If you want to groove, but don’t know where to start, look no further. The I-IV-V progression is one of the most common chord progressions in music.
In fact, if you have ever listened to pop or to the blues, chances are you have heard this progression at work.
Before we get into the meat of the progression though, let’s take a look at the basic element of it. First off, what does I-IV-V even mean? The Roman numerals refer to things called scale degrees.
A scale degree is simply a fancy term for the number of a note within a given key. Take for example the key of C Major. The first note in the key of C Major is C. This note is the tonic of C Major. The fourth note in the key of C Major is F, which is the subdominant. The fifth note within the key of C Major is G, which is the dominant. The first, fourth, and fifth scale degrees within a Major scale are all Major, and because of this, the I-IV-V progression has an extremely uplifting and powerful feel.
If you don’t understand chord structures, that’s okay. Most every chord in music is built off of a triad, which consists of a root, a fifth, and a third. Triads are the most basic chords in modern music, and because our I-IV-V progression is completely major, we can follow a single rule. Read this article if you are interested in an indepth look on creating bass guitar triads.
A Major triad is built of a Major third (four half steps) with a minor third (three half steps) on top. Using this strategy, let’s create our three basic triads for our I-IV-V progression in the key of C Major.
Our tonic triad, we already know, is going to be built off of our tonic, C. Moving a Major third from C, we come to the note E (C#, D, D#, E.) Moving a further minor third will bring us the note G (F, F#, G.) This means our C Major tonic triad consists of the notes C, E, and G.
For our subdominant triad, we need to start on the subdominant of C Major, which is F. If we move up a Major third, we are brought to the note A (F#, G, G#, A.) Moving a minor third from A will bring us to C (A#, B, C.)
Finally, for our dominant triad, we know we will need to build off of our C Major dominant note, which is G. Moving a Major third from G brings us to the note B (G#, A, A#, B.) Moving a minor third from B will give us the note D (C, C#, D.)
This means our basic C Major triad I-IV-V progression will contain the notes C, F, and G, and each notes respective triad will look as follows:
Tonic – I
C, E, G
Subdominant – IV
F, A, C
Dominant – V
G, B, D
Using what we just learned, we can now easily play a basic I-IV-V progression on bass. Once you have mastered this simple I-IV-V progression, try deriving your own from each of the major keys!
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