A major, C major
Writing Upbeat Music
Upbeat music means different things to different people, so I”m not trying to make any big sweeping claims about how to write it. However, when I write these chord progression articles I do like to take note of the commonalities I find in the songs I listen to during the research phase.
It’s probably not fair to call these themes, but here are some things I noticed in multiple songs while listening to all this music:
- Dance tempos – a lot of upbeat music makes you want to dance, thus lots of the music was around that 120 bpm tempo.
- Trumpets/horns – it’s probably just that I’m drawn to the sound of a horn section, but there’s no denying that trumpets can give your music a lift.
- Snare on 2 and 4 – I think of it as a standard beat, but lots of these songs have the kick on 1 and 3, snare on 2 and 4 beat.
- Positive lyrics – This one goes without saying, upbeat songs tend to have positive lyrics.
So there you have it. Very far from a comprehensive list, but these items seemed to be present in a majority of the songs I listened to while writing this article.