What Chords Do Those Numbers Mean?

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Razor7Music
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What Chords Do Those Numbers Mean?

Post by Razor7Music » Thu Nov 29, 2012 1:59 pm

Hopefully someday soon I'll be able to help others with their posts instead of always being such a consumer :P

I went to one of the songwriting sessions at the last Rally and one of the lecturers gave a list of the most common chord progressions in Pop music today. I took copious notes on those number combinations, unfortunately, I don't know what chords they represent. :lol:

I'm guessing it's pretty basic stuff, but being mostly self-taught, I don't know what they represent. Is 1=A, etc?

Any help is appreciated--as always!
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Re: What Chords Do Those Numbers Mean?

Post by Casey H » Thu Nov 29, 2012 2:37 pm

This link should explain:
http://www.guitar-chords.org.uk/chord-t ... ering.html

The numbers are notation for the chords in any key. This makes it very easy to transpose songs from key to key. For example, the "1" chord (roman numeral "I") is the first chord in any key. Major chords are shown in upper case roman numerals, minor chords in lower case.

In the key of C:
C-Dm-Em-F-G-Am-Bdim
is
I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi-vii

Although, I don't think well in numbers (I'm getting better at it!), experienced musicians often do. It allows them to play any song in any key.

For example, a I-IV-V pattern is C-F-G in the key of C and A-D-E in the key of A.

The old 50's thing in key of C is I-vi-IV-V (C Am F G).

Make sense?

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Re: What Chords Do Those Numbers Mean?

Post by hummingbird » Thu Nov 29, 2012 4:57 pm

Every scale has the same number of intervals. Move the tonic (the lowest note) and all the internals remain the same.

Anyway... if I am in the key of C I know the dominant chords (major) are one, four and five. All the rest are minor except the one before the octave, which is a mb5

This makes it soooo easy to transpose.

C - DM - EM - F - G - AM - BMb5 - C

then G would be

G - AM - BM - C - D - EM - F#Mb5 - G

maj - minor - minor - maj - maj - minor - minor with a flat 5


When writing songs, for contrast, I often put the chorus in a different, but related key... for example, a verse in the key of C (DM, BMb5), the chorus in G (D maj, F#Mb5) ((the 2 unrelated chorus in parenthesis))

:)
Last edited by hummingbird on Thu Nov 29, 2012 5:54 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: What Chords Do Those Numbers Mean?

Post by Razor7Music » Thu Nov 29, 2012 5:32 pm

OK--got it. I did take music in college and had to do manual transpositions, memorize notes in a key, but I never learned their (Roman) numeral equivalents.

Appreciate it. Then I guess the lecturer was focusing on popular progressions instead of keys. ;) He only gave the numbers--at least that I recall and wrote down.
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Re: What Chords Do Those Numbers Mean?

Post by Casey H » Thu Nov 29, 2012 5:38 pm

Razor7Music wrote:Then I guess the lecturer was focusing on popular progressions instead of keys. ;) He only gave the numbers--at least that I recall and wrote down.
Yup.... That's the whole point. The key is irrelevant. A progression is a progression regardless of key, the numbers are a constant frame of reference.

Best of luck!
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Re: What Chords Do Those Numbers Mean?

Post by hummingbird » Thu Nov 29, 2012 5:56 pm

The progression is the same no matter what the key, yep

So at the bluegrass jam here, they will start a song in the key, and then yell out FOUR, ONE, FIVE as the chord changes come up. Everyone knows the chords in the key because of the numbers.
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Re: What Chords Do Those Numbers Mean?

Post by feaker66 » Sun Dec 02, 2012 4:18 am

wow, I am forum user/abuser and seldom give back much also.

Thanks Casey and Bird. I have serched the web often looking for helpful progression chords and never understood the roman numeral stuff (WTF)

It' five in the morning and I have already gotten much smarter.

Thanks you two.

Sncerely

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Re: What Chords Do Those Numbers Mean?

Post by CHuckmott » Sun Dec 02, 2012 7:12 am

I IV V also referred to as a twelve bar blues generally. Think countless songs..Johnny B. Goode....Old Time Rock And Roll.......Bad Moon Rising....lots of Little RIchard Stuff. Move the key around.

VI - V - IV ( for example Am - G - F). ANother classic.

I-VI-IV-V. CLassic fifties turnaround. Think Runaround Sue. Try it in C. THen D and see if you can figure out the chords. THen A. Then you'll get the concept I believe.

Most pop /rock songs use some combination of the I, IV, V, and VI chords regardless of key. Countless ones use no more then those. If you are playing a song and you are using a combination of , say, three chords that are all major consistently, highly likely you are using a I-IV-V progression.

I'd be really interested in hearing if anyone found my comments helpful....but for those who have no music theory these are essential building blocks if you want to get into this stuff....and not real difficult to learn . But will completely open up your musical world when understood.

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Re: What Chords Do Those Numbers Mean?

Post by feloniuspunk » Wed Jan 02, 2013 11:55 am

As stated by all who have responded, numbers refer to chords within any key. It's all from basic music theory. To understand it in a simple form, think of the major scale, do re mi fa so la ti do. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. 1 and 8 are the same but 8 is one octave higher than 1. The numbers do not just represent notes in the scale but also the chords associated with those notes.

The song Do-Re-Mi from the movie The Sound of Music is an easy way to demonstrate:

DOE-- A DEER A FEMALE DEER (C)
RAY-- A DROP OF GOLDEN SUN (Dm)
ME-- A NAME I CALL MYSELF (Em)
FAR-- A LONG LONG WAY TO RUN (F)
SEW-- A NEEDLE PULLING THREAD (G7)
LA-- A NOTE TO FOLLOW SEW (Am)
TEA-- A DRINK WITH JAM AND BREAD (Bm7b5)
THAT WILL BRING US BACK TO DO (C)

So if I say play a 1-6-2-5 turnaround in the key of C you should play Cmaj(7)-Am7-Dm7-G7. If I say play it in the key of Ab then you play Abmaj(7)-Fm7-Bbm7-Eb7. The intervalic relationships between all the chords are the same in any key.

There are also families of chords. Basically there are 3 families: Tonic, Dominant and Sub-dominant.

The Tonic family has three chords: 1-3-6. In key of C that’s 1 = Cmaj(7), 3 = Em7, 6 = Am7. Tonally they are all similar and very close to each other in sound and can thus all be used as substitutions for each other (try it).

The Dominant family has two chords: 5-7. In key of C that’s 5 = G7, 7 = Bm7b5. Tonally they are both similar and very close to each other in sound and can thus both be used as substitutions for each other.

Sub-dominant family has two chords: 2-4. In key of C that’s 2 = Dm7, 4 = Fmaj(7). Tonally they are both similar and very close to each other in sound and can thus both be used as substitutions for each other.

Ear training involves being able to listen to a song (any song) and know when the chord families change., and from what family to what new family. It’s easy for 1-4-5 tunes. Wild Thing by the Troggs is an easy learning tune. 1-4-5 is tonic-subdominant-dominant. After a while it gets easy once you learn to recognize the tonic of a song, hearing when the family changes and to what family.

Here’s a neat trick. There are often many instances where you can transition into any major chord by playing its 2-5 in front of it. Play the opening of the song Misty:

2-Fm6b9 (1 beat) – (piano chord = F-Ab-D-Gb-Bb in that order) – Look
5- Bb13b5 (1 beat) – (piano chord = Bb-E-Ab-D-G in that order) – at
1- Ebmaj7 (4 beats) – (piano chord = Eb-G-Bb-D in that order) – me, I’m as

2-Bbm9 (2 beats) – (piano chord = Bb-Ab-Db-F-C in that order) – helpless as a
5-Eb13 (2 beats) – (piano chord = Eb-G-Db-G-C in that order) – kitten up a
1-Abmaj (4 beats) – (piano chord = Ab-C-Eb-G in that order) – tree

Notice that the melody notes are the highest notes in each chord. That’s just good composition. Most jazz players already think in these terms and understand it implicitly.

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Re: What Chords Do Those Numbers Mean?

Post by charlie2 » Tue Jun 04, 2013 8:49 am

ah yes....that 2 5 progression. it's everywhere. I been thinking a lot about it lately.

songs like my sweet lord and the story in your eyes (moody blues) both start with 2 5 and so do so many others.

in fact, I think the famous 50s progression....I vi IV V was at one time I vi ii V but we substituted the IV for the ii.
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