IV minor chords in a major key

In this lesson I want to explain what I see(or in fact hear) as the IV minor group of chords. I also want to give some examples of how they are used or can be used to reharmonize songs or create new progressions.

Understanding and hearing the key

To me the biggest advantage of learning to understand harmony in terms of a key is that you can group different chords together by how they sound, which is much more useful than having them grouped together by the type of chord. In a major key the IV minor group is one of those groups that contains quite a few different chords but they are closely related and recognizing that they are in this group makes it easier for me to immediately hear what they sound like and how to play over them.

Minor subdominant chords

The Minor subdominant chords are an important part of the colors found in the major keys when you play standards. Let us take the key of C major as an example we. I think you probably know this kind of chord progression. C F Fm C, where the 3rd(A) of F is descending to the 5th(G) of C via the Ab creating an Fm chord. If we list all the sub dominant chords in C minor we get something like this:

IV minor chords ex 1

Dm7b5, Fm6, Fm7, FmMaj7, Abmaj7, Bb7. The last one, Dbmaj7 you get by also lowering the D to a Db in Dm7b5. The DbMaj7 is often referred to as a Neapolitan Subdominant yo can look it up if you want more information.

IV minor chords ex 2

Scale choices

Since they are grouped together as subdominant chords I tend to relate them to an subdominant scale, so in this case that would be an F minor scale. In the end the scale choices are depending on what sort of chord it is, but they are all contianed in some sort of F minor scale. The two I end up using the most is F melodic minor and F dorian (which is also C minor). They contain all of them except the Dbmaj7 which I play as a Db lydian chord (which is incidently also F natural minor). Some people use the C harmonic major too, but I have never found that too useful because the B is less consonant on the chord than the Bb to me, but that is mostly a question of taste.

 IV minor progressions

The examples that I present here are both the progression and a line played over the progression to give an idea of the kind of stuff I might play over these progressions.

It is important to note that you should recognize these progressions in the standards you know and consider using these progressions if you want to reharmonize a standard that you play. The lines are kept fairly basic because the changes themselves are interesting  it is often enough to just play basic solid lines to get an interesting cadence.

The first example is using the Minor Cadence bu resolving to major. Check out a song like “I Love You”  by Cole Porter to hear it used. In general I find that when I use a minor sub dominant chord in a cadence then it works better to also play a dominant from the minor key (so using harmonic minor or what is sometimes called phrygian dominant)

IV minor chords ex 3

The line I play over this example is not that complicated, the Dm7b5 consists of an AbMaj7 shell voicing and a scale fragment. The G7 line is buil around the Fm7b5 arpeggio that is a good arpeggio to use over the G7(b9b13) chord. You might have to look twice to spot how the frame of the line is that arpeggio 🙂

IV minor chords ex 4

The 2nd example is again using the chord as a substitute for the II chord in a cadence. You’ll find this cadence in another Cole Porter song: “Night and Day”. This progessions works well if you have the 11 and the 3rd in melody over the IIchord.

In the line I am making a melody over the AbMaj7 chord with only arpeggio notes. The line over the G7 is a base around the B diminished arpeggio that resolves to the 3rd(E) of CMaj7.

IV minor chords ex 5

The 3rd progression shows how you might come across a IVminor chord (in this case a DbMaj7, but an Fm7 or Bb7 would also work well) in a place where you might expect the V chord. It can be a good way to get a bit of variation by not having only II V cadences all the time in a song, but it has to fit the melody of course.

The line over this progression uses the F major arpeggio and a pentatonic fragment over the Dm7 chord and the DbMaj7 arpeggio and another scale fragment over the DbMaj7 chord before resolving to the 5th(G) of C.

IV minor chords ex 6

The last example is a very common way for a jazz standard to move from a subdominant back to the tonic via the IV minor. In that way it is the jazz version of Example 1.

IV minor chords ex 6

You can find many examples of this progression, most use a Bb7, Fm6, or an Fm7 Bb7 as a minor subdominant to go back to C. Check out standards like “There will never be another you” or “It could happen to you”. If you know enough songs you might realize that it is often found in the same spot in a lot of songs. So much that if you ask me to guess what chord is found in bar 10 of a 32 bar standard I am likely to reply bVII dominant.

The line I play consists of an Aminor pentatonic fragment followed by an FMaj7 arpeggio in inversion. On the Bb7 it is first n Fm triad arpeggio followed by a Bb major pentatonic fragment before it resolves to the 3rd of CMaj7.

I hope that you can use the material I presented hear in you own arrangements and in understanding the construction of tonal songs like standards.

As always you can download a PDF of the examples here:

IV minor chords

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