10 Indie Chord Progressions Every Guitarist Must Know

Published Categorized as Other Lessons and Tips

Are you looking to find some new music through the harmonic progression that they are comprised of? Are you simply looking to get a handle on what indie music is and what it’s all about through its harmonic story?

Then step right up and join us as we explore 10 of the most important indie chord progressions in the biz and help you get a handle on what it means to make and listen to indie music.

Table of Contents

1. i-v-VI-III in E Minor

The first chord progression on this god-forsaken list can be found in the song “Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely” by the legendary punk band Hüsker Dü. Other than focusing on the specific stylistic trademarks of this genre of music, there isn’t really much else to think about in this tune other than to check out the tab and dig in.

Don't Want to Know If You Are Lonely

Of course, this might not be what some of you think of when you try to think of indie music. In fact, playing indie guitar might make you think more of rock music…

2. (I – vi) – (iii – IV) in E Major

Equipped with a healthy smattering of minor chords, “Where is My Mind?” by Pixies is one of their signature songs and arguably one of the most popular songs to learn on guitar. Due to the immense popularity of the film Fight Club which features this song, the otherwise alternative band was almost drawn into the mainstream realm of pop music for a spell, proving that indie songs have a place in just about every avenue, including tablature.

Where Is My Mind? (Remastered)

There is something gut-wrenching about that toilet-triggered reverb on the backing vocals that wail so infinitely into the void at the end of this track, an infinity that has us all coming back for more.

3. I – I – I – I – vi7 – vi7 – IV7 – IV7 in E Major

Kings of Leon is another that eschewed indie rock and other outsider styles in favor of a more mainstream career. “Sex on Fire” is one of their most famous tracks, putting the band directly onto the map. And who could blame anyone for wanting a slice of the cake when the cake is so salaciously written and brimming with such steamy content?

Sex on Fire

If you aren’t fond of using a guitar lesson to wrap your head around the major chord harmony on display here, then why not try using some tablature to get the job done? You can always make use of barre chords with your major chords or use a capo to shift the temperament up and down the fretboard.

4. i – III in F# Minor

And now we take a look at a chord progression that has been utilized by one of the most overrated bands in the indie sphere, the Smashing Pumpkins. This song specifically is called “I Am One” and uses chord shapes that are relatively easy to wrap your head around.

I Am One (Remastered 2011)

Indeed, where some of their other songs are known for using alternate guitar tunings, this song is thankfully in standard tuning. Of course, if you looked at the tablature, you would already have something of an idea of this. Still, there’s always time…

5. I – I – V – V – IV7 – IV7 – I – I in B Major

Before Coldplay lost themselves to the temptations of fame and fortune, they released their debut album Parachutes which featured the hit single “Yellow”. This was a time when there was very little pretense to their music, where the concepts and the grand gestures were nowhere to be seen. There was an incredible spaciousness to some of their earlier material.


Though this is no longer the case, you can thankfully relive this time through the power chords and sus chords that were left behind in the wake, reigniting the color Yellow like a brand new sunrise. Modern music lost a key player when the tablature grew faded and crumbled away…

6. i – i – iv – v in E minor

Now, we turn our gaze toward a track that has far more to do with indie music, that is “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand. Though there are far more epic and grand songs by the band – like, say, “Ulysses” – “Take Me Out” is undeniably the song that has come to define the band, for better or worse.

Franz Ferdinand

Take a long hard look around and you won’t see any major keys for miles to come. In fact. this song is entirely full of minor chords. Some would say this song is in a minor key. Those people would indeed be correct to say so and not in any way pedantic, something you would know if you checked the tablature.

7. (i – VII) – (III – iv – v) in F Minor

Oft neglected when considering indie bands, Blur is understandably left behind because of their vast commercial success in the 90s, no doubt helped along by the suspiciously perfect rivalry between them and Oasis. This is a rivalry that loses all potency when you think how magnificent the band Pulp has always been alongside them. Still, “Song 2” has its merits from time to time.

Song 2 (2012 Remaster)

Of course, you would know that if you had checked out the tablature. Graham Coxon is an underrated and inventive guitarist who can often be seen using either jagged rhythm chords or noisy arrhythmic sputters. Here, we see one or the other in action at once.

8. I – I – vi – (IV7 – V)

The Australian band Temper Trap once commanded all of our attention. Now, it seems their lasting legacy is the presence of the track “Sweet Disposition” on gameshows and montage sequences for reality television. Even this latter presence is on the ropes at the moment as reality television producers prefer to use an abundance of royalty-free or otherwise incredibly cheap music in their programs.

Sweet Disposition

Have a look at the tablature. What do you see? You should immediately notice that this song is comprised almost entirely of two chords. While some might think of this as a little lazy, it can actually be an incredibly effective conceit upon which to build the very body of a song. That is, of course, if you know how to tune a guitar properly. Otherwise, you will be left a blubbering mess on the world’s stage.

9. IV – vi – V – ii in E Major

Before Lana Del Rey achieved relative commercial success in the last few years, she was once a much-reviled artist whose only solace was found in the arms of suicidal teens looking to single themselves out from among the rest of the hordes of other like-minded teens who likewise flocked to her music. “Summertime Sadness” is easily one of her most iconic tracks.

Summertime Sadness

If you want to learn this indie song – which isn’t really an indie song, but that’s a whole other point – then you can always follow along to the recording below with the tablature.

10. (v – iv) – (III – i) in F# Minor

What more needs to be said about the Arctic Monkeys that hasn’t already been said before? Things are very different for the Northern English lads now than it was back then upon the release of “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”. One difference many believe is that they have lost their edge, though this is largely a by-product of the fact that their music is simply not so reliant on riffs as it once was.

I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor

This is a criticism leveled at them largely by those who once liked their music and since have grown tired of all the lounging around that the band does on later records like Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. Still, it is always best that you make up your own mind, so follow along with the tablature and listen along to the track below.

Final Tones

So, there you have it! Hopefully, you are now feeling ready and able to get on with your studying of indie music! Never rest on your laurels, though, and try to make your own indie chord progressions as often as you can!

FAQs Indie Chord Progressions

What are emo music chord progressions?

Though it is difficult to categorize the chord progressions of an entire genre of music – to do so is, in fact, rather lug-headed – there is a particular reliance on a lot of classic emo music progressions around the I, IV, and V chords. These chords are obviously used in a whole bunch of different styles of music, so this is almost entirely useless as a fact. These progressions are usually written around four repeated bars and each chord is at least one bar long. A common structure might be I-I-IV-V or I-IV-V-I.

What is music’s 1-4-5 chord progression?

In music, a 1-4-5 or I, IV, and V progression is a particular chord progression that makes use of the 1st, 4th, and 5th scale degrees of the given key of a song. If, for example, we were to work within the realm of C major, then the 1st scale degree would be C major, the 4th scale degree would be F major, and the 5th scale degree would be G major.

What is the popular grunge chord progression?

Though it is difficult to categorize the chord progressions of an entire genre of music – to do so is, in fact, rather lug-headed – there is still some reliance on the key of A. In this key, there is then reliance or interest in the chords A, D, and E (I, IV, and V), as well as B, E, and A (ii, V, and I). These chords and chord progression are usually what creates the harmony in the song and they are often used in terms of how harsh they sound.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

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