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View Full Version : I-IV-V, and the circle of fifths.



Rllink
03-28-2016, 10:14 AM
I have studied the circle of fifths half to death, figuring that memorizing each little pie segment would help me in some way to understand music. I have a dozen renditions of the circle of fifths bookmarked or printed out, even one with a woolly mammoth that seems to be more detailed than the rest. And then there is the good old I-IV-V, which appears to me to be the circle of fifth in a linear form. I don't know, but I've been assured by more than a few, that knowing I-IV-V in every key is the key to success. But I am struggling with both of them, and it occurs to me that once you get past those first grade songs that we all love and cherish, the circle of fifths just doesn't seem to be working much of the time.

For an example, a song that I really like to sing and play, Sitting on the Dock of the Bay. So the chord progression for the song as I play it goes like this; C-E7-F-D-C-E7-F-D. What key is that even? If it is the key of C, then it is going I-III-IV-II-I-III-IV-II. You know, that isn't even a hard song to play, if you don't try to use the circle of fifths or roman numerals to figure it out. So then we go to the chorus. Pretty simple; C-A-C-A-C-D-C-A. Is that the key of C? If it is, it is going I-VI-I-VI-I-II-I-VI. But maybe I don't know what key it is in. So many people tell me that the last chord of the chorus is always the key. It resolves the chorus I'm told. So maybe it is in the key of A. But it still isn't going to fit the equation.

So is this an exception or do I not understand, because I run into a lot of this lately? So as I said, I am struggling with this whole thing.

bacchettadavid
03-28-2016, 10:51 AM
I-IV-V being "the key to success" is a gross simplification. Not every melodic line is good fit for diatonic harmonization.

C-E7-F is a I-III7-IV progression. I-III7-IV progressions are fairly common in blues (think the opening of "Once I Lived the Life of a Millionaire") and work by virtue of voice leading. The fifth of the C chord (G) is raised a half-step to become the 3rd of the E7 chord (G#), then the 3rd of the F chord (A)...half-step movements(particularly in the 3rds of chords) sound satisfying.

There are several ways to look at the inclusion of a D chord...here's one: the A transforms from the 3rd of the F chord to the 5th of the D chord, but root of the F gets raised to the 3rd of the D chord (F#), then the whole thing resolves when it is raised yet again to the 5th of the C chord. It's a pretty snazzy trick.

Got to love Redding!

DownUpDave
03-28-2016, 01:58 PM
Bless your heart Rllink, that is one big ass can of worms you are attempting to open. I am musically stunned so all of this is Greek to me but I respect the fact you have jumped in the deep end.

My brother in law in an excellent guitar player and has been in bands for over 40 years. I just found out he can't read music but has written and recorded dozens of songs. I am desperately hanging onto that bit of knowledge in hopes it will work for me :p

pointpergame
03-28-2016, 07:21 PM
For a wonderful and coherent explanation, see if you can beg, borrow, or steal Bob Brozman's ukulele toolbox 1. His explanation is elegant and beautiful and it only takes about 60 seconds.

ZappCatt
03-28-2016, 07:39 PM
I know nothing about music, but as a newb, it seems like this stuff, and further in depth music theory helps people compose songs, or try to figure out what chord they could use to transpose a song to Ukulele. Even the nice description of how the chords could go together was like reading Greek.

I do not feel that knowing a particular song is an I II7, IV helps me fret them if I do not know the chords. If I know the chords...i just follow the progression for the song.

And I have enough trouble with that, so I will just keep practicing music and being amazed that someone else was smart enough to figure it out for me to enjoy.

Nickie
03-28-2016, 08:19 PM
I hear ya. I have my 2nd Music Theory class tomorrow. Thank goddess there's a piano nearby, or I wouldn't understand diddly squat. I get it in little tiny bits and pieces as she teaches. Keep at it, don't overwhelm yourself, and one day, a light bulb will go off, and stuff will start coming clear.
At least that's what I keep telling myself......

bacchettadavid
03-29-2016, 04:39 AM
I might have to stick my foot in my mouth! :uhoh:

Seriously though, you don't really *need* theory. It doesn't tell you what you should so. It just gives you a way to explain music and a framework for analyzing its structure. Once you know something like I-III7-IV exists, you're more apt to recognize it when you hear it and to use it when appropriate.

Know that the I-III7-IV (C-E7-F) progression is common in blues, learn it in a few other keys (perhaps G, D, A, and E) to really get it under your fingers, and call it a day.

Rllink
03-29-2016, 05:13 AM
I think my frustration stems from the fact that I know musicians who can just pick up a song. I mean that if they have never heard the song before, but if you sing it to them, they can pick it up and play along. I have a friend in particular right now who can do that. "Hey, lets play Pretty Woman." "I don't know it, sing a verse." I want to be able to do that, and in fact, on occasion, I can. But not consistently. So I have been looking to music theory to learn how to do it, and I don't think that I'm going to find it there. That is what prompted the thread. Perhaps just learning as many chord progressions as I can, and becoming really proficient with them is a better route than trying to understand them.

keod
03-29-2016, 06:33 AM
I hear ya. I have my 2nd Music Theory class tomorrow. Thank goddess there's a piano nearby, or I wouldn't understand diddly squat. I get it in little tiny bits and pieces as she teaches. Keep at it, don't overwhelm yourself, and one day, a light bulb will go off, and stuff will start coming clear.
At least that's what I keep telling myself......

I hear ya LOL. I really struggled with the circle of fifths. I even printed off Ian Chadwicks excellent chord wheel http://ianchadwick.com/blog/revised-chord-wheel/ and tried unsuccessfully to clue in with Uncle Rod's transposing chart.
What helped me was to actually write out the chord progressions for each key- then it seemed to click how I could transpose common chord progressions to alternate keys or at least understand that people meant play C F G when they said "do a I IV V progression in the key of C" and if they switched the key to G, for example, I just had to play G C and D chords. If they use upper case roman numerals where I have lower case, I just drop the "m" eg II7 in the key of C is just D7 chord . Not sure if this might help but.....for what it's worth

89785.

Uncle Rod Higuchi
03-29-2016, 07:15 AM
Rllink, the more you try to work out chords for the songs you love to sing and play,
the more familiar the sounds of the chords you use will become to you. Then, when
confronted with a new melody, you will reach into your musical memory and try to
locate the sounds/chords that seem (to you) to make up that musical sequence/
progression... it will be trial and error, as most things are.

You'll write it down, play it, hear something you might have missed, then make changes
and corrections. It's a process.

Those who can do that error-free the first time, ... well, they are gifted, compared to
you and me. We should enjoy their skill, but not be too hard on ourselves. Some people
are gifted musically, that's the way humans are. Others are gifted in different areas.
no worries, each of us is unique... like everybody else! :)

Anyway, I guess I'm saying, work on figuring out chords to many, many songs. Whether
there's a general pattern (like I, IV, V) or not, no worries, just keep working at it. It will
become easier and easier as time and familiarity goes by. And before you know it, others
will be telling you they wish they could just listen to a song and figure out the chords.

Then you can tell them they CAN, by simply working at it like you did :)

keep uke'in',

seattle
03-29-2016, 07:39 AM
I first learned of the circle of fifths as a way to remember what notes are in what keys as far a figuring out when the sharps and flats are used. It's very good for that.

That's about all I use it for.

I think it's useful to know the I IV V chords for the most commonly used keys as well as know the minor chords for those keys.

This helps (me) to remember the chords in songs I've learned sometime in the past. If I can remember the key or how the song starts it's much easier to remember the rest knowing the key.

It's also helpful for picking out a new song. Figure out the key and it's much faster to pick out the song.

I'm interested in music theory but I've only learned what was helpful to me. Much of it is.

pointpergame
03-29-2016, 08:00 AM
I have to agree with Uncle. The only way to be able to do this is to do it a lot. It will come. What worked for me was to play along with the radio. Here in silicon valley we have two fantastic college stations, foothill and stanford, plus KKUP plus all day Sunday for KPFA. They have several bluegrass / country / etc. shows. When I was working I took a long lunch twice a week, sat on a bench downtown, and played along with a radio ( wearing open air ear plugs ). Now I sling a mandolin or a uke around my neck and walk around the house, playing along at will. Sort of like three long jams a week. This doesn't work very well for me with big band, jazz (too exotic ), and old timey music (too familiar and old-fashioned ). But I pick my battles.

If you haven't heard this, here's a generalization. Almost every song you hear will PEAK at the V-7 chord and resolve to the I. And, BTW, that's why you regard chords with their numbers on the scale. It's simply imperative that you know what the I, IV, and V7 chords are in every key you're going to play in. With newer music these usually aren't enough, so it's then good to know the relative minor --- by heart.
But back to the V-7. It's very, VERY often going to be the penultimate chord in a verse. The next to last. The last chord is almost always going to be the root. The I chord. The Key of the song. So, there you go. Two of the chords nailed already. Of course, the V-7 will is likely to appear elsewhere in the song. So, teach your self that sound of the last few notes of the song. That's the V-7 to I resolution. Then listen for that V-7 tension elsewhere when a chord changes. If it's a simple song and it isn't the V-7, then it's the IV chord.

Try out this idea ( is it a V-7 or a IV chord ? ) on songs you know and easy going songs and you will then have done a few training laps. From there it's just faster, unexpected, or crazy and you'll even get good at figuring that out. Practice, practice.

In the French language, the spoken and the written are quite different. It's similar with music; playing and understanding music on the fly is different from talking about it and understanding it with words.

acmespaceship
03-29-2016, 11:44 AM
I think my frustration stems from the fact that I know musicians who can just pick up a song. I mean that if they have never heard the song before, but if you sing it to them, they can pick it up and play along. I have a friend in particular right now who can do that. "Hey, lets play Pretty Woman." "I don't know it, sing a verse." I want to be able to do that, and in fact, on occasion, I can. But not consistently. So I have been looking to music theory to learn how to do it, and I don't think that I'm going to find it there. That is what prompted the thread. Perhaps just learning as many chord progressions as I can, and becoming really proficient with them is a better route than trying to understand them.
"Pretty Woman" is a good example. If you tell me you're going to play "Pretty Woman" in the key of C, there are assumptions I can make. I know the root chord (I) is C-major, dominant (V7) is G7 and subdominant (IV) is F. The song is also very likely to use A-minor (vi) and maybe D-minor (ii) and E-minor (iii).

If you play enough songs with the common chord progressions, you'll start to recognize them when you hear them. If you play a lot of early rock and country, you might recognize the verses of "Pretty Woman" as a variant of the I-vi-IV-V7 progression. C-Am-C-Am-F-G7. Once you notice that, the verses are gravy.

What makes this song a good example is once you get to the "pretty woman stop a while" part (chorus? bridge?) Roy Orbison throws a curve and uses chords that don't usually show up in this key. iv-VII-III-i. Fm-Bb-Eb-Cm. What on earth is that? Did he change the key? This is where theory fails me -- either because I don't know enough theory or because composers don't always do what theory says. Probably both.

You're back on familiar territory at "cause I need you, I'll treat you right" and the same four chords from the verses will get you through to the end. The very end of the song is a textbook example of what pointpergame said about tension and resolution. Hold that G7 chord on "wait, what do I see... is she walking back to me..." and don't resolve it until the very last two syllables: "pretty [C] woman!"

So what I'm saying is, theory won't solve every chord in every song but it's a place to start. It lets you make informed guesses about what chords to play, and when. It also helps with memorization. If you're learning "Pretty Woman" it will take you 30 seconds to memorize the chords for the verses, leaving you more time to work on the chorus.

I think some people can do this entirely by ear, and some purely by theory, but most of us can use a little of both.

Ukejenny
03-29-2016, 12:31 PM
If you are able to do it a little bit now, you will be able to do it a lot later. A lot of this is training the ear to recognize where you are and where you are going. The more you do it, the better you get and the easier it gets. You'll get there. It is a slow process. Some people have much better natural ears than others, and they can progress faster.

We did all this theory in college - learned all the rules of harmony and counterpoint, all the no-no's for part writing. Then, the same professor, who had perfect pitch, could play piano famously, and could compose and arrange on the spot - that professor took us through breaking almost all of them.

YorkSteve
03-29-2016, 10:08 PM
Not sure if you are over-complicating things a bit, but the way I see it, the circle of fifths won't tell you how to play Dock of The Bay. The chords on the page tell you that.

What the circle of fifths WILL tell you is how groups of chords generally fit together - so if a song starts on C, it quite often goes to Am or F, then at some point it goes to G or G7, and then back to C. And you might get Dm or Em in there too. But Dock of The Bay doesn't fit that pattern, and forcing it won't help.

For songs that do fit the pattern, the circle of fifths is a quick way to transpose them to a new key, but so is a strip of paper with A Bb B...F# G G# written out in a line.

In summary - play what you like, like what you play, and don't overdo the theory.

Tigershark
03-30-2016, 11:51 AM
I have found a lot more practical use (and learning value) in the Nashville Numbering System. It helps you understands the chords within a key and gives you a way to understand song structure. It's a great tool for your own songwriting, and for quickly learning a song and sharing it with others.

Pueo
03-30-2016, 02:30 PM
Here goes...
When I was a lad I could read music. I was too young (I think) to really grasp the theory of 3rds and 5ths and triads etc. but I understood about intervals and whole and half steps, and how key signatures changed the sharps and flats on the staff and WHY they did.

If you take the natural scale - do re mi fa so la ti (do) the actual notes don't matter yet, it is the intervals. Whole step (two frets), whole step, half step (one fret), whole step, whole step, whole step, half step. That is an octave.
on a piano, starting at C, you can do those steps using only the adjacent white keys. No sharps or flats.

So on sheet music, the key of C has no sharps or flats.

Now, if you transpose to another key, the INTERVAL between the notes needs to stay the same, but now the names of the notes will change. Fine.
Since B to C and E to F are only a half step and all the others are a whole step, you will need to play some sharps or flats to get those same intervals if you start the scale on a note other than C.

The KEY to "unlocking" which notes are sharp or flat is the key signature on the staff. That was how it was explained to me of why it is called the key, it unlocks the sharps and flats.

So the circle is a great tool for transposing, and IF you can wrap your brain around C being I, D being II etc. and then we transpose from C to another key and those are you new chords, great.

I can't yet, so I am kind of where you are. I understand WHY it happens but in practice I just can't do it. Yet.

For me what blows me away is I go listen to a lot of live Hawaiian music. Most of the songs are structurally pretty simple, just a few chords. But they will be playing a song and then someone says "upstairs" and then they all just jump up a key and everyone immediately knows which key to go to and which chords to change to. Sigh. Someday!

So what key is a song in? Generally the first chord or the "main" chord is going to be what key the song is in, but the main reason for changing the key of a song is to get the vocal line into a comfortable range for the singer. You can generally play any song in whatever key you like, because it is the intervals between the notes that are important, more important than the notes themselves.

JMort847
03-30-2016, 03:56 PM
Basically... 89820

Hammond
03-30-2016, 04:45 PM
Not sure if you are over-complicating things a bit, but the way I see it, the circle of fifths won't tell you how to play Dock of The Bay. The chords on the page tell you that.

What the circle of fifths WILL tell you is how groups of chords generally fit together - so if a song starts on C, it quite often goes to Am or F, then at some point it goes to G or G7, and then back to C. And you might get Dm or Em in there too. But Dock of The Bay doesn't fit that pattern, and forcing it won't help.

For songs that do fit the pattern, the circle of fifths is a quick way to transpose them to a new key, but so is a strip of paper with A Bb B...F# G G# written out in a line.

In summary - play what you like, like what you play, and don't overdo the theory.

I agree do not overdo the theory, at least don't do it when you feel "too hard" to understand it. Later at some point it will come easier.

I remember what Jake said is his musical journey was kind of "reversed". He learned playing before he formally study theory at school.

Also look at Tommy Emmanuel (I see him as the same kind of natural genius as Jake, even some of Jake's style are similar with his), I was inspired by his TED talk and performances.

The circle of fifths is like a map for houses, it may not be able to guide your way in apartment buildings, or shopping malls. This is where we easily get confused.

Without the box (theory), maybe it is easier to creatively thinking out of it.