I-IV-V and I-vi-IV-V

Bar band veterans like myself will instantly recognize this shorthand. It denotes the standard chord progessions for blues and doo-wop songs respectively.

The first progression (root, fourth, fifth) – which is also featured in thousands of jazz and rock ‘n’ roll tunes as well – is actually I IV V-(IV)-I or some similar variation. The chords involved in the key of E would be E, A and B.

The second run (root, minor sixth, fourth, fifth) would be E, C#m, A and B. Sometimes a minor second (ii, or F#m) is substituted for the IV. Think “In the Still of the Nite.”
My question: has anyone ever identified the FIRST recorded works to feature an unambiguous, instantly recognizable example of each of these two progressions?

My guess is that the I-IV-V was probably in vogue long before being first committed to vinyl (or shellac, actually). But it would be interesting to know the first recorded example.

In the case of the doo-wop progression, I would have to think that the first example would have occurred much later and could be more easily located.
Nominations from the floor are welcome, as are pointers to anyplace this question has been addressed previously.

Classical music fan here. The I-IV-V progression has been around as long as about the 15th century. Check out any Elizabethan madrigal.

In music theory it’s also known as the Tonic-Subdominant-Dominant progression.

The I-vi-IV-V progression is a.k.a. Tonic-Submediant-Subdominant-Dominant and has also been around since Elizabethan times. C-A minor-F-G.

Everything Old Is New Again. :slight_smile:

DDG strikes again. :slight_smile:

I might add that a common variation on your second one is I-vi-ii7-V (C-Am-Dm7-G), as in Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart.”

OK, but are you saying the I-IV-V is used in more or less the same way in an Elizabethan madrigal as it typically is in a standard blues song? That is, the full progression: four measures of I (sometimes one of I, one of IV and two of I), four measures of IV, two of V (or one of V and one of IV) and two more of I?

And it brings up a related point…even if the chord progression is present, what about the use of minor thirds and flatted sevenths playing off of it? That is, the notes of the melody that make the blues the blues.

I could be wrong, but I have the feeling that if some wandering troubadour had whipped out a number like that in the 15th century, he would have been met with extreme puzzlement.
I suppose I have a similar question about the I-vi-IV-V progression. Was it used with the same overall feel of doo-wop, which in ballads often incorporates triplets?

I guess what I was really asking was what were the first recorded instances of both that we would instantly recognize as being cut from the same cloth as the thousands of examples that followed it.

Er, my point was actually that both sets of chord progressions have been integral parts of Western music for several hundred years. I’m not talking about format, about how many measures of which chord, just the chord progressions themselves, because that was what you asked about in your OP. Just the chord progressions.

No, an Elizabethan madrigal doesn’t have “rules” for how many times you play a chord, or for how many measures, before you move on to the next chord. But it does have the same “rules of harmonic progression”–such as the fact that the dominant always resolves to the tonic (or, in blues terms, you always go back to I from V.)

Yes, of course an Elizabethan singer would have been confused by the blues, with its flatted sevenths and thirds, and its emphasis on improvisation. But a blues musician would probably be just as confused by being asked to play a madrigal, with its emphasis on playing “just what’s written, and nothing more.” But they would both recognize the same chord progressions, the same harmony, as “music”.

To answer your question, “the first recorded instances of both that we would instantly recognize as being cut from the same cloth as the thousands of examples that followed it”, the gramophone was invented in 1887, and many of the songs recorded for it, performed by artists such as Enrico Caruso and Nellie Melba, used these chord progressions.

But it seems to me that what you’re really trying to ask is, “What’s the earliest doo-wop recording?” For that I can only suggest you try out my favorite search engine.



Well, not necessarily. All music tends to build upon that which has come before. Doo-wop performers, for instance, were influenced by earlier recordings by The Mills Brothers or The Ink Spots – yet neither of these groups could in any way be considered doo-wop.

It’s the same way with rock ‘n’ roll. Jim Dawson and Steve Propes’ book “What Was the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record?” presents no fewer than 50 candidates in chronological order (i.e., the earliest example is #1).

The first one that is unambiguously rock ‘n’ roll and not more of something else (R&B, blues or country) is “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets, #39 on the list.

But back to the chord progessions – I guess what interests me (perhaps I didn’t articulate this as clearly as I should have) is the process of how these two sequences of chords came to be codified, as it were, as the hallmarks of blues and doo-wop respectively.

Obviously, they’ve been ubiquitous for many years now, but there had to be a point in time when there really weren’t any songs that used this sequence of chords (including their accompanying durations and associated rhythms) in just this way.

Since music is always subject to mulitple influences from what has gone before, it may be impossible to give a definitive answer to my question. But it still would be interesting to find that moment at which someone took what had come before but gave it a little twist and came up with something new – something that obviously caught on with many others in due course.

here’s an off-the-top-of-my-head theory for ya…

Say the I-IV-V’s been around for centuries…

A lot of classical music was written for the church…

In most churches are organs…

Organs…I-IV-V…choir…that crazy african beat…gospel music!

At least that might be one avenue.

Okay, now I see what you’re asking. The roots of all our popular music today–rock, pop, blues, jazz, doo-wop–go back to Tin Pan Alley, in the 1890s. Tin Pan Alley composers were the first ones to set the format of what we would call “pop tunes”, with a fairly standardized series of chord progressions, a couple of which progressions blues and doo-wop have “locked in” to their genres. My WAG would be that it was probably in the 1920s for blues, and the 1950s for doo-wop.

But I would like to point out that pop music still uses these chord progressions, so they’re not exclusive to jazz, blues, and doo-wop.



Black musicians took the basic form of turn-of-the-century pop music and morphed it into jazz and blues.

I think you need a serious music historian here, not a WAG. :smiley:

mack probably is on the right track as well; popular music most likely drew it’s progressions and melodies from church music and folk music, since, pre-Tin Pan Alley, those were popular music.

Look at some late-19th/early-20th century hymns like “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms” (I-IV-I-V | I-IV-I-V-I), or “Amazing Grace” (I-IV-I-I-V-I7 | I-I-IV-I | I-vi-I). It’s not hard to see how the standard blues progression grew out of those old hymns and folk songs.