the first subdominant
chord lesson, we learned a 3rd staple
chord we can use in our songwriting - the IV chord
subdominant along with the tonic (I) and dominant (V) from previous
we were able to
create simple and natural 3 chord progressions that have been used, and
built upon, in
many genres of music for centuries.
Just as we devoted a lesson to learning the natural variations
of the dominant chord (how to "spice it up"), let's spend
some time learning the various tensions and tones of the subdominant.
Remember, a lot of this stuff requires knowledge of different chords
on guitar. However, we'll
look at some practical examples throughout this lesson.
the IV chord function
In the last part, we were simply playing the basic chord forms (also
known as triads), and therefore we learned the subdominant 4 chord,
like the 1 and 5 chords in major key progressions, is a major chord in its
For example, if we were just using open chords, we could play the
following progression in the key of A major (A major being the tonic chord):
/ D major
Now, we know from the lesson on spicing
up the dominant chord that we can modify that basic major
chord to enhance
its relationship with the tonic and other chords within a progression.
This was done primarily by using a dominant 7th chord (e.g. A7, D7, E7).
We can do the same kind of thing with the subdominant, but this chord
is actually far more versatile than the dominant as we shall see/hear...
major 7th IV chord (IVmaj7)
Major 7th chords (labelled "maj7" e.g. Amaj7, Dmaj7, Emaj7 etc.) are
considered a natural chord in the subdominant position. Why? Well,
answering that would require a whole other lesson! However, as always,
your ears will tell you what sounds natural and what sounds a little
more edgy or unorthodox. There
is no right or wrong in music!
In the last part, we learned that the subdominant acts as a kind of
musical relaxation away from the tonic. This can be contrasted with the
dominant, which has a more tense and unresolved feel.
Using a major 7th chord in the subdominant position enhances this
relaxation effect. Examples...
So, if I were to simply use open chords for the above
progression, it would look and sound something like this...
However, you can obviously play around with such a sequence, e.g.
moving back and forth between the tonic and subdominant (click to
hear), or even stay away from the tonic and play
between the 4 and 5 chords (click to hear). Experiment!
You don't always have to start on the tonic for these relationships to
Let's look at another subdominant maj7 example, based on the I, IV, V
root note positions we learned in the last lesson. Remember, these are
movable chord shapes, so these relationships can be moved up and down
the fretboard depending on the key you're playing in.
If you want a cool bluesy feel to your subdominant chord, use a
dominant 7th chord in that position. So, technically this means we can
have two dominant 7th chords - one in the subdominant position, the
other in its natural dominant position as we learned before.
This is a good
example of the versatility of the IV chord. Whereas
the dominant V position is not really compatible with a major 7th
subdominant is compatible with both major 7th and dominant 7th chords.
This is because its function is more ambiguous.
So, this means we can use any chord we would usually for the dominant
position also in the subdominant position to add a little bluesy soul
to our songs.
a minor subdominant iv chord
Yep, it's so versatile it can even be changed to a minor chord!
You'll hear this in many songs. This major tonic - minor
relationship is actually from a scale of its own, but we won't
get into the theory behind that right now.
Minor chords are represented by lower case numerals (major IV, minor
Many people hear a flamenco sound in this relationship - take a listen
in the key of E major
(I'm just using open chords again)...
So you can turn
what would be quite a happy and relaxed sounding I V IV, into a more
tragic, unsettling I V iv
just by making a major-minor switch with the subdominant.
if a chord position is major and
minor compatible, like the subdominant, try switching to the other
while you're playing that chord. For example, you could play the
sequence D major, G major,
D major (I, IV, iv, I). This is just another option you have when
songwriting, but we'll look more at these types of intricacies later.
experimenting with the 4 chord
I need to make it clear that you shouldn't get too scientific with your
songcraft. You don't always
need to modify the subdominant chord from its natural form, and you
don't even have to use
it at all. What I'm helping you do here is build up a foundation chord
scale which you'll later modify, twist, shape and add to in your own
way - you'll see!
time... you can probably guess... we'll be adding yet another chord to
the scale, which will further expand our songwriting options.