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Chord Progressions - The I-vi-ii-V progression, part 1

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Previous page: Chord Progressions - The ii-chord (supertonic) Next page: Chord Progressions - The I-vi-ii-V progression - part 2

The I-vi-ii-V7- progression, C-Am-Dm-G7-C if you play in the key of C, is just a slight variation of the 50's cliche I-vi-IV-V7-I, and they are in fact both 50's cliches. But they are still alive. One could stop there, and you could ask why I did not say that in the previous lesson. We will look more into the differences and similarities between the two progressions. But first you should listen for the differences. This tracks are not the most exiting music you can listen to. But they are some kind of a "work-out" that will help you get musically fit.

Backing Track
Listen to these tracks to hear the difference between I-vi-IV-V and I-vi-ii-V. You will hear I-vi-IV-V, then I-vi-ii-V, back to I-vi-IV-V, etc. I have applied different styles to each key, to illustrate how it sounds with different instruments and musical styles.
C D Eb E F G A Bb

You might find it a bit hard to identify the two changes. You should be able to tell that there is a difference, but it might not be easy to which progression it is. The only cure is to listen over and over again, until you get it.

But before we move on, you should learn some basic fingerings for this progression too. Again we can start in the key of C, with open chords.

C Am Dm G7 C

And as usual, G sounds well with open chords too. The chords will then be G-Em-Am-D7-G. Listen to Bruce Springsteen's Hungry Heart for an example of this progression in the key of G. Note the fingering of the G-chord.

G Em Am D7 G

To demonstrate the harmonic relations between the chords, we can again start with some horizontal playing with the same chord voicings. We will use the "F-shape", "Fm-shape" and "F7-shape" barré chords, but there still are some variations. The I-vi-ii-V7 progression does not work very well played horizontally, because there is so much jumping up and down the fingerboard. But we will never the less give it a try. And we will do it in four different keys. I assume the you by now know the "F-shape", "Fm-shape" and "F7-shape" barré chords, and that it is no longer necessary to give the diagrams. If not, you have to review the "50's cliche, I-vi-IV-V progression, part 1" lesson. I will now just give you a table telling the chords and the frets.

Key I: F-shape vi: Fm-shape ii: Fm-shape V7: F7-shape
F F:1th Dm: 10th Gm: 3rd C7: 8th
Eb Eb: 11th Cm: 8th Fm: 1st Bb7: 6th
Bb Bb: 6th Gm: 3rd Cm: 8th F7: 1st
Ab Ab: 4th Fm: 1st Bbm: 6th Eb7: 11th

A similar table, with horizontal playing based on the "Bb-shape", "Bbm-shape" and "Bb7-shape" i four different keys, will be:

Key I: Bb-shape vi: Bbm-shape ii: Bbm-shape V7: Bb7-shape
Bb Bb: 1st Gm: 10th Cm: 3rd F7: 8th
Ab Ab: 11th Fm: 8th Bb: 1st Eb7: 6th
Eb Eb: 6th Cm: 3rd Fm: 8th Bb7: 1st
Db Db: 4th Bbm: 1st Ebm: 6th Ab7: 11th

With combination of horizontal and vertical movements, and the "F-shape family" and "Bb-shape family" chords, it all works much better. Once again I will only give you a table with selected keys.

Key I vi ii V7
F F: F-shp, 1st Dm: Bbm-shp, 5th Gm: Fm-shp, 3rd C7: Bb7-shp, 3rd
F F: Bb-shp, 8th Dm: Bbm-shp, 5th Gm: Fm-shp, 3rd C7: Bb7-shp, 3rd, or
F7-shp, 8th
D D: Bb-shp, 5th Bm: Bbm-shp, 2nd Em: Bbm-shp, 7th A7: F7-shp, 5th
Bb Bb: F-shp, 6th Gm: Fm-shp, 3rd Cm: Bbm-shp, 3rd F7: F7-shp, 1st, or
Bb7-shp, 8th

Also for the I-vi-ii-V7 progression, we will look at some closed chord movements in part 2.

 

 

My experience is that it is rather easy to identify a chord progression as being one of the two. But it is not always easy to decide if it is the one or the other. Again, if you play with open, clear ringing full chords, it is not difficult to hear the difference if you compare. But if you play more subtle changes, like we did in the previous lesson, it is harder.

I have found that the best method is to listen for that crucial note: Both an F-chord and a Dm-chord has the notes F and A, so they will not help you in determine what kind of chord it is. But The F has a C, and the Dm has a D. That means: Listen for Cs and Ds. If you hear a C or two, and no Ds, it is an F-chord. If you hear Ds, but no Cs, then it is a Dm. Play and listen to the following sequence of notes and chords, and identify the F and Dm chords. You should of course know the chords when you see them and play them. But try to identify them by ear too.

Then you might ask: What if I hear both a C and a D? Sometimes it is really not possible to tell the difference. If we still are in the key of C, the IV-chord is an F, with the notes F-A-C, and the ii is a Dm, with the notes D-F-A. They have two notes in common. If we extend the F-chord to a F6 chord, we add the sixth to the chord, which is D. This gives os F-A-C-D. And if we extend the Dm to a Dm7, it will have the notes D-F-A-C. If you the play a chord with the notes C-F-A-D, is it an inversion of F6 or an inversion of Dm7? It is not possible to tell the difference. In such situation, the context may tell you what kind of chord it is. But here the IV and ii both fit the progression.

If you have F, A and C in the bass, and D is just a passing note in the melody, then it will be an F-chord. And if you have D, F and A, with the melody passing on a C, it will be Dm.

Vertical movements

In the 50's cliche lesson, all the examples showed subtle horizontal movements (movements up and down the fingerboard). This time we will look at some vertical movements, which means movements across strings.

xxxxx

Circling in inversions

In the 50's cliche lesson, all examples ended on the tonic chord in the same inversion as we started from. But you may also end on the same chord in another inversion, and then start a new round of the same chords, but in another inversion.

xxxxx

Click here for a list of songs with the I-vi-ii-V progression

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Previous page: Chord Progressions - The ii-chord (supertonic) Next page: Chord Progressions - The I-vi-ii-V progression - part 2