John Denver & The IV Chord

by Jim D’Ville

Sure he had those boyish good looks—the impish smile, wire-rim glasses, and floppy hat. But it was his extensive use of the IV chord in his music which commanded us to turn over our hearts to him. John Denver milked the IV chord like a Jersey cow. 

The IV chord lives in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood—a place where the sun shines most of the time. It’s the home of little puppies and kittens, and where most people are apt to fall in love. Let’s pay a visit to IV chord land and see if we can discover John Denver’s infatuation with this lovely chord.

The verses to John Denver’s greatest hit, “Rocky Mountain High,” start with a two-beat walk-up to his favorite IV:

He was IV born in the summer…. 

In the chorus, John waits until the IV to let us know what this Rocky Mountain high thing was all about. 

VII But the Col-or-a-do  I Rock-y Mountain IV High…

In a beautiful homage to his first wife, “Annie’s Song,” he wastes no time in getting to the IV. 

Isus4 You fill up my IV sens- V es.… 

I’ve often said that when you hear the word sunshine come up in song lyrics, it’s a good bet the melody is moving to the IV chord. John Denver backs me up on this with his song, “Sunshine On My Shoulders.” 


I Sunshine IV on my I shoul-ders IV makes me I happy… 

Moving from the I to the IV doesn’t always portend a favorable forecast as in “Back Home Again.”

I There’s a storm a-cross the val-ley  IV clouds are roll-in’ in….

In deconstructing thousands of popular songs, I discovered what I now refer to as the 3/IV RuleWhen a songwriter like John Denver wants to convey deeply emotional lyrics, as we’ve learned, he relies heavily on the IV chord. But when songwriters intend to convey the profoundly passionate quality of the IV, they are allowed to use the IV chord three consecutive times, hence the 3/IV Rule. John Denver applies the 3/IV perfectly in “Leaving On A Jet Plane”—one of the great folk songs of all time. 

All my bags are packed, I’m IV ready to go.

I’m I standing here out IV side your door 

I I hate to wake you IV up to say good- V bye…. 

The 3/IV chord progression works so well here he uses it for both the verses and the chorus.

Of course, rules are made to be broken, and Denver breaks the 3/IV Rule in “Poems, Prayers And Promises” where he jumps between the I and IV chord four times in the verses.


I I’ve been late-ly think-in’ a-bout IVsus2 my life’s I time,

all the things I’ve done and how it’s IVsus2 been.

And I I can’t help be-lievin’ IVsus2 my own I mind, 

I know I’m gonna hate to see it IVsus2 end. 

John Denver wasn’t the only songwriter to benefit from extensive use of the IV chord. As you analyze new songs in your repertoire, pay attention to not only the chord progression but the essential words in the lyrics and where they fall in the progression. You too could fall in love with the IV chord just like John Denver.