Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I-IV-V-I


Guest Post by PARMA Intern Alycia B.

“One, Four, Five, One” – if there were ever a link that bridged the gaps between musical genres, it would be this chord progression. From classical to rock the same progression can be found in all sorts of music.

To find out more about our favorite chord progression, click “Read More.”


If you are aware of how chords work, you’re going to want to skip over this next bit. I-IV-V-I, or the phrase “One, Four, Five, One,” is a listing of chords. Each piece of music has a key signature, or more simply known as a key. Every musical key has it’s own set of chords. Each key consists of 8 notes, which are labeled “Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do” – a scale. Each of these notes has a corresponding chord, I (Do), II (Re), III (Mi), IV (Fa), V (Sol), VI (La), VII (Ti), and since Do repeats itself, I is our last chord. A long story made short – chords are what composers use to write music.

As a cellist, I personally have no clue why everyone uses the same chords other than the fact that they’re just easy to listen to. If you’ve ever heard of Pachelbel, a composer from the Baroque period, you know of his Canon in D.



Watch the cello player as you listen. The cellist is playing the same notes over and over again. Her part voices the root of the chords, which is the label we talked about earlier (Do, Re, Mi, etc.). When broken down, it’s a little more complicated than I-IV-V-I, but it has a basic structure of I-IV-V-I and the other chords embellish this basic chord progression.

Pachelbel is just the stereotype, however. Other baroque composers used this pattern in their music as well. Both Bach and Handel used this chord progression within pieces of theirs. In other genres, such as rock or pop, the chorus is usually just the basic structure I-IV-V-I, but the verses of the songs embellish the chord progression just like with Pachelbel.

Now, if you’ve never heard of Axis of Awesome or of Rob Paravonian, you will in a moment. They’re both musical and comedic acts, but they have explored this chord progression with a twist. Both videos below depict just how easily it is for songs to fit in together using our friend, I-IV-V-I.

Rob Paravonian, Pachelbel Rant

Axis of Awesome, 4 chords

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