In the Loop

In the Loop: March 27, 2009 Archive

The ol' "I V vi IV" trick...

Posted at 9:48 AM on March 27, 2009 by Jeff Horwich (6 Comments)

A friend of ours posted this video on Facebook, and it's the first thing I started my morning with.

I love it:

It's a send up of the chord combination us music-theory dorks would refer to as "I V vi IV" (the "vi" is lowercase because it's a minor chord). In the key of C, it would C major, G major, A minor, F major.

My only gripe is that they left out perhaps the most influential example of all: Bob Marley's No Woman No Cry. And also pretty much anything by Jason Mraz. But all in all, this video is a thing of beauty.

It captures the fact that this chord cliche is sooooo hard to resist. When you sit down with a guitar, it just pops out -- perhaps because it is so driven into our brains by all the people who've used it before.

I have tried to avoid it when writing songs. When I do go there, I usually try to disguise it. Here's an example from our last Story Slam, in December:

Here, "I V iv IV" becomes "I iii IV ii" (with some sevenths in there, but this is the basic idea on the verse). You can sub in the ol' standby, and it works just fine. And I'll admit: When I wrote this puppy, I was listening to a bunch of Jason Mraz because I had to learn some for a wedding. (Here's a link to download that song, Small Christmas, if you want.)

Then there's this one:

Here I left it more obvious on the first pass, but then mixed up the changes each time it came around. "I V vi IV" became "I V ii IV" became "vi iii IV ii" became "vi iii ii IV," or something like that. It actually doesn't matter what combination I play, as long as I mix it up -- it still works (though my habit of doing this is some frustration to The Smarts, I think.) BTW/ here's another download link for that tune.

What's amazing about that video is how many successful songs make NO attempt to disguise it at all (maybe that's my problem? :-) It proves that the bulk of music is not bought by snobby music theory dorks, that's for sure. And it proves that there must indeed be something magical about I V vi IV.


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