I buried the following question/theory in another thread and I never heard from anyone regarding it. I’d love to know what SD has to say regarding this.
I was curious why people enjoy Am F C G, or various iterations of vi, IV, I, V.
Songs that utilize these chords in this manner include Read All About It, Part III by Emeli Sande, What if God Was One of Us by Joan Osborne, and Poker Face by Lady Gaga.
According to Wikipedia, the vi–IV–I–V progression has been associated with the heroic in many popular Hollywood movies and movie trailers, especially in films released since 2000.
The heroic part of that definition got to me. Why heroic? What about this progression makes it so popular?
My theory is that these chords represent the human condition. In relation to the tonic, vi brings to mind sadness and despair, IV after it evokes hope, I is of course happiness and stability, and V is determination to face all of life’s troubles (which lasts until we again arrive at vi). Such a progression, maybe unconsciously, resonates with listeners, because it imitates our lives, which indeed are a cycle of sad moments, happy moments, determination, and hope. And it evokes the “heroic” in all of us–the problem solver, the martyr, the hard worker–who wouldn’t find that uplifting?
Axis of Awesome’s Four Chords discusses this progression as I, V, vi, IV. Ex: Chorus of Can You Feel The Love Tonight, I’m Yours by Jason Mraz, innumerable others.
Do you guys think my theory has any merit?
I had some other thoughts regarding modes.
The Lydian mode (C,D,E,F#,G,A,B,C for instance) in my mind, has a sharp fourth (F#) as opposed to the normal fourth (F). If we compare it to the Ionian mode (C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C), which is a regular major mode, we can see the difference in sharp relief. The F# to me represents whimsy, or fancifulness, a kind of playing around with the idea of stability. Look at the theme of the Simpsons, which is very much based on the Lydian mode—C E F# A G E C A F# F# F# G—it’s all about playfulness and fun.
Or even further, the Mixolydian mode (ex. C,D,E,F,G,A,Bb,C) evokes, to me a kind of tightness with that Bb (flat seventh). As in, the major scale is going just fine until the G,A,Bb, and you get a flash of minor (Gm). So to me that would indicate a longer tougher journey…whereas a normal Ionian scale is happy all the time, the Mixolydian brings to mind trials and a hard life–and thus the eventual major chord seems more satisfying!
Finally, we have Dorian mode (ex. D,E,F,G,A,B,C,D). We see this mode used in Scarborough Fair, Eleanor Rigby, and others. If we hold this mode up to a typical natural minor scale (ex. D,E,F,G,A,Bb,C,D) we see the difference is in the sharp 6th (B). I would posit that that sharp sixth effectively evokes a feeling of whimsy, but in a minor key. So it sounds to me like songs like this are sad but the melody is playing around within it (the sharp sixth evokes the major four chord) so it’s kind of like finding happiness or comfort within a sad context.
Do my theories make sense to anyone else?