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Chord Progressions - The Double Message of the I-IV change

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I have called this lesson The double message of the I-IV change, and the reason is that it could also be labeled a V-I change in the subdominant key. If we play C-F in the key of C, it will be a I-IV change. But if we play the same chords in the key of F, they will be a V-I change in this key. The V-I change is a stronger harmonic device than the I-IV change, as is explained in the lessons on the Authentic cadence and on the Dominant 7th chord in the Theory series. What might happen is that the V-I effect will get the upper hand, and knock you out of key. You might end up with a modulation to the subdominant key without really noticing. This is particularly likely if we play I7-IV instead of I-IV. When improvising over this change, it might be difficult to "find the way home", because you have ended in another key without really noticing. In the backing tracks, I have tossed in a few I7 and IV7 chords. Try to identify them, and note the effect.

If we change key to the subdominant key (the IV-key), one interesting aspect of the I-IV change become clear. The I chord of the root key becomes the V of the IV key. In the key of C, the IV chord is F. And in the key of F, the C chord is the V chord. To make it a little easier to follow, we will stay with the key of C as the root (tonic) key. The change from C to F will then be a I-IV change in the key of C. But it might also be a V-I change in the key of F. This means that you can modulate from the key of C to the key of F with these two chords. As said in the V7-I lesson, the V7-I change makes a stronger harmonic statement than the V-I change. So if we really want to change to the IV key, then we might prefer a sequence of I-I7-IV, which equals V-V7-I in the IV key. Listen to the difference between just C - F and C - C7 - F. In the latter example, the C7 creates a tension that is resolved when you play the F chord, and by that you have changed (modulated) to the key of F.

If you play a 12 bar blues, you will often change from I to I7 chord in the 4th bar, before changing to the IV7 chord in bar 5. By the change to I7, you start on a modulation to the IV key. But since you usually will play a IV7 chord, and not the IV chord, the IV key is not really established as a new key. And as I will say many times in these lessons: The harmonic uncertainty, or ambiguity of the blues is one of the elements that makes it so fascinating. Sometimes when improvising, I change key from the I to IV when playing over the IV chord in a blues progression. If I play I blues in A, I might change to the D blues scale over the D7 chords. It works well. But sometimes I do it subconsciously, without realizing what is happening. And then I might get lost, not finding the way back to the tonic key (A) in bar 7. I guess I am not the only one who has been running into this kind of trouble.

Many songs has the structure of verse - verse - bridge - verse, and will often modulate to the IV key in the bridge part. An easy way to facilitate this modulation, is by playing the I7 chord just before the bridge part starts. When returning to the tonic key, you have to make a I - V modulation (C is the dominant or V key to the key of F). You might play C (instead of C7), G7 and then back to C, and the key of C is reestablished. You might also use a sequence with more chords, but we will come back to that when we look more into modulation.

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