5 Chord Progression Ideas: Getting From I to IV

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black & white guitarIn a standard progression that uses four chords, you’re probably looking at something like: C  Am  F  G  (I  vi  IV  V). That’s a time-honoured progression that’s produced countless hits in the past: “Duke of Earl” (Gene Chandler), “Donna” (Richie Valens), “Stand By Me” (Ben E. King), “Heart and Soul” (Hoagy Carmichael), and so many others.

Do those four chords in a different order, and you’ve got a whole slew of others: “With Or Without You” (U2), “Bad Moon On The Rise” (C.C.R.), “Let It Be” (The Beatles)… You get the idea.

What I’d like to do is to look for a way to modify that standard C-Am-F-G progression so that it sounds a bit more unique, but maintains the tonal strength that makes it so attractive in the first place.

Specifically, let’s look at that second chord (the Am), and replace it with various other ones to produce something that will allow it to stand out a bit. Here are some ideas:

  1. Change Am to C/E, resulting in: C  C/E  F  G. In doing this, you keep the tonic function for two chords, and create a rising bass line. Rising bass lines have a way of creating musical energy that can be useful particularly in song choruses.
  2. Change Am to E, resulting in: C  E  F  G. Because structurally that E chord sounds like a secondary dominant chord that “wants” to move next to Am, the fact that it moves immediately to F will create a bit of a musical surprise.
  3. Change Am to Bb, resulting in C  Bb  F  G. The Bb chord is a flat-VII that functions as a kind of “secondary subdominant”, so to speak, of the F chord. In that sense, it draws attention to the F chord as a kind of tonal focus not unlike a secondary tonic chord.
  4. Change Am to Edim7, resulting in C  Edim7  F  G. The fully diminished Edim7 (which uses the notes E-G-Bb-Db) uses E as a leading tone to F. That diminished chord also works well when followed with Dm (instead of F).
  5. Change Am to E+ (Eaug), resulting in C  E+  F  G. For some, augmented chords are an acquired taste, but the benefit of it is that the note C exists in all three chords C, E+ and F, and that provides a useful kind of musical “glue”.

These are just five ideas from potentially hundreds of others. And the possibilities rise from there when you consider that it’s quite easy to reorder those chords. For example, see what other orderings sound like when you start each progression on the F chord, move to G, then finish up with the first 2 chords (F  G  C  E, for example).

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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