Roman Numeral System

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by Michael F Clef, Aug 12, 2020.

  1. Excuse me, I'm new to jazz studies.
    I'm a bit old school and I am writing out my own charts, which is another way of saying that I'm too broke to buy an ipad.


    If I'm writing a chart to a song that is in 'a minor' no sharps or flats in the key signature, and I'm writing for, say / b minor / E7 / a minor / is it convention to write
    / ii / V / i or / vii / III / vi ?

    This is for my own use to make it easy for me, but I guess I may as well learn correctly from the start.
    Thank you.
  2. Papageno


    Nov 16, 2015
    If your tune is in A minor (as it seems from what you describe) you would write:

    Am: ii V i


    Am: iiø7 V7 i (depending on the degree of precision you want to give).

    If you tune is actually is C (with E7 being a secondary dominant), you may write:
    C: (ii V7)/ vi

    Roman numeral is a tool for harmonic analysis. In the later example, you state that the minor chord vi is preceded by its own ii V.
    Michael F Clef likes this.
  3. Carl Hillman

    Carl Hillman Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2010
    It is rare to have someone hand you a number chart for a jazz tune. This is probably because the repertoire tends to have more departures from the home key than your average folk, rock, or country song. That makes writing it out in numbers more involved than just a regular lead sheet.

    As Papageno mentioned, it is common to use numbers when analyzing tunes, but if you're out playing with someone, 95 times out of 100, you'll be reading a chord chart.
  4. Papageno


    Nov 16, 2015
    This is absolutely true. Yet for yourself, it is convenient to memorize tunes in terms of roman numerals.

    For example, if you learn rhythm changes, that is:

    A section:
    I vi / ii V / iii vi / ii V /
    I I7 / IV #iv°7 / I vi / ii V /
    Last 2 bars of 2nd A section:
    ii V / I /
    B section:
    III7 / % / VI7 / % /
    II7 / % / V7 / % /
    A section again.

    With this you're equipped to play it in Gb or in B, or any other key.
  5. [QUOTE... for yourself, it is convenient to memorize tunes in terms of roman numerals...[/QUOTE]

    Thank you Folks. Yes, this is for my own use to show up at a gig and play in any key. I am not proficient enough to transpose on the spot.
    In your example of Rhythm Changes, if it had two flats in key signature, of course I see how b flat is I. But say SummerTime is written with 2 flats in key signature , but centers around (starts on) g minor. Should I write g minor as i , or vi ? And so on through out the chart. Excuse me for not communicating with proper terminology. Thank you.
  6. yodedude2

    yodedude2 Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2005
    san antonio, texas
    this is similar to what i do, so it must be wrong somehow :) anyway, for me, one is one whether it's I or i. if the tune modulates, i write that down...(*to rel. maj., *to rel. min., *up 1/2 step, whatever...) and use a new 'I' or 'i' from that point.

    strictly for my own use and amusement... whatever you choose, i suggest you be consistent.
    Michael F Clef likes this.
  7. Papageno


    Nov 16, 2015
    Yes, Summertime starts on the i chord (after the anacrusis).
    Winoman and Michael F Clef like this.
  8. [QUOTE="Papageno, Yes, Summertime starts on the i chord (after the anacrusis).[/QUOTE]

    Thank you Papageno. That cleared it up for me.
  9. Pat Harris

    Pat Harris Supporting Member

    Nov 17, 2006
    Austin, TX
    Sidebar: If your conception can move away from the numerals themselves, and toward the function of each chord, learning and memorizing standards becomes a whole lot easier.

    It's all functional harmony, but numerals are only going to get you so far for so long. It'll get murky after a certain point.

    "Rhythm Changes," "Summertime," "Blue Bossa," most blues tunes, and quite a few largely diatonic tunes are good examples of when it works, but then there's "Alone Together, "Stella by Starlight" and about 1000+ others where you'll have to approach it another way.
    Winoman, Wasnex and Michael F Clef like this.
  10. Carl Hillman

    Carl Hillman Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2010
    This might be a handy stop-gap measure, but until you have learned some tunes, I would recommend also learning how to transpose a regular lead sheet on the fly. It's an invaluable skill, especially if you see yourself gigging with different singers in the future.

    Transposing a lead sheet, for me, is a matter of being able to read the written chord and immediately identify the the right chord by its intervallic relation. Example: I have a chart for "Stella by Starlight" in Bb. The singer wants to sing it in G. That's a minor third down. The first chord of the chart is Emin7b5. A minor third down is C#m7b5. Repeat with the next chord, etc.

    This is not easy at first, depending on the transposition, but you can learn to do it so that it gets to be second nature to you.
    Michael F Clef likes this.
  11. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    I went to high school with a girl by that name.

  12. Silevesq


    Oct 2, 2010
    I don't like using lower and capital letter when thinking in roman numeral. To each their own, but I feel it's lacking so many information and "Jazz" and improvised music tend to free themself of european tradition so much that analysing it with a diatonic approach can become misleading.

    But if it works for you do it!

    If you are curious to see how I think you can check this other thread Four Harmonic Analysis
    If you have more question feel free to ask!
    Michael F Clef likes this.
  13. Papageno


    Nov 16, 2015
    You're right that roman numeral analysis works well when the tune does not depart too much from standard functional harmony. Otherwise it can get cumbersome and not so help ful.

    In the case of "Four" you are referring to, it is full of (ii V7)s (or tritone subs of them) that do not resolve to the expected chord. Yet, the analysis is still quite clear. The point is to be able to identify the (ii V7)s correctly and their resolutions (or lack of).
    Michael F Clef likes this.
  14. unbrokenchain

    unbrokenchain Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2011
    Black Mountain, NC
    While I only rarely dabble in jazz, I'm a big fan of the Roman numeral thing for general chord charts. A good most of my work is with singer-songwriters who play guitar and move the capo around at the last minute. I chart everything out in numerals so that I can shift keys on the fly and only use actual numbers for chord "colors." I always use the relative major key as the I, so if a tune is in A minor for example, I just write "A-" at the top but notate as if it were in C major (the A chord notated as "vi"). If it's in D dorian, I notate the D chord as "ii." Might seem convoluted to folks who mainly play jazz, but to me it's the simplest way of making a chart. I also write them in sharpie in fairly large font so's I can see them from the floor :D
    Michael F Clef likes this.
  15. Malcolm35


    Aug 7, 2018
    you may like Nashville numbers. I transpose all my Praise fake chord sheet music over to Nashville Numbers, because Praise is 99% roots to the beat.
    Michael F Clef likes this.
  16. BarfanyShart


    Sep 19, 2019
    DC Metro
    I think for a chart you should use letters. The Roman numerals are like a theory/analysis thing that you might use to figure out how a tune works or explain it to someone else. If you're composing, then you have the privilege of not analyzing your own work - just put it in the most readable form possible for others to play.
    Malcolm35 and Michael F Clef like this.
  17. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    For simple tunes I'll often use numbers whether Roman or Arabic. Singer wants to change key, no problem.

    For more complicated ones, that ends up having all kinds of stuff like "biim7b5" that would be easier read with letters. If written with letters, and singer wants to change, it's a different kind of transposition thought.

    In either case, standard practice in minor keys is that "i" means the key so a tune in A min the i would be A min. (Although one poster above indicates he charts them as if they were in the relative major. I think that would be really confusing.)

    if I am making a chord chart for others to follow, legibility trumps theoretical correctness and I might very well write the A min chord in a tune that's in A min, as "I min" rather than "i" because not everyone is necessarily up to speed on upper case vs. lower case.
    DoubleMIDI likes this.
  18. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    Jun 25, 2021

Share This Page