Chords and roman numerals - Referring to chords by roman numerals

Technique, methods and advice for learners

Postby Stretto » Tue May 09, 2006 9:27 pm

When using Roman numerals to identify chords, are the Roman numerals one would use to differentiate between major and minor chords called "big Roman numerals" or "Capital Roman numerals" and "small Roman numerals" or "Upper Case Roman numerals" and "lower case Roman numerals" like in the alphabet? Or is there another name to refer to "large" Roman numerals vs. "small" Roman numerals?

I just want to make sure I'm using the right terminology when explaining them to students. Would one say to a student, "write 'small' Roman numerals for minor chords", for example? Or is there another term when referring to "large" and "small" Roman numerals? :p
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Wed May 10, 2006 10:51 am

OK, you have me tongue tied now!

I use all Roman numerals the same - I never though of capital/small. etc.
I just always used what you would consider "capital" If I need to identify the minor, that is when I use the lowercase or small letters. I use just the I for a major chord and a I for the minor. If I am noting the key, that is small also as e minor. The key signature is found and written above the music, or not, if the student is going to remember, so any chords that need to be identified, I would just put I and they would know that meant I in e minor, or whatever key they were playing.

Is that as clear as yours?

Only kidding.

:p

Joan
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Postby Stretto » Wed May 10, 2006 11:17 am

OK, so now I am going to try to explain why I feel a need to explain it to my students and sound even more confusing. :laugh: I do have a tendency to want to explain why things are a certain way to students and perhaps I'd be better off as in this case not trying to explain it. :p

Someone help us!!!!!!

What I'm having trouble with in the explanation process to students is in explaining where chords come from. I've been explaining how chords are built from each note of a scale and how a chord based on the 1st note of a Major scale (so far just doing major scale explaining!) is referred to as a I chord, on the 2nd note - a ii chord, and so forth. I have explained that the I chord is a Major chord, the ii chord is a minor chord, etc. and we play them listening for the difference in sound. The only thing that trips me up is explaining that one writes a "large" Roman numeral for major chords and a "small" Roman numeral for minor chords. Or if you see a "large" Roman numeral, it will be a major chord, if you see a "small" Roman numeral, it will be a minor chord. But is the use of the word "large" and "small" the correct wording when referring to Roman numerals?

Is that as clear as mud or what? I haven't even gotten to the part of explaining why there are Major and minor chords both within a major scale or in other words, what in the world are minor chords doing within a major scale. Let's not go there until we resolve my first question however!
:O
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Postby Stretto » Wed May 10, 2006 11:42 am

Well, it started bugging me what the answer was to my question. If all else fails consult a book or other resource, right? (Except the easy way out is to ask others first :laugh: ).

I pulled out the old trusty tattered theory book from college: "Music in Theory and Practice" by Bruce Benward and Gary White, which I might add I've always thought gave really easy to understand explanations of theory. The book does refer to Roman numerals as "uppercase Roman numerals" and "lowercase Roman numerals". So there's my answer! It's one of those instances where you start to explain something and then you start second guessing, "is that right?" But it was fun getting all mind-boggled!

Another question: Why are we still using Roman numerals to refer to chords today?




Edited By Stretto on 1147283060
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Wed May 10, 2006 1:31 pm

Stretto, I don't think you could have picked a better theory book than the Benward/White. It was used in the NMSU theory classes for several years while I was there, and I used it in my Form and Analysis classes--very clear.

'Upper' and 'lower' case is correct, because you're not referring directly to Roman numeral symbols for chords, but merely to the way the letters are being used.

Why are there minor chords in major keys (and vice versa)? Because major and minor scales are not symmetrical, i.e., they don't have the same distance between all the adjacent tones. Most are whole steps, but there are only half steps between 3 and 4, and 7 and 8 (major scale), and 2 and 3 and 5 and 6 (minor--plus the jump of an augmented 2nd in the harmonic form). It is this fact that causes a scale to have a "tonal center"--a single note that sounds like home base. The chromatic scale (all half steps) and the whole tone scale (all whole steps) don't have that gravitational pull to them.

So building a triad on ii in C major gives a minor chord because the half-step between E and F results in a minor third with the D.

One mistake you see an awful lot on concert programs and CD labels is something like "Scherzo in e minor". The lower case 'e' already denotes minor, so the word is redundant--it should say either "Scherzo in e" or "Scherzo in E minor".

Professor Bill.
Technique is 90 per cent from the neck up.
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Wed May 10, 2006 6:20 pm

Well, I was part right! I have never used lowercase roman numerals. Still learning something new.

When I teach the chords - I begin with I, V and IV as they are most frequently used in the early songs I teach, and many folk songs. They are also the major chords so you don't have to get into the minor in each key. I find it easier to teach the major keys first. When they know most of them and are used to the sound, I go onto minor, usually through a new song first, or sooner if students have found the sound or composed a minor song, and asked about it. I still begin with the minor keys and not the fact that both major and minor 'live' within the scale. I note that each major has a relative minor - as they have relatives - but only one.

Now I probably have confused you!

We need to get together and have a teaching seminar!


:D

Joan
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Postby Stretto » Thu May 11, 2006 11:00 pm

loveapiano wrote:We need to get together and have a teaching seminar!


:D

Joan

Sounds like a splendid idea! What would you like to give a talk on?

I could lull the audience to sleep with a talk "over-explaining" Roman numerals and their use in music!

(Um . . . do you suppose that's why my students eyes look glazed over while I'm explaining? :D ) - Just kidding! (Although I know I'm over explaining when they start looking at the clock! I guess clock watching happens at seminars too so I'm not the only one capable of producing clock watching and glazy eyes! Only at least when I notice it I don't continue to talk!)
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Fri May 12, 2006 9:13 am

Ha Ha - I meant exchanging ideas!
You knew that!

I think the simpler an explanation is, the better. You can ask for questions after that and answer them as simply as you can also.

I sometimes find it surprising, after a couple of years of lessons, a student will ask me a question that I was sure they knew the answer! I guess repetition is the best cure for that.

Musicales coming up - I don't think I am ready..it does take a lot of prep time!

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