Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/? about music theory


Hi Clare

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What do these roman numeral mean in this picture at...

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Hello Sterling, and thanks for being patient.

They're used in harmonic analysis.  The basis of the Western key system is that: the octave is divided into 12 equal semitones; the two diatonic scales, major and minor, are constructed in exactly the same way in all 12 keys; the various degrees of the scale and the triads built upon them are of greater or lesser importance in relation to the keynote; and we have the concept of "related" keys, which makes it easy to move from one key to another, either directly or via other, more closely related, keys. This is modulation, and it is the ability to modulate that makes Western music unique. So once you have firmly established your home key, you have a network of interconnections and interrelations that underpins every note you write, and its the relationship between chords rather than the chords themselves that is all-important.

Once we've decided what key we're in, we build up triads on each degree of the scale and number them I to VII.  The numbering systems in Europe and the US are slightly different since in America you use upper case and lower case Roman numerals depending on whether the chord is major or minor.  This is actually unnecessary so in Europe we don't do it - all chord symbole are upper case, as they are in your example.  

Chords are always constructed from the bottom up so, regardless of whether you're talking triads in the right hand + one note in the left or 4-part harmony, it's always the bass line that enables us to identify the inversion of the chord.  In the Roman numeral system root position = a if you need to indicate it (root position is the default so it generally isn't necessary), 1st inversion = b, 2nd inversion = c and 3rd inversion (of dominant 7ths) = d.  So Ib = 1st inversion tonic, VIc = 2nd inversion submediant etc.  When you venture further into harmonic analysis you should be able to hear a harmonic progression like I Ib V Ib IIb V7d Ib in your head.

Hope this helps.

Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting

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Clare Redfarn


All aspects of the academic/theoretical side of music, including harmony, counterpoint, elementary composition, history, harmonic analysis, aural training, sightreading - the lot! Please note I'm not primarily a composer so I can't help with composition beyond what's required for Grade 8 theory or A'level. And don't ask me about psychoacoustics or music psychology as I have no knowledge of, nor interest in, either subject.


57 years as pianist (soloist and accompanist); 42 years as harpsichordist (soloist and continuist); 10 years as violinist and 6 years as bassoonist (youth orchestras/chamber groups); 45 years as piano teacher, coach in performance/interpretation (all ages, instruments and levels) and private tutor (mainly the old O'level, Grade VI+ ABRSM theory/practical musicianship, A'level and undergraduates); 20 years as ballet pianist (Cecchetti syllabus).

Member of Musicians' Union in Britain 1978-1989 and 1991-2009.

I've been writing professionally since I was 20 - too many programme notes to count over the years and a number of articles. Additionally, from 1996-2000 I was a Music Assessor for London Arts and as such regularly wrote critiques of concerts given by recipients of Arts Council funding.

MA in European Cultural Policy & Administration (Warwick University, 1994)
B Mus with Honours (London University, 1977)
Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Administration (City University, 1982)
Licentiate of Royal Academy of Music in Piano Teaching (1976)
Licentiate of Royal Academy of Music in Harpsichord Teaching (1978)

Studied RAM Junior School (1966-74), then as full-time student (1974-78).

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