Ending a song on a IV chord

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A few years ago, I ate dinner with a well-respected producer of Christian music and I remember him bemoaning how tired our music is getting.  One of the things he complained about was the current fad of ending songs with something other than the I chord.  The most common substitution of course is the IV chord.

I share his opinion.  Doing that has just become a cheap trick that needs to go away.

Now, I am not saying the idea itself is bad.  There is nothing morally wrong with ending on a IV chord.  I have heard some try to claim things like it breaks the laws of nature and goes against some Biblical principle.  That is so far-fetched that I am not going to even argue against it.

Nor is there anything musically wrong with it.  Yes, almost all Western music has resolved to the I chord for the past 600 years but there have always been exceptions.  And of course, there is certainly no one with the authority to tell us that we have to end on I chords.

But here is the thing about ending a song on a IV chord or a V chord or any chord: It means something. 

Let’s talk just about the IV chord.  Now, I have an idea about what ending with IV chord means.  That is not to say that my idea is right.  You may have an equally valid but differing idea about what it means.  In fact, I am not even going to tell you what I think it means because it is really not that important.  But let’s agree at least that it does mean something.  It communicates an idea.

Since it means something, I am skeptical when I note that all of a sudden a huge percentage of praise and worship songs end on IV chords.  That was not true 20 years ago.  What has changed?  Do the new songs have a different message that calls for ending on a IV chord?  As best I can tell, the answer is no.  They are still about God, worship, faith, hope and other messages we associate with Christianity.

So if not because of the lyrics being different, why are we seeing so many IV chord endings?  I suspect that it has just become a thing that writers do because they think it is cool or unique.  It might indeed be cool or unique if all of their fellow writers weren’t doing it too.  But they are so it isn’t.  It is just a tired fad.

Am I saying not to do it? Absolutely not. There is a place for IV chord endings.  I have heard several songs that used them effectively.  But if you do them, don’t do them because you think they sound cool.  Try to figure out what they communicate and then use them when your music needs to communicate that idea. 

What do you think ending on a IV chord communicates? How about a V chord (I saw my first song like that a few months ago).

4 thoughts on “Ending a song on a IV chord

  1. Jim says:

    Does this not go against your belief that music elements are amoral? If ending on a IV chord communicates something, isn’t all communication moral?

  2. Alice says:

    I think ending on a IV chord communicates that you are on a continuing journey, because the song doesn’t sound finished. And ending on a V chord, you are left missing something you really need. Neither is morally wrong, but to me, neither is musically satisfying.

  3. Pingback: Questioning the Unanswered Cadence | Shenandoah Harmony

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