We know that in minor keys the 6th and 7th notes can be 'basic' or a semitone higher.

By 'basic', I mean they obey the key signature. So, in key Am, would chords F and G be better portrayed as VI and VII, or as ♭VI and ♭VII respectively?

Or is there a more accurate, less ambiguous way?

  • No, VI and VII are natural and when they are sharpened add the augmenting sharp sign #. In B flat keys VI and VII corresponding will be flat (by the key signature and if augmented you’ll set the sign for natural ... Aug 31, 2020 at 17:39

5 Answers 5


If we need to analyse a work written strictly in Am, I think VI and VII are clear enough.

If there is a modulation between Am and A, and we want to keep A as root, I would use ♭VI for F and VI for F#. Same if any modal interchange occurs, e.g.:

A  F#m  F   G
I  vi   ♭VI ♭VII

Regarding the occurrences of F# and G# as chord roots, it really depends on the context - usually F# would appear in D first inversion (so IV/6) or as V/V/V, while G# would be in V/6 or in viio.

If both G AND G#dim join the game, I would use VII and #viio respectively.


Usage varies. But I'd suggest that the only unambiguous method is to name chords, whether as chord symbols or Roman numerals in relation to the major key.

Whether the key is C major or C minor, C,E,G is 'C', C, E♭,G is 'Cm'.

Similarly, C,E,G is 'I', C, E♭,G is 'i'.

B♭, D, F is '♭VII', B♭, D♭, F is '♭vii'.

There will be disagreement about this!

  • Which was, really, the point in asking.
    – Tim
    Aug 31, 2020 at 19:15
  • I like this because it’s unambiguous. The system I first learned is Not the same but similar to this and is explained in my answer. Sep 1, 2020 at 6:44
  • Just posted it here Sep 1, 2020 at 6:55

I think it's important to remember a vital distinction here: an accidental before the Roman numeral applies to the root of the chord. An accidental after the Roman numeral is figured bass.

So in A minor, F major is VI, because F is scale-degree 6 in A minor. Only in A major would we need to clarify this F-major chord as ♭VI (or ♮VI if we want to be really fussy). ♭VI in A minor would actually be F♭ (=E!) major.

But neither one of these is to be confused with VI in A major, which would be an F♯-major chord. Here the accidental applies to the third above the bass, thereby making this a collection of {F♯, A♯, C♯}.

  • Interesting! In key A major, (or any other...) I've not experienced VI#. I'd call F#major V/V/V - unwieldy, but understandable.
    – Tim
    Aug 31, 2020 at 19:19
  • @Tim - why not just call F# major in A major V/ii? Also, I think it's pretty rare to see figured bass accidentals used this way with Roman numerals. And on the rare occasion a convention like that uses accidentals with figures, I'd use actual numbers. That is -- a sharp alone may refer to the third above the bass with normal figured bass (without Roman numerals), but when paired with a Roman numeral, I'd personally write #3 explicitly to make clear what I was referring to, as that's not a very standard notation.
    – Athanasius
    Aug 31, 2020 at 20:37
  • V/V/V is assuming a function. Dangerous. Sep 1, 2020 at 12:58

It really depends on the convention one adopts. Some music theory symbols are pretty standard, but one sees variances among textbooks, theorists, and the style they are analyzing.

I'd say the most standard pattern in American "classical theory" textbooks of the past 40-50 years is to assume in A minor that VI means F major, VII means G major, and viio means G♯dim. I've seen some textbooks that tack on a flat or natural to VII (i.e., ♭VII or even ♮VII to accord with the key signature) to refer to G major, but most books probably omit it. In classical theory, a chord on the seventh scale degree is just assumed by default to be built on the subtonic if major and on the leading tone if diminished. However, that assumption may not be true of pop/jazz theory books, where Roman numerals with accidentals are more commonly employed and there are fewer assumptions about the implications and function of Roman numerals.

For the sixth degree, VI in minor is just assumed in classical theory to be built on the minor sixth scale degree, so no accidental is necessary. In fact, as Richard points out, putting a flat on it could confuse some people -- though again, I think that's dependent on convention. I'm pretty sure I've seen at last one book (I think in pop or jazz theory) that assumed the major scale was the scale, so any deviation from it was notated with an accidental. Thus ♭VI would be necessary to designate F major in that system for any key or mode based on A. (I'd personally avoid using a symbol like ♭VI in a minor key, to avoid confusion, but again it depends on the convention you're working with.)

In the end, I agree with Laurence Payne: if you want to be absolutely clear what chord you're referencing and the specific notes, use a chord symbol (like Fmajor) rather than a Roman numeral. Roman numerals are a shortcut to designate function (not just label chords, though many people confuse this), and the function of a VI or VII or whatever should be pretty clear from context.


I learned the classical way of naming chords and also a more modern way which I prefer where everything is literally spelled out in relation to the root note of the keys regardless of whether it’s major or minor. There are no small letters and all relationships are spelled out like the way intervals are named.


Diatonic major chords:


Eb in the key of either C or Cm: bIII

Amaj7 in the key of G or Gm: IImaj7

Em7b5 in the key of D or Dm: IIm7b5

Fmaj7 in the key of E or Em: bIImaj7

I prefer this method because there is no doubt as to what the interval from the home key or what the quality of the chord is.

  • That's similar to NNS, but using RN instead of Arabic. I'd be concerned about bIII in Cm. Don't like NNS with the minus sign for minor - hand-written, it gets lost sometimes. I guess the 'classical way' is more to show the function of a chord - which helps - sometimes.Lower case letters also confuse, hand-written - C looks like c, F like f. And, let's face it, rarely find chords F# and G# in key Am. This question was spawned from a comment on another question in the last couple of days.
    – Tim
    Sep 1, 2020 at 7:25
  • It is similar to NNS. The entire system is a bit more involved, using brackets for 2-5’s and arrows for resolutions, etc. I don’t have a problem with bIII for minor, after all, the 3rd scale degree in minor is a m3. Either way, good question, or debate if you will, Everyone will have their preferences and legitimate reasons for why they prefer it that way. By the way, how about “Light My Fire”? Am to F#m right? Sep 1, 2020 at 7:38
  • That one has always been a 'problem'. Couldn't ever resolve it. Just think of it as an odd one-off. Most particularly the Doors version, in which the intro seems to be nothing to do with the song...
    – Tim
    Sep 1, 2020 at 7:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.