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Plagal progressions

The IV chord, while certainly an extremely frequent predominant/subdominant chord in common-practice repertoire, has an even more prominent…

The IV chord, while certainly an extremely frequent predominant/subdominant chord in common-practice repertoire, has an even more prominent place in pop/rock music. Perhaps borne out of the 5-6 neighboring motion found in shuffle-blues guitar accompaniment patterns, an alternation between I and IV is a common occurrence in numerous genres.

In “Soul Man” by Sam and Dave, the chord progression used in the verse consists of an alternation of I and IV (listen carefully to the bass).


A similar oscillation between I and IV can be found in the verse to “In the Midnight Hour” by Wilson Pickett.


This kind of chord progression isn’t limited to Soul and R&B, of course. The beginning of “After The Gold Rush” by Neil Young features a similar progression (it deviates after the the words “…drummers drummin…” Also, note the discrepancy between the melody notes and the chords throughout).


Double-plagal progression

The “double-plagal” progression (Walter Everett’s term) is an expansion of the plagal progression discussed above to include the “IV/IV” chord prior to the IV chord. This is perhaps more simply explained as bVII-IV-I (or simply VII-iv-I in minor). The most famous instance of the double-plagal progression is likely the coda from “Hey Jude” by The Beatles, performed here by Wilson Pickett:


Extended plagal progressions

The “applied IV” chord can be used in sequence, similar to the descending-fifths progression in common-practice music. In the version of “Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix, the verse consists of three iterations of the plagal motion in a descending-fourths pattern, which results in the progression: bVI-bIII-bVII-IV-I, in the key of E major.


Plagal progressions
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