The I-IV-V Chord Progression
Songwriting is all about choosing the right chords to make your song sound just the way you want it. But you might be surprised to learn that choosing chords at random is not the best way to make a tune sound good. There are standard and not so standard chord progressions that you can use as you write a song and harmonize it.
The single most common chord progression you can learn is the I, IV, V progression. You can hear this progression all over the place in songs of just about any style.
So, what is the I, IV, V progression?
In any key there are a series of different chords that you can create. We often refer to these chords by the note of the scale they are based on. For example, in the key of C, we have the notes C D E F G A and B. The chord that starts with C is called the root chord or the (Roman numeral) I chord since it’s the first note of the scale.
The B chord, is called the II chord since it’s based on the second note of the scale, and so on.
So, in the key of C, the I, IV, V progression refers to the chords C, F and G. Play through these chords in sequence on your guitar so you can get a sense of how it sounds.
Why does this progression sound so good?
Well, first of all, they’re all major chords. If you played a B chord in the key of C, it would be a diminished chord (the D and F are natural in the key of C). In the same way, the II and VI chords (D and A in this example) are minor in the key of C.
Secondly, the V chord in any key naturally resolves very well back to the root chord. Play a G chord and then a C chord. Can you hear how it just seems to sound “complete” as if the song or passage is done? Try that with the II and VII chords if you like. Not quite as musically satisfying, is it?
You get an even more complete sound by playing the V chord as a 7th chord. Try replacing the G chord in our example with a G7 chord. So you get C, F, G7, C.
You can translate this progression into any key keeping the numbered chords in mind. For example, in the key of G your I, IV, V progression would be G, C, D or D7 and back to G.
Try playing around with these chords and experiment to see which progressions you like the best.