Finding Alternatives to the IV-Chord in Your Song

Replacing a IV-chord with something different: How that’s done.


“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle packages“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Deluxe Bundle, which includes “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro”, is written by Gary Ewer, designed to straighten out your technique and get you writing better songs.


Piano keyboard with musicSpending time experimenting with substituting chords as you work out your songs can be musically very satisfying. With very few changes you can take a progression that sounds common and predictable, and turn it into something that might be a bit more interesting to you.

It’s often wise to at least start with a progression that’s predictable as a starting point, because predictable usually means that it’s been done before, and so you know it works.

Let’s take the following standard progression (given in C major):

C  F  G7  C
I  IV  V7  I

It’s one of the standard 3-chord progressions that’s still considerably popular for songs in most of the pop genres.

I’ve written before about how to replace V chords and I chords with other alternatives, but in this post I want to focus on the second chord of the progression: the IV-chord. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with IV, but let’s look at some other options.

I’ve divided those options into two lists: 1) Naturally-Occuring Options: chord alternatives that stick to chords we usually see in C major; and 2) Altered-Chord Options: chord alternatives that look further afield and delves into the world of chords that don’t naturally occur in C major.

Naturally-Occuring Options

  1. C  Am  G7  C (I  vi  V7  I) (NOTE: the melody note should be an A, C or E)
  2. C  Dm  G7  C (I  ii  V7  I) (NOTE: the melody note should be a D, F or A)

Altered-Chord Options

  1. C  Ab  G7  C (I  bVI  V7  I) (NOTE: the melody note should be an Ab, C or Eb)
  2. C  Bb  G7  C (I  bVII  V7  I) (NOTE: the melody note should be a Bb, D or F)
  3. C  Fm  G7  C (I  iv  V7  I) (NOTE: the melody note should be an F, Ab or C)
  4. C  D7  G7  C (I  V/V  V7  I) (NOTE: the melody note should be a D, F# or A)
  5. C  Db/F  G7  C (I  bII6  V7  I) (NOTE: the melody note should be a Db, F or Ab)

A few extra notes about the progressions above:

  1. You’ll notice that the suggested chord substitutions only include chords that accommodate a note from the IV-chord. Since you’re working out replacements for the IV, it’s assumed that your melody note would already be working with a IV-chord. That’s why, for example, you don’t see a iii-chord listed as an option.
  2. The suggested options could also accommodate added tones. For example, looking at the first option, you could have Am7 instead of just Am.
  3. Finding substitutions for the IV-chord doesn’t prevent you from also looking for options for the V7 or even the final I-chord.

You’d be surprised how these simple alternatives to the IV-chord can add personality and character to your music. In that respect, any chord substituting can and should be done carefully, to be sure that the result is in keeping with your musical intentions.


Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle packages look at songwriting from every angle, and have been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. Get today’s bundle deal.

Posted in Chord Progressions and tagged , , , , , , , , .


  1. Pingback: ARTICLE LINK: Finding Alternatives to the IV-Chord in Your Song | Creative Music | Inspiring Musical Creativity

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.