4 Chords Song

Last year I saw the 4 Chords Song and since I’m not much of a musician, I couldn’t figure out what the 4 chords were supposed to be. The video didn’t say, and the music people I asked didn’t know what I was talking about. But now, I’ve seen a newer version (linked up from here yesterday), and it says that the magic chords are I V vi IV.

OK, so I know what a I and a IV are. I can do those. I know what a V7 is, but I guess V is actually not the same, and vi is a total mystery. I took out my handy music theory book and did some figuring, and I think I have it now. I need Doper musicians to tell me if I got it right, and explain if I got it wrong.

If I am in the key of C–please don’t make me do anything harder yet–I think the chords go as follows in the way that they’re playing them. Some of the chords are inverted (is that the right word?) and it winds up being fairly simple to play. You have no idea how much work I had to do to figure this much out…

I: C E G
V: B D G
vi: C E A

Is this right? And if so, what do I do with this information?

And yes, I know I am pathetically ignorant. :stuck_out_tongue:

Key of C

I 2m 3m 4 5 6m

C Dm Em F G Am

Sorry, I have no idea what that means. I told you, I’m pathetically ignorant.

You have worked out the C Major versions of the I, VI, V, and vi chords correctly, although as you say you have given them as inversions. For example, the V chord in this case is G Major, and that chord would typically be described as consisting of the notes G, B, and D, with the root note mentioned first. Nothing wrong with the way you’ve done it, though, since it doesn’t matter that much which order the individual notes of a chord are played in.

As for what you do with this information, well, now you can play all those songs in the key of C.

FYI, when you see things like V and vi, the upper case roman numerals mean major triads and the lower case, minor. It’s an obsolete form of notation from the 18th Century, but it still has some charm.

What CBEscapee is trying to tell you is that in the key of C Major, a I (One) chord is major, a ii (two) is minor, a iii (three) is minor, a iv is Major, a V is Major, a vi is minor, and the one bastard chord, vii, is diminished.

This is the consequence of staying within the key of C – all white notes on the piano – and moving in a parallel form up the scale, playing three notes at a time. The I chord is C-E-G (chord name = C), the ii is D-F-A (chord name = D minor), and so forth.

A 7th (seventh) chord is a triad (three notes) plus one more, the interval of a third above. Example: a G triad (V in this key), or G-B-D, becomes a G7th (V7) as G-B-D-F.

Does that make some sense?

Yeah, that looks right.

I guess also if you’re learning some other I-IV-V-vi song in another key, you can now appreciate how a chord can be playing the same role as a different chord in another key. E.g. in the key of C Major, the vi is A minor. In a song in G Major, say, the vi would be Em. Different chords but, in the context of the respective keys, they sort of sound the same. They have the same harmonic relationship to the root.
Thinking in terms of I, IV, V etc. simplifies things and makes it easier to see patterns of chords.

I glanced at this sentence and subconsciously thought it was going to be about vi vs. Emacs. What does that say about me?

OK, good. I wrote them down as inversions because actually playing them like that seems to be what the song is doing, and it’s a lot easier to play too.

I have my doubts about that, but maybe I’ll give it a try.

I knew about Major/minor, but I didn’t know it was outdated; that’s what they do in my 9yo’s Musikgarten class (though only with I, IV, and V7 so far), and that’s where I learn all my music theory. So the modern way is this whole Dm G thing? Does that work better with guitars or something? I only know about piano, and not much of that–I took lessons for several years but there was little theory involved and I was never much good at it. I can play the Pink Panther theme and keep up with my kid, that’s all.

After some brow-wrinkling, yes. Thanks! I think I need you to come over and show me on the actual piano, though. You pay the airfare, I’ll feed you burritos.

I wouldn’t say something like (C G Am F) is a more “modern way”, it simply is naming the specific chords in the key you’re talking about/playing in (C).

Using roman numeral notation (which is certainly used all the time when talking about music theory) is used when talking about/analyzing a progression in more generic terms - a “I V vi IV” progression can be played in any key, not just C - say G (G D Em C), D (D A Bm G), or any other.

A very good website you might find useful:

The roman numeral notation is part of what’s known as “figured bass”, a style that made a lot of sense hundreds of years ago, when paper was expensive and staff-lined paper had to be made yourself. Shortcuts, increasingly esoteric, abounded.

It’s still used as a teaching tool for music theory, but rarely used by professional musicians, and never in the Pop music field. Pop cats may call it a four chord, but I know of no music that notates it that way outside of college theory classes.

Calling a chord a “four chord” does allow you to separate the actual notes from the function they perform relative to the key or tonal center. Example: in the key of C, a four chord is an F major triad. In the key of D, a four chord is a G major triad. Once you grasp the concept and know all the chords by heart, transposing is pretty easy.

However, contemporary written music is less concerned with theory and more with practicality, so guitar chords are not relative, but absolute; i.e., G, Am, F, Em, etc. and a G triad is G-B-D no matter what its function in the key, what key you are in, or what the key signature is (that’s important to know!).

Mmmm…all-beef burritos with rice, no beans, and salsa. I’ll be right over.

Dangermom, if you are interested, PM me and I’ll give you the name of a piano teacher who teaches the world over thru the Internet (live), and I think your level of knowledge would be just what he starts working with. You’d probably have to pay him more than just burritos, though.

Perhaps I’m misunderstanding. But what about the Nashville number system? It’s basically a variation of the Roman numeral system (and, by extension, the figured base system you mention) and heavily used by professional musicians in, well, Nashville.

Personally, when I talk chords with other musicians, I’m just as likely to say or hear “It’s just ii-vi-V-I in C” as much as I hear “Dm-Am-G-C.” Also, I personally prefer the Nashville or Roman numeral approach, as it doesn’t tie you into a key. It makes for easier transposition (in my opinion.)

That explains it. Musikgarten does a lot of theory and the kids are taught to transpose their songs and play in different keys a lot. My kid has these cards with chords on them (I, IV, V7) and she is supposed to mix them up, put them in some order that makes sense, choose a key and time signature, and improvise a melody according to the chords (as well as a bunch of other games). Having the Roman numerals lets them talk about chord progressions in any key long before they can really name what notes they’re playing.

I will think about it, thanks. I do have this really great music book I need to work my way through, but that sort of thing tends to fall behind more urgent projects like taking the kids to riding lessons (gotta leave in 30) or teaching the 5-paragraph essay (11yo’s writing lesson today).

I’ve heard of this notation, but never used it or seen it in use. I think it might work just fine for Country-Western, where the chord changes tend to be simpler than other genres like jazz. My experience has been mostly Hollywood/LA, a little NYC, Chicago, St. Louis, some San Francisco Bay Area. I have never been to Nashville or Memphis (but I’d like to go!).

You’re right, but really professional musicians can think in several notational styles at once and translate between them without hesitation, using the one that suits the task best. Also, for anything but complex jazz or classical, most studio musicians can transpose by ear without having to think what the chord letter or number is. I could do this with folk tunes when I was a pre-teenager.

It can handle any progressions and chords you want to throw at it. Here’s a video of it in action, if you’re curious. Beyond just the numbering, it includes notations that indicate stops, walks, rhythms, modulations, etc. For example, the diamond indicates to let a chord ring out. An arrow indicates a walkup or walkdown. And so on. It was developed and is primarily used by studio musicians in Nashville. I personally think it’s pretty neat, and my own music shorthand borrows a lot from Nashville.