The Pachelbel progression

||: I – V – VI – III – IV – I – IV – V :||

The Pachelbel progression comes from ‘Canon’ in D Major by ‘Pachelbel’ (the scare quotes indicate that the piece is neither a canon nor likely composed by Pachelbel). It’s prevalence in popular music has recently been made famous by comedian Rob Paravonian’s “Pachelbel Rant.”.

The full progression is given above, but there are a few common alterations. First, the cadential progression may be changed (substituting two bars of V or a cadential 6/4–5/3 for the final IV–V progression). Also, instead of moving in root-position triads, some composers and songwriters will invert every other chord:

||: I – V6 – VI – III6 – IV – I6 – IV – V :||

Lastly, some composers or songwriters will only use the first four or five chords and follow with a completely new second half. As long as the first four chords—in root position or with the standard inversions—are present, we can consider it an instance of the Pachelbel progression.

I – V – VI – III . . . (to begin a phrase; “truncated” version)

Here are a few of the numerous examples mentioned by Paravonian that feature the Pachelbel progression: