PURPOSE: The selection of optimal beam geometry has been of interest since the inception of conformal radiotherapy. The authors report on sequential beam addition, a simple beam geometry selection method, for intensity modulated radiation therapy. METHODS: The sequential beam addition algorithm (SBA) requires definition of an objective function (score) and a set of candidate beam geometries (pool). In the first iteration, the optimal score is determined for each beam in the pool and the beam with the best score selected. In the next iteration, the optimal score is calculated for each beam remaining in the pool combined with the beam selected in the first iteration, and the best scoring beam is selected. The process is repeated until the desired number of beams is reached. The authors selected three treatment sites, breast, lung, and brain, and determined beam arrangements for up to 11 beams from a pool comprised of 25 equiangular transverse beams. For the brain, arrangements were additionally selected from a pool of 22 noncoplanar beams. Scores were determined for geometries comprised equiangular transverse beams (EQA), as well as two tangential beams for the breast case. RESULTS: In all cases, SBA resulted in scores superior to EQA. The breast case had the strongest dependence on beam geometry, for which only the 7-beam EQA geometry had a score better than the two tangential beams, whereas all SBA geometries with more than two beams were superior. In the lung case, EQA and SBA scores monotonically improved with increasing number of beams; however, SBA required fewer beams to achieve scores equivalent to EQA. For the brain case, SBA with a coplanar pool was equivalent to EQA, while the noncoplanar pool resulted in slightly better scores; however, the dose-volume histograms demonstrated that the differences were not clinically significant. CONCLUSIONS: For situations in which beam geometry has a significant effect on the objective function, SBA can identify arrangements equivalent to equiangular geometries but using fewer beams. Furthermore, SBA provides the value of the objective function as the number of beams is increased, allowing the planner to select the minimal beam number that achieves the clinical goals. The method is simple to implement and could readily be incorporated into an existing optimization system.