Why you should learn the I-IV-V chord progression | Easy Ear Training

Once you’ve decided that you want to learn to play by ear, you’re going to be spending quite a bit of time at your instrument, be it keyboard, guitar, or even the tubax… Maybe there’s a particular song you’ve always wanted to learn, and that’s the very reason you started to play music to begin with.

Allow me to let you in on a little secret:

There’s a formula in most pop, alternative, indie, country, hymns, gospel, blues, rock, reggae, insert-genre-of-your-choosing-here.

Once you know the formula you’ll be able to play hundreds — literally hundreds — of songs.

I-IV-V Chord Progressions

(It’s a little bit magical.)

The 3-chord song

We refer to this as a three-chord song, or I-IV-V.

(Not sure about this “roman numeral” notation, IV, etc.? It’s easy! Read up here)

What this means in the simplest of terms is that you play certain chords in a certain progression and voilà! You will have achieved that familiar sound you hear in so much popular music.

Musicians who play by ear should learn the basic three-chord song structures as soon as possible.

Seriously: think of all the songs you’ve been wanting to learn – and the chances are good that most of them fall into some variation of this three-chord structure.

Whether you’re at the keyboard, playing your horn, or picking up your guitar, you can do this.

So, why should you care about I-IV-V?

Here are a few good reasons:

1. It’s easy to find the chords

In the process of sitting down to work out a song, half of the battle is trying to figure out which chords to use.

When you learn I-IV-V, you will realize that half of the battle is over already! You’re halfway to learning a I-IV-V song once you work out which chords to use, and that’s easy to figure out if you know your basic major scale.

From a major scale, you’ll play the first note’s major chord, then the fourth note’s major chord, and finally the fifth note’s major chord.

In the key of C, it would go like this: C major, F major, G major.

Likewise, a three-chord song in the key of F would contain F major, B♭ major, C major as its I-IV-V progression.

2. It’s easy to figure out what to play

…since there are only three possible choices!

It will just be a matter of which chord comes next and how long you need to stay on it. Figuring that out is just a matter of listening.

However, true to its name, the pattern often follows the order:

I, IV, V

3. You’ll learn songs quickly

You might begin to recognize this progression as the dominant sound of the 1950s. For example:

The more music you listen to, the more you’ll realize how modern pop has roots in this ’50s rock-n-roll sound.

Once you start noticing these common chord turnarounds in songs you’ll continue to pick up on them.

Combine your developing ear with the chops you’re establishing, adding to that your new knowledge of the actual I-IV-V chords, and you will start learning songs very quickly.

The key will be to listen to learn the sound of the progression and listen to a variety of tunes. Don’t just learn three-chord songs – learn the 3-chord progression, and all those songs come for free.

More about this here:

4. You will be able to play in any musical genre

Literally, any musical genre.

Take, for example, blues.

Try country.

Some swing tunes fit in with I-IV-V.


Bluegrass… or Punk.

And Funk.

5. You can sit in with bands easily

If you hope to play with a band at some point – maybe make a little side money from your musical efforts, maybe just to impress your friends at the bar — you’ll be able to sit in with a band and jam with a higher level of confidence and ease once you know the I-IV-V pattern.

You can play and vamp along with a called song, and as long as you know what key it’s in you’ll be able to perform.

Whether you want to play tons of songs or just a few here and there, knowing and mastering this simple formula will save you hours of scratching your head in attempting to solve the mystery of modern day popular music. It’s the easiest way to make fast progress in chord progression ear training and learning to play by ear.

So easy it almost feels like cheating… Help yourself out, and start learning the I-IV-V today!

Free Course: Play Chords By Ear!

Did you know that by learning to recognise just a small number of chords you can easily play thousands of popular songs by ear?

Take a short email course which teaches you the “shortcut way” to play chords by ear. It works for any instrument or style of music.

The course is free and you can unsubscribe at any time if you change your mind. Just enter your details below:

Spam-free, guaranteed.

Chord Progressions Ear Training at Musical U Ear Training at Musical U

Explore Chord Progressions Ear Training
at Musical U

Musical U is the all-in-one training website which helps you to become more musical in an easy, fun and personalised way.

→ Learn More

Have a comment about this post? We’d love to hear it!
Come join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Enjoyed this post? Please share it with a friend:

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This