Out of curiosity was reading about the IV-V-I progression on Wikipedia.

Apparently this example has this progression in there somewhere:

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Since C major is [C, D, E, F, G, A, B] and IV-V-I seems to refer to position of notes in the scale, shouldn't IV-V-I be [F, G, C]?

So first it should get higher, then lower. But these notes seem to be all over the place? You can assume I don't know any terminology besides what I used here.


IV--V--I does refer to positions in the scale, but it's also a bit more specific than that.

IV--V--I in C is F--G--C, and you can see those pitches in the lowest voice.

But these Roman numerals also indicate specific chords whose roots are the given scale degrees. Thus IV indicates a IV chord (F--A--C), V a V chord (G--B--D), and I a I chord (C--E--G).

If you look at the vertical "slices" of each chord, you'll see that the first chord is in fact F--A--C, the second G--B--D, and the last C--E--G. So this is a textbook IV--V--I progression!

Some further clarifications, helpfully suggested in the comments:

  • You mention that F G C should "go higher then lower." In this kind of music, however, we have the notation of octave equivalence, which means that a C is equivalent to any other C. So the bass in this example could go F up to G and then down to C, or it could do F up to G and up again to C. Both are equivalent.
  • And as Todd says, although triads comprise three pitches, pitches within the triad can be doubled. In the first chord, for instance, from bottom to top, we have F A F C. The second F just repeats what we already have, so we really just conceptualize this as F A C, and thus it's a clear triad. You'll probably learn soon what "inversions" are, which is when the bottom note of this chord can be either A or C, and not just F!
  • 2
    You might clarify (since the asker seems to be quite new to these ideas) that even when there are more than three notes in a chord, it can still be a triad, and that it doesn't matter in which order the notes appear except for the root. For example, literally the first chord is, lowest to highest, F-A-F-C instead of merely F-A-C. – Todd Wilcox Apr 18 '17 at 0:15
  • @richard Super interesting. When it says F-G-C, I thought it was implied that the C has to be lower in frequency than the G (because in I is less than V). But actually I can pick F, G or C in any octave? – Bemmu Apr 18 '17 at 4:23

So first it should get higher, then lower.

It can get both higher (like the example) or lower. It really depends on what you want to do with the melody/bass line. In this example, for some reason (it might be completely arbitrary), the bass line keeps going up. You can create an example yourself, where the bass goes up from F to G and then down from G to C.

But, since the C is C, no matter which octave you play it in, the harmonic function of IV V I doesn't change.

Usually, you'd see IV up to V down to I, or I down to IV up to V up to I, which might be the case in the example.

  • Both your and Richard's answer contained new information to me and gave me new understanding. I flipped a coin to decide which to accept and it landed on richard. – Bemmu Apr 18 '17 at 4:27

IV (4) - V (5) - I (1) does refer to degrees of a scale however more specifically it refers to the chords built on these degrees. The example is in C major.

The fourth chord of C is F major. Which is built in the example as F in octaves on the bass line, and F and C played in the treble.

The fifth chord is G. This is played with octave Gs in the bass clef, and the notes D (5th of G) and B (3rd of G) in the treble clef.

Lastly, C major as the one chord. It is built in this example as C and G in the bass whilst E and C play in the treble.

Glad to help.

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