Wednesday, February 4, 2009

FAQ: Shouldn't it be i-VI-III-♭VII?

Q: You say the progression is vi-IV-I-V. Shouldn't it be i-VI-III-♭VII?

A: Technically, yes. If you're claiming that the progression is in a minor key, then it would indeed be correct to start it on the 1. However. It's also not exactly wrong to say that it starts on the 6, either, although that implies a major key for the progression overall.

What's really important about designating it vi-IV-I-V is that not only is that simpler and cleaner, it hammers home the crucial point that the progression is built from the four most basic chords in modern pop music. You take the I, the IV, the V and the vi, and you could generate a huge chunk of pop and rock from the last 50 years. They're versatile enough that you could just switch them around in whatever order; the SFCP is simply one combination. That becomes far less clear if you "correctly" designate it as i-VI-III-♭VII.


  1. I've been researching this progression lately, and I'm stoked to run across this blog. Good stuff. I thought it was weird, though, that people always refer to the SFCP as vi-IV-I-V, since the tonic should always be "one".

    Quick question, though: is it necessary to designate that it's a flat VII? In a natural minor key, which I think this progression follows, it's a natural VII. To make it flat implies that it's a harmonic minor. Does "i" imply a harmonic minor scale?

    1. Cori is right, vi-IV-I-V in minor key is simply i-VI-III-VII. There are no flats involved.

  2. Actually, if you are using flat signs in front of Roman Numerals, the progression should be: i-bVI-bIII-bVII.

  3. Using the major scale as a reference makes analysis much easier, especially with so many jazz tunes that modulate back and forth between major and minor (e.g. Autumn Leaves). Well done with your blog!

  4. I'll bet many songwriters who use the progression don't know about the theory - they just like how it sounds.