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SurfGuitar101 Forums » Surf Musician »

Permalink Chord Numbering Convention

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Here's a subject my friend and I were discussing last weekend while musiking.

For those of you who regularly call out chord progressions by the numbering system--let's keep it simple and say you're playing a 50's rock n' roller that's a I-IV-V in the key of C major--what do you do when you're playing something of similar structure but in a minor key? For instance, say you're playing something like Bullwinkle pt 1 or 2. Do you call it a I-IV-V in A minor? Or do you retain the numbering convention of its relative major and say it's a VI-II-III in A minor and people have to know that the I is assumed to be the relative major?

It seems like if you make the numbering system mutable so that the I is always the root of that key, be it aeolian, dorian, or whatever, then that's a lot of memorization of different numbering sequences, whereas if you always keep the I as the relative major of your key, then you always know what chord each number is automatically and actually, you could get by without even being aware of the whole modal thing. Like if you were describing an A dorian song to someone who didn't know what that was, you could just say it's a II-I-IV-III in G major.

Thoughts?

Last edited: Aug 09, 2017 23:26:39

For me, the key is the key. Sure, The notes and chords are the same in both modes, but the focus and the mood is different because of where they begin. So, IMO, progression number is unique to the scale. The root is the root regardless of I or i.

MAJOR
I ii iii IV V vi viiº

MINOR
i iiº III iv v VI VII

When getting into more exotic scales or modifying the mode (ie Phrygian Dominant), the chords can become something more than just major or minor or diminished (yay augmented!). I would just use the progression roman numeral with the appropriate modifier (like + or º) but keep everything in the right key.

What would you do if the song modulates between keys instead of just relative maj/min? You would need to properly label them in their key, right?

Last edited: Aug 10, 2017 20:58:26

I agree that the key is the key. I wasn't trying to say that one shouldn't recognize the true flavor of the song and just try to call everything by its major "equivalent." And I agree with you--I think the numbers should adjust to the actual key. So a I-IV-V in A dorian might actually be written i-IV-v and the player just needs to understand that he/she is playing the ii-V-iv of G major. So... that's a lot of memorization I need to get started on.

Quick! What's the 3rd chord of the locrian scale? And so on...

Readfeather wrote:

So... that's a lot of memorization I need to get started on.

Excuse my ignorance, but considering the need for memorization, where do you (and the others) see the advantage of chord numbering over just writing out the chord sequences?

Los Apollos - interplanetary surf music trio (Berlin)
"Chaos at the Lobster Lounge" OUT NOW as LP and download on Surf Cookie Records!

Last edited: Aug 11, 2017 06:55:11

Simoncoil, the guitar has the convenient characteristic of being easy to transpose keys on by the simple motion of moving up or down the board so getting the numbering system down makes it really easy to call out a progression and then put it in whatever key you or the singer or the lights guy wants on the fly-- "Guys, it's a 1-4-5 in G major" --without needing to sit there and figure out what all the chords are. It just makes it easy to convey the structure of a song in a way that is easily translated to any key. Of course it works the same regardless of the instrument but it's just nice that the guitar is so conducive to key flexibility. As opposed to a piano, for instance, where each key is a different combination of whites/blacks that must be learned.

Last edited: Aug 11, 2017 14:16:58

Thanks, that makes sense! Of course I also do this when I want to transpose a chord sequence to another key, but I in almost every other case I have sticked to naming the chords so far.

Los Apollos - interplanetary surf music trio (Berlin)
"Chaos at the Lobster Lounge" OUT NOW as LP and download on Surf Cookie Records!

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