Roman Numerals
By Rich Scott

Roman numerals are an easy way to notate chord progressions without being key specific. Roman numerals indicate the relationship of chords to one another and to the underlying key. They identify the root, quality, and inversion of a chord with respect to a given key. In the key of “A”, the Roman numeral “I” represents the “A” major chord, the “Bb” major chord in the key of “Bb,” the “B” major chord in the key of “B,” and so forth. Conventional chord symbols following a Roman numeral designate chord quality. The table below shows the Roman numerals used to represent different major chords in all twelve keys. For example, the “C-F-G7” rock and roll progression would be written as “I-IV-V7.” The “I-IV-V7” would indicate the same relationship in all other keys such as “G-C-D7” in the key of G. Similarly, the “C-Am-F-G7” doo-wop progression would be notated as “I-VIm-IV-V7.”

Key	I	II	III	IV	V	VI	VII
A	A	B	C#	D	E	F#	G#
Bb/A#	Bb/A#	C	D	Eb/D#	F	G	A
B	B	C#	D#	E	F#	G#	A#
C	C	D	E	F	G	A	B
Db/C#	Db/C#	Eb/D#	F	Gb/F#	Ab/G#	Bb/A#	C
D	D	E	F#	G	A	B	C#
Eb/D#	Eb/D#	F	G	Ab/G#	Bb/A#	C	D
E	E	F#	G#	A	B	C#	D#
F	F	G	A	Bb	C	D	E
Gb/F#	Gb/F#	Ab/G#	Bb/A#	B	Db/C#	Eb/D#	F
G	G	A	B	C	D	E	F#
Ab/G#	Ab/G#	Bb/A#	C	Db/C#	Eb/D#	F	G

Inversions, which are chords with bass notes other than the root, are indicated using a diagonal slash mark [/] after the Roman numeral followed by the scale position of the desired bass note. For example, the “C-G/B-Am7-G” descending bass line progression would be indicated as “I-V/3rd -VIm7-V.”

This lesson is an excerpt from Chord Progressions For Songwriters © 2003 by Richard J. Scott, available on-line from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

Please check out the book for more great lessons like this.