The Minor Fourth Chord

Posted on March 30, 2016 by songtive

funny girl student with glasses reading books

Today we’re gonna learn about a curious chord progression that you all can identify in a wide number of popular songs. We are talking about the use of a minor fourth degree (IVm) that adds a melancholic feeling to the phrases’ endings – which we already discussed with the name of cadences.

There are many examples in the music literature using this little cadential chord progression, let’s take a look:

  • The Beatles – Blackbird
  • Green Day – Wake Me Up When September Ends
  • Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Doris Day – Dream a Little Dream of Me
  • Santo & Johnny – Sleepwalk

As you can see there are plenty of songs and different musical genres on the list using this small but effective chord progression!

Building a IVm Progression

This progression is made out of 2 chords: a IV chord from a major key that will be turned into a minor chord flattening its third (one fret lower/one key lower) and the I chord from the same major key. This process of altering the original IV chord is also called “borrowing”, because they do not belong to that major key’s original triads – which we discussed in a previous article. However, it can be expanded in multiple ways as we will see. Let’s check it out in detail:

  1. Identify the IV chord of a major key: You get one major key to practice and identify the IV chord (a major one) and break it into chord tones.
  2. Flat the Third: Once you got the chord tones forming the IV chord, it’s time to turn it into a minor chord by lowering the third down one half-step. If you have a C major chord (C – E – G) and you low its third down one half step it will become C – Eb –G, therefore turning it into a minor chord.
  3. Close the Progression: The next step is to bring the chord progression to an end by placing the I chord – but not limited to – right after the IVm chord; this will give us a conclusion feeling – which is what makes it work.

Three easy steps to make it sound and put into use right now! Let’s take it for a test drive:

“Sleepwalk” by Santo & Johnny

We are going to explore the possibilities of our just-learned chord progression by break it popular hit ‘Sleepwalk’ into its chord progression and analyze how the IVm chord is working in there!
Let’s take a listen:

Even when it is a mostly solo performance on a lap steel guitar, we can hear an underlying chord progression played by rhythm guitar on the background:

At 0:19 we can hear that melancholic and sweet feeling the Fm chord gives to the whole progression. Let’s get into details according to the process we learned:

  1. Identify the IV chord of a major key: Since the song starts and finish with a C major chord, we can positively assume it is written in the C major key. We identify the IV chord – that being F major – and break it into its chord tones: F – A – C.
  2. Flat the Third: Since we already know how the IV chord in C major key is formed, we flat its third to turn it into a minor chord: F – Ab – C.
  3. Close the Progression: Even when we discussed that the I chord is next in line, that principle can be expanded with the purpose of enlarging the chord progression. After the IVm chord (F minor) follows a V7 chord (G7) that will act as a leading chord to C major, since it contains the leading tone of the C major key – a B note.

Going Beyond

When it comes to learning chord progressions and harmonic principles, which is what we’re doing, the most convenient way to understand them is to explore diverse keys. This will give you a different view and a mastery of all keys, which will make you a resourceful composer!

Use our Songtive app to explore all the possibilities! Let’s transpose the ‘Sleepwalk’ progression and try it around another major keys. Remember to use the Songtive Transpose feature for easy transposition:

In D major key:

In F major key: