I have a chord progression here: enter image description here

This is the verse of "Can You Feel the Love Tonight"

I have put a flame emoji over the spot I'm confused by.

The chord doesn't belong to the original key. From what I understand, this is an "applied chord". What does that mean? Why doesn't it sound out of key?

  • 1
    The IV is Eb, the IV of which is Ab. It's like a bVII chord. It doesn't sound out of key because it's a half step away from the vi. May 21, 2018 at 17:57

4 Answers 4


These chords are called secondary chords, and they're read (in this case) as "IV of IV."

The concept is that the chord is best understood in relation to another chord which isn't tonic. In this case, you're in the key of B♭. "IV/IV" means that it is the IV chord of the IV of B♭. In other words, it's IV of E♭, and IV/E♭ is A♭.

As for why it doesn't sound of out key, that's partially opinion. Some will think it does, some will think it doesn't. But this IV/IV (or ♭VII) is a common feature in popular music. We can conceptualize it as part of the Mixolydian mode, or borrowed from the parallel minor, but it's so common that you might not think of it as being chromatic.

And, if I may say so, typically Roman numerals are best used to show how a chord is functioning. Not knowing the rest of the piece, I see no reason to label this chord as IV/IV; it could just as easily be labeled as ♭VII.

  • 2
    Agreed. bVII is more accurate and far more technically correct. Why break it if it doesn't need mending?
    – Tim
    May 21, 2018 at 18:38
  • How is the Sub-Dominant chord secondary?
    – Neil Meyer
    May 23, 2018 at 7:05
  • 1
    It's not, but the subdominant of the subdominant is secondary.
    – Richard
    May 23, 2018 at 11:50
  • Secondary chords aren't just dominants. Anything labeled in relation to something other than tonic is a secondary chord.
    – Richard
    May 23, 2018 at 11:55

It is the Sub Dominant chord of the Sub Dominant Key. So if the Tonic key is Bb then it is the Sub Dominant chord of Eb Major, so Ab / C / Eb. It is a modulation.

  • That's what this notation means, but in this case it's wrong (as it leads to a V). An example when IV/IV would be appropriate would be hollywood boulevard youtu.be/rTJVclgwS5g .
    – Some_Guy
    May 23, 2018 at 1:43
  • 1
    This probably partly due to the hooktheory (where it looks like the screenshot comes from) website. I haven't used it for a while, but it gets very iffy and weird with how it interprets "modal" (aka not at all modal) songs, so you get the problem that if you include a bVII chord it says "OK so it's mixolydian then" and then other parts of the website reanalyse it in the "parallel major" key, which is... unhelpful to say the least. Haven't used the site in a while but this was always a problem before and always lead to a lot of inappropriately labelled X/X chords as in this example
    – Some_Guy
    May 23, 2018 at 1:44

The IV/IV would be called a "borrowed" chord. It's never followed by IV, so it is not technically functioning as a secondary subdominant. It is borrowing notes from another scale. We generically call this type of pre-dominant chord (precedes the Dominant) in a cadence a "substitute subdominant".


I agree with all the other comments. One thing I'll add is that, while this doesn't make sense in this context, secondary chords are very useful in cases like the "Hey Joe" progression (bVII IV I) or circle progressions (basically extended II V I sequences)

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