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Great IV chord licks - Intermediate Guitar Lessons

This guitar lesson will show how important it is to have some licks in your bag that are for specific chords in the song. If your soloing is starting to sound boring and "all-the-same," then it's time to learn some licks that are designed specifically for the IV chord.

Licks are written out below. But first, a little bit of theory to get us started.

The Missing Note

Jeremy Edjan Stratocaster custom

If we are soloing using the minor pentatonic scale in a major key -- as we so often do -- this scale is missing one note that's in the IV chord, specifically the major 3rd of the IV chord.

Let's say we are playing in the key of A major over a song that has the I, IV, and V chords of that key (A, D, E) -- a standard progression. And let's say we are using the A minor pentatonic scale over that song.

  • The A Minor Pentatonic scale has these notes: A, C, D, E, G.

  • The IV chord, D major, has these noes: D, F#, A.

Notice that the D major chord has F# which is not in the A minor pentatonic scale? We can play that note, especially when we are playing over the IV chord!

Try rocking this out with a jam track now. You have to listen closely to ensure you're hearing when the band is playing the IV chord because the note won't sound as good on the root chord. If you haven't done this much before, this is excellent practice. If you're having trouble hearing this, try writing down the chord progression and follow it with your eyes so that you can see when the band is playing the IV.

Playing the major 3rd of the IV chord is something like "borrowing" a note from the Major Pentatonic Scale, which has this note. You can think of it in different ways at different times. Sometimes I just think of borrowing that note when I want it over the IV chord. Or I just think of nailing that note because it belongs in that IV chord underneath.

Major to Minor

Another great trick to breathe life into your guitar solos is to switch back and forth from Major Pentatonic and Minor Pentatonic. One common way to do this is to play the major pentatonic scale over the I chord, and switch to the minor pentatonic scale over the IV chord.

  • I CHORD: Try Major Pentatonic

  • IV CHORD: Try Minor Pentatonic

This has an effect of sounding really "bad-ass" when you hit the minor pentatonic over the IV chord. It takes a little practice to make it work, but so long as you are listening closely to the band's chord changes, it's fairly easy to make it sound good. You don't even need a fancy lick. Just changing scales sounds cool in itself.

Sweet IV Chord Licks for your Guitar Shredification

Now you know what you're thinking: "Just give me the licks already!" If you skipped reading the theory above, you have done yourself a disservice. It's one thing to memorize a lick in a certain key, but if you understand how these licks were composed, you can write your own, use them in different keys, improvise licks based on these principals, and become a much better guitar player.

But yeah, okay. Here we go!

LICK A: The "Funky IV"

I call this lick the "Funky IV" and you'll know why when  you hear it. It's really the first three notes of this lick that are important. You can finish the rest of it with any improv on the minor pentatonic scale you like.

It's a short arpeggio of the D7 chord. Notice we have that F# (in the key signature) which is the major 3rd of D7. We're going to hit that note hard, right on beat one.

The funky IV guitar lick

Lick B: Alternating with the Major 3rd of the IV

Here's a cool lick in which we alternate notes in the minor pentatonic scale, but hit that major 3rd of D7 on beat 2 of  the second bar (F#). It makes that F# really stand out.

Alternating with Major 3rd of the IV guitar lesson

LICK C: Mixing Major with Minor

Here's one of my favourites that alternates from a major pentatonic to minor pentatonic feel. It's really a major pentatonic lick except for that C-natural that sounds really funky.

Make sure to bar that first bit with your first finger and let them ring together.

Mixing Major with Minor guitar lessons

LICK D: Hammer on that Major 3rd

Here's a common way to add that major 3rd of the IV chord using a hammer on. This was done by a lot of the rockabilly guitar players in the 50s.

Again, it's the first two notes here that's the most important thing to remember. You can finish the lick out any way you like. Just remember the general idea: hammer on that major 3rd over the IV chord.

Hammer the major 3rd guitar tab lick


If you remember the theory behind all this, you can make up your own licks or even improvise them on the spot using these techniques. Just remember:

  • the major 3rd of the IV chord is a really sweet note to hit when the band switches to the IV chord.

  • You can switch back and forth from Major Pentatonic to Minor Pentatonic. It's especially nice to use Major Pentatonic over the I chord, then Minor Pentatonic over the IV chord.

Let me know how it goes! If you want to learn more about this kind of playing you can find out more about guitar lessons in Vancouver.

-- Blue Morris

Vancouver Guitar Lessons

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