vi-IV-I-V (chord progression)

I find this chord progression very stirring in a dramatic piece. What songs or pieces have it? I have a hunch it’s pretty common. I believe there’s a piece in the documentary “Invisible Children” that uses this for dramatic effect…I also have a strong recollection that the progression shows up as a theme in Shore’s Lord of the Rings score (am I right on this?) It also is the verse to Eagle Eye Cherry’s “Save Tonight” and the chorus to Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” (eat your heart out, Shore :rolleyes: ) So let’s collect.

Sorry that I can’t think of a good example (though the chorus of Cows with Guns is close, I think), but I’d like to understand why it’s stirring.

I have a theory, but I’d love it if someone who is better trained in music theory can confirm or deny. It looks to me like this is as close as you can get to a four chord progression in a single key that rises by fifths. The IV-I-V part does this, clearly. If we go backwards by a fifth from the IV, we end up with a chord that’s out of the key, but with root note only a semitone above the root of the minor sixth of the key (and the minor sixth is good because the notes of its scale are the same as those of the original major key). So you just drop back a little bit, and you’re on a chord that sounds “good” with the I chord, and that rises approximately a fifth to the next chord (IV), and then another fifth, and another. So, your ear hears this as a constantly rising progression. Plus, you start on a minor (“sad”) chord and immediately jump to a major (“happy”) chord, which seems like it would add to the emotional lift.

I am a novice guitar player, so I only have a very basic understanding of this stuff, but does that seem about right?


I just played it on my guitar, and Sarah McLachlan’s “Building a Mystery” comes to mind.

the vi is very similar to the I in notes and harmonic function, if you play a I IV I V you will have a very similar sound, a vi7 has exactly the same notes as a I6 (C6= Am7). If you think of it as substituting the vi for the I you will see it all over the place. Plus the root of the vi is a cord tone of the IV so it seems to anticpate the cord.

I V ii vi progresses in fifths. So does i v iidim VI. (I might note that both btw are pleasing to the (or at least my) ear.)

Anyway, I don’t think there’s any standard doctrines as to how the relationships between chords in a progression contribute to the progression’s “feel,” so I don’t think anyone’s going to be able to say whether you’re right or wrong here.

I would say you’re wrong, because I don’t see why my aesthetic experience of a progression would be determined by factors you are talking about here. But my saying you’re wrong is just a speculation on par with yours, so you should ignore me.


vi IV I V and I IV I V don’t seem to me to have sounds I would call “similar.” They’ve got very different feels.

Do others musical intuitions match outlierrn’s here?

I think the relationship of the third chord to the first chord in these two cases makes all the difference between them–and its a lot of difference.


Another one is the chorus of “Listen to Your Heart” by Roxette, although I guess that song is actually in a minor key (i.e. the vi is the root chord), as is the Sarah McLachlan song come to think of it. Same chord progression though, e.g. Am-F-C-G.

I’m doing this from memory, and I’ve never tried to play it myself, but does the verse chord progression for “Wonderwall”, by Oasis, follow this structure? I’m guessing there are some 4ths thrown in, but the root’s the same.

Sorry, but if you watch the Star Wars films in that order, they’ll make no sense at all.

The songs I’m coming up with are getting increasingly lame, but there’s also the chorus of “Alone” by Heart (“Till now, I always got by…”).

I don’t think “Wonderwall” works. It’s Em-G-D-A with a few 7ths and sus4s thrown in.


Yep, you’re right. It must be in D, and the D and G would have to be reversed for it to work.

I don’t like that song anyway.

Julie Miller’s “I Know Why The River Runs”

TheCranberries’ “Zombie” has that chord pattern for the whole song (same with Tracy Chapman’s “Telling Stories”, IIRC):

The song I haven’t been able to get out of my head since I read this thread is the Smashing Pumpkins song with the lyric “The killer in me is the killer in you.”

It starts out with this progression.


Yup, “Disarm”
Em7 Cadd9 G Dsus/F#

Quick question: How does VI correspond to a chord? Is there a chart some where I’m missing?

Harmonic Scale:

C Dm Em Fmaj Gmaj Am Bdim (flat 7 flat 5) C

If I’m in the key of a natural minor, then the VI chord is F major.

It’s been several years since I messed with music, esp. music theory, so to make sure I’m not using the wrong terminology:

By “a natural minor” I mean to refer to the key the scale of which consists of the following notes: A, B, C, D, E, F, G

By a “VI” chord I mean the major chord whose “first” note is the sixth note of the scale of the key I am playing in.

By the "first"note of a chord, I mean, for example, C in CEG, D in DF#A, B in BDF, G in GG#C#, and so on. Once you start letting wierd chords like that last one in, the notion of a “first” note becomes a bit fuzzy. But hopefully you see what I’m trying to mean here.

What’s the techincal term I’m after with this “first” talk? Is it just the “tonic” of the chord? Or does “tonic” only apply to a particular note in a scale? Gah! I can’t remember!


Wrong again, it’d have to be a Bm, not an Em… :smack:

I’m just going to go in a corner and cry now.

I wonder if anyone is familiar with the song “Happy Colored Marbles” by Ween? I’m not a musician, but I used to play guitar when I was younger and learned a little bit about chord progressions. I wonder if anybody has any idea what the chord progression is in that song (esp. the part that goes “happy colored marbles that are rolling in my head…”.

There’s something about it that tickles the music-appreciation centre in my brain just the right way. And I’m sure I’ve heard the same thing in other songs, but when I’m listening to it I can’t think of what other songs sound the same.

I’m not sure about the legality of posting a link to an mp3 here, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find if anyone has the inclination to help me out.

Sorry to hijack.

This is correct. I believe the “technical term” you’re looking for is “Root” which is the Tonic.