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The V-I cadence, the perfect authentic cadence, is the most final sounding cadence. The tension and release caused by this progression explains why the V chord is so commonly used to lead to the I. I've gotten into the habit of writing cliche choruses where the V or V7 lead satisfyingly into the I chord. But what if the chorus does not begin with the I? What if it belongs with, say, a IV? Then do you throw the V out the window? Or is it good to establish the dominant for when the tonic finally does arrive, even if it is not the adjacent chord. Do you begin, rather, to look at secondary dominants? But, continuing with my example where the chorus begins with a IV chord, you then play the I chord (the fifth of the IV chord) which seems counterintuitive--create suspense for the tonic by using the tonic? I doubt it. I hope you can help me figure this out!

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You're still going to want to resolve to tonic at the end of your chorus, preferably with a PAC. So no matter what harmony you begin the chorus with, find a way to work into the dominant and then to finish in tonic.

One progression you'll see is IV-I-V-I. You could add variety in a number of ways, such as IV-vi-ii-V-I or even using secondary dominants such as IV-V/vi-vi-V/V-V-I. There are any number of possibilities. Once you reset from that starting IV chord to tonic, you're basically free to start a new progression just as you would starting in tonic. Just work your way into V-I eventually at the end.

Hope this helps!

  • thanks for the response! I hear what you're saying, and it makes a lot of sense. Although, the other piece of my question (forgive me if I missed this in your response), is how to create tension for that first chord of the chorus progression if it isn't the tonic? Is playing the secondary dominant your best bet? Like how do you lead convincingly to a ii chord? or a iii chord? a IV chord? etc. – 286642 Aug 2 '18 at 23:52
  • I would say the secondary dominant would be your best bet. If the first chord is IV, you can end the line before it with a tonic chord which progresses nicely into the dominant seventh of IV (same root). – Kevin H Aug 3 '18 at 3:37
  • cool--also, what does PAC mean? – 286642 Aug 3 '18 at 5:06
  • @286642 - it means Perfect Authentic Cadence. Among other things, it must involve a V(5, 7, etc.) chord and a I chord in that order, and you can't use a I6 chord instead. – Dekkadeci Aug 3 '18 at 5:48
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The cadence is only perfect if the I chord has the root in the top voice.

How you approach the I after moving to the IV or anywhere else for that matter should support the melody. You do not need to find a way to the V, and later V-->I. The cadence IV-->iv-->I is a classic (probably more cliche that V-->I).

My question to you would be, are you just playing off the IV in the key of the I when you go to the chorus? Or are you modulating key to the key of the IV? This matters and would hint at different approaches. The I is the V of the IV (as you point out) and in fact if voiced well would create a cadence to the IV. In fact if you want to create tension just before you go to the IV you can play the I7 (explicitly lower the maj 7th to a dom 7th preparing the ear for IV). This happens often in jazz where we either play X-->X7, X7-->Xmin7, or Xmaj7-->Xmin7 to modulate.

The IV moves naturally to the V so there is no need to insert other chords to get back to I but I'd point out the circle progression (which I sometimes affectionately call a diatonic circle of 4ths).

I-->IV-->vii-->iii-->vi-->ii-->V-->I

Any section of this can be used. Along with some substitutions (rel minor, flat 5, etc) you can walk form one chord to another in many different sequences. Sometimes a back cycle (or cycle extension) is used to create more tension. The idea there is to treat the chord you are going to as a temporary I and fill in a ii-->V7 before it (even if that takes you out of key). As for minors, using the chords of the harmonic or melodic minor scale produce a V7 on the 5th degree of the minor scale (the 3rd degree of the relative major key).

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The tonic does not have to be the first note at all, it can be the last or just show up in the middle. It being the last chord is almost as natural as it being the first. (Think about IV V I vi IV V I I)

You must keep in mind, that IV I is also a cadence (Plagal cadence), and it's as common as the V I cadence! So IV I is not counter-intuitive at all, it's very cliche indeed. (This fits in Kevin H's example IV I V I)

Another concept you might use is deceptive cadences. It means playing other things after a V when you would expect a I. So, if you ended you chorus with V, when looped, the V IV would be a deceptive cadence. It is very common too, and sounds natural.

Having said that, there are numerous possibilities of cliche choruses starting at IV (or any non-I chords). You can prepare it with the secondary dominant, as you said, or with a deceptive cadence. The I chord can show up in the middle or just at the end when you finish the chorus, it's up to you.

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