The vi-IV-I-V Progression

The next progression that I’ll be speaking about is the vi-IV-I-V progression. This progression can also be viewed as i-VI-III-VII depending on whether the song is in the relative major (vi-IV-I-V) or the relative minor (i-VI-III-VII). Here are a few examples of this chord progression in several keys: Am-F-C-G, Em-C-G-D, Dm-Bb-F-C, F#m-D-A-E. This is a very popular option for many songwriters. In fact, you would be very surprised if you did a bit of analysis on all your favorite hits to realize how many of them use that exact same progression! That should tell you something: this particular chord progression is like gold. Not only does it sound natural and familiar, but it is ‘catchy’ and can support very beautiful melodies. Here’s a list of songs that use this chord progression:

21 Guns – Green Day

Africa – Toto

All of Me – John Legend

Apologize – One Republic

Bailando – Enrique Iglesias

Bullet With Butterfly Wings – The Smashing Pumpkins

Contact – Daft Punk

Otherside – RHCP

F!@# Her Gently – Tenacious D

Grenade – Bruno Mars

Home – Phillip Phillips

It’s My Life – Bon Jovi

Not Afraid – Eminem

Paradise – Coldplay

Peace of Mind – Boston

Save Tonight – Eagle Eye Cherry

Self Esteem – The Offspring

Zombie – The Cranberries

If you are a songwriter, you might think you should shy away from using this chord progression as it has already been covered. However, it is important to note that there is only a limited combination of chords in music and hopefully the examples above demonstrate just how versatile this progression can be. Use it to your advantage to write your own melodies. It’s a great way to start – and there’s nothing wrong in following in the footsteps of musical geniuses that came before you! As always, please email me with any questions or requests for blog topics. Good luck!!

Michael Furry (Owner and Founder of Colorado Music Academy)


The I-IV-V Progression

So here’s another progression that’s really common and should be composed with at least once in any composers repertoire. It’s used across every genre and it can be analized very easily. You have tonic (I) acting as your key center, the pre-dominant (IV) acting as a dominant preparation, the dominant (V) acting as your tension, and the tonic (I) providing your resolution. Some example of a I-IV-V-I are G-C-D-G, A-D-E-A, C-F-G-C, and E-A-B-E. Here’s a list of I-IV-V songs.

“A Boy named Sue” – Johnny Cash

“Stir It Up” – Bob Marley

“Lay Down Sally” – Eric Clapton

“Luckenbach, Texas” – Waylon Jennings

“Momma, Don’t Let your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” – Willie Nelson

“La Bamba” – Richie Valens

“Wild Thing” – The Troggs

“Twist and Shout” – The Isley Brothers

“Jamaica Farewell” – Harry Belafonte

“Old Time Rock and Roll” – Bob seger

There are many more examples than what are on this list. This is a very common progression that should be known and understood by every musician because it happens so often in every conceivable genre of music. As always, please email me with any questions or requests for blog topics. Good luck!!

Michael Furry (Owner and Founder of Colorado Music Academy)


The I-vi-IV-V Progression

For the next few weeks I’m going to talk about some common chord progressions that occur in the popular music of the last 65 years (1950-2015). This week I’ll talk about the I-vi-IV-V progression. This progression uses a common ordering of Tonic (I), a Tonic-Substitute (vi), a Pre-Dominant (IV), and a Dominant (V) harmony.


Each chord serves a specific function and allows for a logical progression that can be repeated over and over, which is therefore “cyclical.” I emphasize cyclical because the popular music of the last half of the twentieth century was oriented toward the goal of cyclical music. In other words the composer intentionally created a progression that could continually be played over and over with the same 3 or 4 chord progression. Think about how many songs you know from that era and think about how many of those songs have 3, 4, 5 or so chords that repeat over and over. This is important because music didn’t use to do that. You could argue that jazz tunes of the first half of the 20th-Century used the same idea and I would agree with you to some extent (Blues, Rhythm and Blues (and when I say Rhythm and Blues I mean real Rhythm and Blues in the style of Louis Jordan), Rhythm Changes (although this is a 32-bar form so it doesn’t really fit the mold), and I’m sure there are more). But this idea rarely pre-dates the 20th-Century.

Each chord in the I-vi-IV-V progression serves a specific function, which I will discuss now.

Tonic (I)

This chord is home base. This chord is where the resolution of the progression, phrase, and composition as a whole comes from. This chord is hierarchically the most important chord in the progression. It usually begins compositions and ends compositions.

Tonic-Substitute (vi)

Why is this chord a tonic substitute? The reason this chord is a common substitute for tonic is because it shares two of the three notes that create the tonic triad (scale degrees 1 and 3). This chord is essentially 2/3 tonic. This allows for a prolongation of tonic function (typically accompanied with scale degree 1 or 3 in the melody) and a change in harmony, which maintains the harmonic rhythm (the rate at which the chords change) and provides harmonic movement.

Pre-Dominant (IV)

A pre-dominant chord is exactly what it sounds like; it occurs before the dominant chord. The two chords that are the most common pre-dominant chords are IV and ii. These two chords occur before the dominant chord more than any other chord (although bVI is also common in minor). The purpose or function of the pre-dominant chord is to provide a bridge or a link between tonic (resolution) and dominant (tension).

Dominant (V)

This is your tension chord. This chord is used to setup the resolution of the tonic chord (I). The dominant and tonic chord are polar opposites and one can virtually not live without the other (by traditional tonal rules). The dominant pushes the listener to expect continuation whereas the tonic pushes the listener to expect finality.

When it comes to the actual chords in the I-vi-IV-V progression, there are many forms (G-Em-C-D, D-Bm-G-A, E-C#m-A-B, etc…) but they all have identical functions within the key and roman numeral analysis shows how similar they actually are. There are several songs that use this progression including:

“I’ve Just Seen A Face” – The Beatles

“Happiness Is A Warm Gun” – The Beatles

“All I Have To Do Is Dream” – The Everly Brothers

“Donna” – Ritchie Valens

“Earth Angel” – The Penguins

“D-yer Mak-er” – Led Zeppelin

“Jesus of Suburbia” – Green Day

“Blue Moon” – The Marcels

“Stand By Me” – Ben E. King

There are many more examples but you get the point. This became important for me when I began to compose because I needed something to go off of. I needed a tradition to follow and work from. This chord progression and the ones coming in the next few blogs gave me the launchpad I needed to build my own vocabulary. As always, please email me with any questions or requests for blog topics. Good luck!!

Michael Furry (Owner and Founder of Colorado Music Academy)


The Difference Between Parallel and Relative Modes

Hey Guys,

Thanks to VISHALICIOUS for requesting a blog topic for this week. In this post I’m going to dicuss the difference between parallel modes and relative modes.

Two modes are parallel if they share the same tonic. That is, D Major, D Minor, D Dorian, D Mixolydian, etc… are all parallel modes. Using a parallel mode will cause a chromatic alteration to your usual key signature. For example, Phrygian uses b2 (when compared to a minor key or Aeolian mode), while Mixolydian uses b7 and Lydian uses #4 (compared to a major key, or Ionian mode).

In composition (or improvisation) parallel modes allow the use of borrowed chords, via modal mixture, to add color to piece. See my post on modal mixture.

The most common form of parallel modes is between parallel major and minor keys (Ionian and Aeolian). Some pieces in a minor key will borrow the parallel major I chord at the very end, a technique known as a Picardy Third. In some minor key symphonies, its possible to find the entire final movement is in the parallel major (such as Beethoven’s 5th). Some Baroque composers such as Vivaldi would occasionally repeat a major theme in a parallel minor to give it a new dimension. Even the ascending melodic minor scale can be thought of as a form of modal mixture, borrowing its notes from the parallel major. Essentially, parallel modes give you new harmonic “colors” to use, without forcing you to change your tonic.

By way of contrast, two modes are relative if they share the same key signature. All of the modes derived from the major scale are relative modes. See my post on modes of the major scale. Using a relative mode will not generally cause chromatic alterations, but will cause the tonic to shift to a different note.

In composition (and improvisation), relative modes are interchangeable. Because there is usually not a chromatic alteration you can substitute the relative modes at virtually any time in the composition.

There are several ways to incorporate this idea into your playing but the most common substitution that I use is the mode that is either a third above your current mode (C Ionian to E Phrygian) or a fifth above your current mode (C Ionian to G Mixolydian). Essentially, relative modes allow you to emphasize notes in the scale other than tonic. That allows you to break the monotony of tonic with no chromatic alterations.

Michael Furry (Owner and Founder of Colorado Music Academy)


Modes of The Major Scale

I apologize for not posting anything for a few weeks but my son was in the hospital during that time. He’s better now but family is always more important that anything. It’s important to spend time with the ones you love. Make sure to cherish the time that we have together.

I know a lot of musicians have trouble coming to understand the modes of the major scale. Since the word has so many meanings in music I prefer to use the word mood, as this word accurately describes the modes. Using modes musically is a bit trickier, but knowing what they are is the first step. First of all, before you even read this, make sure you know how to play the major scale. It isn’t called the mother of all music theory for nothing. Also, for convenience sake, all examples will be in reference to the C major scale, as it is the only major scale that contains no sharps or flats. This guide is in no way completely thorough or extensive, instead I am explaining the concept of modes in its simplest and rawest form.

A mode is a displaced scale. This means you can play all of the notes in a major scale but assign any one of the seven notes as tonic. For example I can play the notes of a C major scale but start on the pitch D and played every ascending note in the scale all the way up to the D in the next octave. Modes use the same notes as the major scale it’s derived from, in the same order, but starting from one of its seven degrees in turn as a tonic. This produces a different musical flavor, which is unique for that mode. The modern Western modes consist of seven scales:

Ionian (the major scale)


Dorian (minor bluesy sounding mode, minor mode with a maj 6th)


Phrygian (minor spanish sounding mode, minor mode with a minor 2nd)


Lydian (major sounding mode, major mode with an augmented 4th)


Mixylodian (major bluesy sounding mode, major mode with a flat 7th)


Aeolian (the (natural) minor scale – flat 3rd, flat 6th, flat 7th)


Locrian (very unstable sounding mode, minor mode with a minor 2nd and diminished 5th)


What is the difference, you might ask ? Each note of a scale is heard in relation to the most important tone of that scale, the tonic note. This is the key center for any tonal melody. The set of intervals that each scale forms with the tonic creates the characteristic sound of the scale. Here’s is a chart that shows the intervals of each mode, the notes of each mode derived from C major, and the corresponding tonic chord symbol for each mode derived from C major.

I Ionian 1   2   3   4   5   6   7 C D E F G A B Cmaj7
II Dorian 1   2  b3  4   5   6  b7 D E F G A B C Dm7
III Phrygian 1  b2 b3  4   5  b6 b7 E F G A B C D Em7
IV Lydian 1   2   3  #4  5   6   7 F G A B C D E Fmaj7
V Myxolydian 1   2   3   4   5   6  b7 G A B C D E F G7
VI Aeolian 1   2  b3  4   5  b6 b7 A B C D E F G Am7
VII Locrian 1  b2 b3  4 b5  b6 b7 B C D E F G A Bm7b5

For 20th century popular music, after the 1960’s, there some modes that are used more often than others. The Dorian and Aeolian modes are very common for a minor rock sound. The Mixolydian and Ionian mode is very common for a major rock sound. Less common but still acceptable modes: Lydian, which I think of as a jazzy major scale; Phrygian, which I think of as a spanish style scale; Locrian, which I think of as a diminished or demented style scale. As always, please email me with any questions or requests for blog topics. Good luck!!

Michael Furry (Owner and Founder of Colorado Music Academy)


Modal Mixture

Modal mixture  (also called borrowed chords) is when a chord is borrowed from the parallel mode. A parallel mode is the minor or major scale with the same tonic (C major and C minor). Borrowed chords are typically used as “color chords,” providing variety through contrasting scale degrees (3 vs b3, 7 vs b7, etc…). Similarly, chords may be borrowed from the parallel modes of the major scale, for example C Dorian and C Phrygian.

Modal Mixture 2

Here is an example of mode mixture: in a chord progression in the key of D major, instead of using the usual triad IV (a G major chord), one might “borrow” the iv chord from the parallel minor key of d minor (a G minor chord) to use instead. The regular diatonic progression is on the left, and on the right, the minor iv chord has been substituted for the major iv instead.

Modal Mixture 1

There are several key points about borrowed chords that are useful to remember:

  1. The chords are always borrowed from the parallel minor or major, not the relative minor or major.
  2. There are only three scale degrees that differ between the major and minor scales, 3, 6, and 7. When in a major key and borrowing from the minor, these notes will need to be lowered by one half step. The bIII, bVI, and bVII chords are very common borrowed chords from the minor mode. The minor subdominant (iv) is also commonly borrowed.
  3. When the root of the borrowed chord is on an altered note, the Roman numeral is usually preceded by a flat sign (such as a bVI chord, called a “flat-six chord”) if the altered root is lowered. If the altered root is higher it is usually preceded by a sharp sign (such as a #VI chord, called a “sharp-six” chord”)
  4. The main chord that is borrowed from the parallel major into minor is the major tonic triad (in other words, major I used in place of minor i). This is also known as the “Picardy Third.”

There are two main kinds of chromaticism, modal mixture and tonicization. I believe there is a clear line of distinction between them by saying that all dominant-function chords and secondary-dominants (major triads, sevenths chords, and extensions that resolve down a perfect fifth) are examples of tonicization, not modal mixture.  Even if one of the dominant function tones is found in the parallel minor key it is not considered modal mixture because of the role it plays as a V chord in the key of the chord it resolves to.

Another important concept is the difference between modal mixture and modulation. Modal mixture only temporarily borrows chords from the parallel mode, whereas a modulation begins to exclusively use chords from the parallel mode. As always, please email me with any questions or requests for blog topics. Good luck!!

Michael Furry (Owner and Founder of Colorado Music Academy)


Other Types of Cadences

In music, a cadence is a melodic or harmonic configuration that creates a sense of resolution or finality. A harmonic cadence is a progression of (at least) two chords that conclude a phrase, section, or composition as a whole. While cadences are usually classified by specific chords or melodic progressions, the use of such progressions does not necessarily constitute a cadence—there must be a sense of closure, as at the end of a phrase. Harmonic rhythm (the rate at which chords change) also plays an important part in determining where a cadence occurs. Cadences that occur at the end of a piece typically have a longer (slower) harmonic rhythm (half notes and whole notes). Since we discussed authentic cadences in last weeks post, we will discuss several other common harmonic cadences including: the half cadence, the plagal cadence, and the deceptive cadence.

A half cadence is any cadence ending on V, regardless of the chord that precedes it. Because it sounds incomplete or suspended, the half cadence is considered a weak cadence that calls for continuation. It does not typically occur at the end of a composition. Here is an example of a half cadence.

Half Cadence

Another common cadence is the plagal cadence, which is also known as the “Amen Cadence” because of its frequent setting to the text “Amen” in hymns. A plagal cadence is the motion from the IV chord to the I chord. It’s important to note that the progression IV-I cannot confirm a tonality (it lacks any leading-tone resolution) and it cannot articulate formal closure. Rather, this progression is normally part of a tonic prolongation (the tonic note is contained in both chords). Most examples of plagal cadences given in textbooks actually represent a post-cadential coda function: that is, the IV-I progression follows an authentic cadence but does not itself create genuine cadential closure. Here’s an example of a plagal cadence.

Plagal Cadence

Next is the deceptive cadence or interrupted cadence: V to vi. This is a common substitute for an authentic cadence. When there are parallel phrases, it is common to conclude the antecedent phrase with a deceptive cadence and the consequent phrase with an authentic cadence. The deceptive cadence is most commonly V7-vi in major or V7-VI in minor. This is considered a weak cadence because of the “hanging” (suspended) feel it invokes. Here is an example of a deceptive cadence.

Deceptive Cadence

The half, plagal, and deceptive cadences are great ways to provide the listener with a sense of incompleteness. They occur in order to give the music a sense of needing to continue. These are in opposition to the authentic cadence that was discussed in the previous post, which provides a sense of closure and typically end compositions. As always, please email me with any questions or request for blog topics. Good luck!!

Michael Furry (Owner and Founder of Colorado Music Academy)