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How To Play Easy Chords on Piano: The I-IV-V Chord Progression

By Hoffman Academy Team
Easy piano chords | I IV V chord progressions | chords for piano that sound good together.

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 on piano: I – IV – V, so this is a really great chord progression to start with! In this article, we will learn how to begin playing music with this piano chord progression. 

Want a guide to help with practicing chord progressions at home? Download The Ultimate Piano Chord Chart for FREE!

What does I – IV – V chord progression mean in music?

In music, we use Roman numerals as symbols to indicate the chords for piano that we’re 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 that note will be major, and lowercase Roman numerals indicate a minor or diminished chord. For example: C = I, D = ii, E = iii, F = IV, G = V, and A = vi. The chord built on B (viiº) is a diminished chord, but that one doesn’t show up in pop or rock very often, so we don’t need to worry about it today. 

In C major, I – IV – V means that we will be playing the chords built on the first, fourth, and fifth degrees of the C major scale: C major, F major, and G major. Let’s take a look at one of the easiest ways to play these chords for piano players.

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Easy Piano 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 some of these chords on piano will be “flipped over,” and we’ll be playing their notes in an order that might be new to you.

What is a One (I) Chord on 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 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 Piano?

Let’s look at the transition from our Four (IV) chord to our Five (V), or G major chord. Start with your fingers on the IV chord.  Keep the hand shape that you already have and just 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 chords on piano. When you’re feeling comfortable with each shape, try moving through the progression using long whole notes (4 beats each): C Major (I), F Major (IV), G Major (V), and back to C Major (I).

I – IV – V Chord Progression with the Left Hand

And what about the left hand? Rather than play complete chords for piano on the left hand, I like to start with just the root notes (the notes that give the chords their names). You can play these 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 playing these in whole notes first, C, F, G, and back to C.

I-IV-V-I chords for piano players in the key of C major.

Playing Chords on Piano With Both Hands

After you’ve practiced each hand separately, match your left hand root notes to your right hand chords. Again, play with long 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 chord 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, which would use the chords 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, and V chords are so popular because they’re easy chords for piano to learn, and they sound really good together. Popular songs that use the I – IV – V 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 these chords on piano! 

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