Quick Tips

How To Play Easy I-IV-V Piano Chords

By Hoffman Academy Team
I IV V chords

Are you interested in playing easy piano chord progressions? There are thousands of pop, blues, and rock songs that you can play using the following chords: I – IV – V, so this is a really great progression to start with! In this article, we will learn how to begin playing music with this chord progression.

What does I – IV – V mean in music?

In music, we use Roman numerals as symbols to indicate the chords that we are playing. We know that within an octave scale, there are eight notes. Seven of these are different notes, but the octave scale will begin and end with the same note. Let’s use C major as an example: C – D – E – F – G – A – B – (C). Each scale degree, or note, will be assigned a Roman numeral. Capital Roman numerals indicate that the chord built on-top of that note will be major and lowercase Roman numerals indicate a minor or diminished chord (for the seventh scale degree). For example: C = I, D = ii, E = iii, F = IV, G = V, and A = vi. B (viio) is a diminished chord, but we don’t need to worry about that chord today. 

In C major, I – IV – V means that we will be playing the following chords: C major, F major, and G major. Let’s take a look at one of the easiest ways to play these chords on piano in the key of C.

Chords & Inversions

I’m defining “easiest” as the way that requires you to move your hand the least. In order to keep the notes close together, we’re going to use chord inversions. This means that for some of these chords, we’ll be playing the notes in an order that might be new to you.

What is a One (I) Chord on the Piano?

Let’s start with a C major triad. This is our One (I) Chord. On the right hand, you have C with the thumb, E with the middle finger and G with the pinky. If you are familiar with solfege, another way to think about this chord is to play DO – MI – SO in C major all at the same time!

What is a Four (IV) Chord on the Piano?

Next, we’ll transition to our Four (IV), or F major chord. Keeping your thumb on C, move both your middle finger and your pinky up one white key. You’ll end up with your middle finger on F and your pinky on A. In C major solfege, this would be DO – FA – LA. Once you know the move, practice the transition back and forth between I and IV.

What is a Five (V) Chord on the Piano?

Let’s look at the transition from our Four (IV) chord to our Five (V), or G major chord. Take the chord shape that you already have and move each of your fingers (thumb, middle, and pinky) up a whole step (or one white key). You’ll end up with your thumb on D, your middle finger on G, and your pinky on B. In C major solfege, this is RE – SO – TI. That’s the G chord, our V! Once you’ve found the G chord, practice moving between IV and V. When you’re feeling comfortable with each shape, try moving through the progression using whole notes (4 beats each): C Major (I), F Major (IV), G Major (V), and back to C Major (I).

I – IV – V With the Left Hand

And what about the left hand? I like to start with root notes on the left hand (the notes that give the chords their names). You can play this progression without moving your left hand at all. Put your left thumb on C. Your pinky is going to fall on F, and your ring finger is on the note G. Practice with whole notes first, C, F, G, and back to C.

Playing Piano With Both Hands

After you’ve practiced each hand separately, match your left hand root notes to your right hand chords. Again, start with whole notes: C Major, F Major, G Major, and back to C Major. 

The I – IV – V Chord Progression in Various Keys

C major isn’t the only key that you can play the I – IV – V progression in, of course. You can transpose this to other keys as well! Another popular key might be D major, in which the chords would be D major (I), G major (IV), and A major (V). Or, you might be interested in playing in G major, in which the chords would be G major (I), C major (IV), and D major (V). No matter the key, if you know that scale, you can use the steps mentioned above to figure out and play this fun chord progression! 

Why is the I – IV – V chord progression so popular?

The I – IV – V chord progression is so popular because the chords are easy to learn and they sound really good together! Popular songs that use this progression include: “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”, “Twist and Shout”, and “Fortunate Son”, among many others. 

As always, take your time, be patient, and have fun practicing! 

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