54. I-IV-V Examples


A basic working knowledge of diatonic harmony will assist you greatly in a number of ways. The best and simplest method to start recognizing chord progressions is to first look closely at I, IV, V.  Soon you will become adept at identifying more complex progressions on your own, a valuable skill. You will gain the ability to do the following:


  1. You will be able hear and fix errors in transcriptions.

  2. You will be able to focus on what is most important for learn first from a seemingly inexhaustible and baffling amount of information.

  3. You will be able to learn and remember songs much more quickly.

  4. You will gain a better understanding of the use of chord progressions in songwriting, which is invaluable–whether or not you eventually decide to write your own.

  5. You will begin to understand how to improvise, using scales.


Let’s begin with several very simple songs that are well known and are written entirely with I, IV, and V. Remember, this is the most popular progression of all, regardless of the order. Usually a song will begin and end on I, the tonic chord of the key, and the general movement of the song will be from I to IV or V and back to one repeatedly– even if IV and V go back and forth between each other, they will almost always eventually return to I.

Wild Thing (The Troggs)                                             A     D     E      D    etc.


You Shook me All Night Long (AC/DC)   Intro:    G   D   G   D

Verse:   G C G C D G D G

Chorus: G  C  D  C


Mr. Tambourine Man (Bob Dylan)   Intro:  F

Chorus: Bb C  F  Bb  F  Bb  C

Bb C F  Bb  F  Bb   C  F

Verses:   Bb C  F  Bb F  Bb  F  Bb  F  Bb C

(It is worth noting at this point that Mr. Tambourine Man features a good example of the use of a capo to keep a song in a guitar-friendly chord shape (D) when playing in a less guitar-friendly key (F). If you are not familiar, a capo is a device used to raise the pitch of all six strings at the fret of one’s choosing. It essentially moves the nut temporarily. The placement of the capo at the 3rd fret maintains the key of F but has the chord shapes of D, G and A True, Dylan could have just played the song in D, but usually the choice of when and at what fret to use the capo is a matter of favorable chord shape, tonality, preferred singing key, or a combination).


Other famous I-IV-V examples include Glory Days (Bruce Springsteen), Walk of Life (Dire Straits), Stir it up (Bob Marley), Love Me Do (Beatles), Free Fallin’ (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), and countless more.

©2012 Jim Greenfield