Basic question, I understand the ideas of modes and that there are 7 corresponding keys within each major/minor scale, but I'm trying to learn what exactly is meant when the chord progression is described as:

Ebmin/Bb - Cb major (D#min/A# - B major)

The progression is best described as i/5 - bVI

I'm primarily confused about the / used to separate notes, and the - used to separate keys, how is this read? I'm completely unaware of what i/5 - bVI means.

Please see image for the music notation of the chords.

enter image description here

3 Answers 3


The"/" symbol is used to denote which note of the chord should be the the "bass" or lowest note of the chord. It does not indicate two different chords. In an Eb minor triad, "Bb" is the fifth of the chord. So, if writing that chord the way it is notated (assuming close position,) the notes would be: Bb, Eb, Gb from lowest to highest. In the case of your musical excerpt, it is used to denote a "pedal" or "sustained" tone in the bass while the chord is arpeggiated in the right hand.

The "-" symbol merely shows harmonic progression. When you see that symbol between two chords, it is merely showing that one moves to the other.

Roman numerals refer to degrees from the parent scale, in this case, Eb minor. Lowercase and uppercase signify minor or major chords respectively.

"Cb" is the flat sixth scale degree of Eb minor.

Hope that helps!

  • Looking at the dots, I reckon it could have been written out 1.with proper key signature, or 2. without any flats, putting it into Em/ G, unless of course, one felt like playing it on keys using mostly black notes.There aren't many pieces using Cb, to me there's no point.
    – Tim
    Jul 14, 2013 at 20:31
  • Just another helpful note: you can put any root under a chord, it isn't limited to just tones within that triad/chord. For example, you can have an Eb/A, which would be an Eb Major Triad (Eb, G, Bb) with an A in the bass. Even though the resulting chord could be considered an A7b9b5 if we spell it with "A" as the root, the composer may have specifically wanted the Eb triad sound over A. Jul 15, 2013 at 2:07
  • 1
    @NateKimball - I'm going to have to clarify your comment a bit here - there is a difference between having a note function as the root of a chord and having a note function as the bass of a chord. Jul 15, 2013 at 2:57
  • Haha, I knew someone was going to get fussy about that :P In a jazz/jam context, "in the bass" is understood to mean "as the root of the chord". But @jjmusicnotes is 100% correct - technically, it is functioning as the root of the chord. Jul 15, 2013 at 3:55

As jj has said, the / is used to denote bass notes.

Ebmin/Bb - Cb major (D#min/A# - B major) first it's giving you what the actual chord change is, so Ebmin/Bb is your i/5, and Cb major is your bVI.

The bracketed notes are what's called an enharmonic spelling. Eb and D# are the same note, they're just named differently depending on what the function of the note is. Bb and A# are also the same note, as are Cb and B.

The reason it says Cb instead of B here is that the function of it is as a flat 6th(bVI), and so it is enharmonically spelled as Cb to make clear it's function.

and the "-" used to separate keys It's separating chords rather than keys, the - means 'to' in this case, so CMaj - GMaj would mean C major to G major.

I'm completely unaware of what "i/5 - bVI" means.

i means the chord 1, the fact that it's lower case likely means it's a minor chord.

/5 means that the tone that would usually be a 5th above the key note is being used in the bass. This is called a Second inversion which you can read about at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inversion_(music).

often with this type of notation lower case letters denote minor chords and upper case letters denote major chords, so the i means minor on 1 or - a minor chord with it's root on the first degree of the scale.

and VI means Major on 6.(we'll come to the b in a moment)

I was confused at first seeing the b in bVI, because you can also notate inverted chords in teh classical system using letters, where I would mean a straight root chord, Ia would mean 1st inversion and Ib would mean second inversion. (this doesn't make sense here though because we've already seen the /5 system being used)

so what the bVI means is a major chord starting from the flattened 6th degree of the scale.

Analysis of the progression

I could be mistaken here, chord analysis can get messy! But, I'll give it a go.

based on your bass notes, your 5 in i/5 moves up chromatically to the bVI, which could make some nice voice leading, but aside from that let's look at the chords we get based on C.

i/5 = G C Eb (basic c minor is C Eb G) bVI = Ab C Eb

or in your case Ebmin/Bb = i/5 = Bb Eb Gb (basic Eb minor is Eb Gb Bb) Cb major = bVI = Cb Eb Gb

not only does the bass rise a semitone, but the other 2 notes do not change, so you should come up with a really interesting sound without being over dissonant. Your ear hangs on to the notes that don't change so the ones that do will sound good against them.

Often when chords are re-arranged this way it's because it makes the transition of individual notes smoother, which can sound pretty fantastic. It's called voice leading and you can find a ton of similar patterns in books like Chord Chemistry by Ted Greene if you're a guitarist.

Hope that helps! for all my explanation your ears are the real judges of chords


Ebmin/Bb - Cb major is said as "E flat minor over B flat, moving to C flat major.

That is, the first chord is Eb minor combined with a Bb bass note. The second chord is Cb major.

Eb and D# are the same note; Bb and A# are the same note. Cb is B. So, as it says in brackets, you can also write "D#min/A# - B major". Most people would do this, since it's unusual to refer to Cb.

i/5 -bVI replaces absolute chord names with roman numerals relating to their position in the scale, and individual note names with arabic numerals.

So assuming Eb is the key, i refers to E. 5 is Bb. VI would refer to C, but since it's bVI ("flat sixth") it refers to Cb (or B).

The advantage of the numbered form is that it's not tied to a particular key.

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