I, IV, and V Chords

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

In a recent email Marty made a reference to my “rules” for finding the I, IV, and V chords on the banjo. I frequently share these “rules” in workshops, but don’t think I’ve ever put them on paper. (Although I do think I talked about them—and a lot of other stuff like this—in our Capos, Chords, and Theory DVD.) So, let’s see if this translates to the printed page. Or even the virtual page!

What you need to know for this to make sense:

The “D” shape vamp chord

The “F” shape vamp chord

What I (one), IV (four), and V (five) chords mean

(If you don’t know this, it’s all explained in Capos, Chords, and Theory. With pictures!)

Okay. You’re vamping in the key of G and G, C, and D are your I, IV, and V chords. Make your G vamp chord in the “D” shape. (Ring and little fingers at 9th fret.) To make the IV chord (which is C) move up ONE FRET and flip your fingers to the “F” shape (ring and little fingers at 10th fret). The V chord (which is D) is two frets higher than C, still in the F shape (ring and little fingers at 12th fret).

So the “rule” is: when the I chord is in the “D” shape, the IV and V are always in the “F” shape and are always higher on the neck. (How many frets depends on how you count. I count the IV chord as being ONE FRET higher than the I chord, and the V chord as being THREE FRETS higher than the I chord. But you may think of it differently.)

Now. You’re vamping in the key of C and C, F, and G are your I, IV, and V chords. Make your C vamp chord in the “F” shape. (This is the same old C chord we’ve always used with ring and little fingers at the 10th fret.) Your IV chord (F) is BEHIND or LOWER than the I and is in the “D” shape (ring and little fingers on the 7th fret). [Confused yet? I hate paper!] And your V chord (G) is also in the “D” shape, two frets higher than the F chord. Notice that’s our regular G vamp which we use in the key of G.

So the “rule” is: when the I chord is in the “F” shape, the IV and V are always in the “D” shape and are LOWER on the neck or BEHIND the I chord. (Again, how many frets depends on how you count. I’ll let you figure it out!)

The neat thing is that this works everywhere on the neck. And the other neat thing is that you don’t even have to know the names of the chords. You can just play using the shapes. [Excuse me. My cell phone alarm is ringing. Have to take the clothes out of the dryer!] {I’m back! Shirts successfully hung up; other stuff piled on the bed—with the other stuff that was already piled on the bed!}

For practice: Grab a chord in the “D” position anywhere on the neck. Find the IV and V chords that are HIGHER than it in the “F” shape. You’ll know you are right by the SOUND. Then grab a chord in the “F” position. Find the IV and V chords that are LOWER than it in the “D” shape.

I hope this makes sense. But I have a sneaking suspicion that it will only make sense if you ALREADY KNOW IT! If you are totally confused, come to Kaufman Kamp (Tennessee) or Mid-West Banjo Camp (Michigan) and I’ll explain it BY EAR!!!!