I wanted to highlight a particular chord of my previous question because it was bugging me a bit. What would you call a dominant triad over a subdominant bass, in pop/jazz roman numeral analysis? It could be seen as a V7 in third inversion, but if you have a strong subdominant bass it doesn't really sound like it. But just calling it a IV seems... meh. Especially because we call the inverse, a subdominant triad over a dominant bass, a sus chord.

Update: Thanks all for your responses. As most of you have said, roman numeral analysis isn’t really suited for these kinds of chords. I might decide to just slash chords for bass and then come up with a different way to notate secondary chords and modulations in a functional manner. I don’t want to do this literally because that doesn’t make sense in a tonic-agnostic notation.


  • 3
    How about V7/IV or just V/IV? That's a G/F chord. May 5, 2021 at 10:00
  • 1
    The problem with that is: it's a slash chord, which conflicts with the roman numeral analysis meaning of V7 of IV.
    – Daan
    May 5, 2021 at 10:02
  • I see. What's this analysis good for anyway? ;) If something as basic as G/F is difficult, it must completely explode at F/G. (just joking) TBH I thought I had seen V/IV somewhere as meaning this case, in addition to the secondary dominant meaning. But couldn't find where that was. Maybe you could tweak the notational practices by adding an explanation text, "in this example, V/IV means ..." May 5, 2021 at 10:13
  • To allow me to more easily transpose in every key when playing a piece. I could go for a more literal spelling, but understanding the piece better, also allows me to play it better. I guess my notation is somewhere in between literal and full-on analysis. I don’t notate inversions for example.
    – Daan
    May 5, 2021 at 10:22
  • This probably doesn't help at all, but I think of scale degrees, chords and inversions etc. in terms of objects and spatial locations, not in terms of textual symbols at all. What shape is my basic chord and where do I put it, where do I put my bass note. They are like my hands, I can think about my left hand without thinking about any word or letter. Just like I can think about my left back pocket without assigning it any text or symbol or number, I think about scale degrees and chord roles. Chords and notes are objects with a shape, in locations in space where I move and operate. May 5, 2021 at 12:14

6 Answers 6


Not fully understanding the dots - it's key C,from the key sig., and the chords go from F to G7 back to F.

That G7 is in 3rd inversion, because the F is in the bass.If it was going to be called V/IV, in key C, that would make it C7, which it obviously isn't, and anyway C7 would be designated I7.

RN isn't particularly helpful in cases such as this. It could be called G/F, which again isn't helpful fot transcription to other keys.

A better way would be to label using NNS - the Nashville Number System.

  • I agree, NNS is worth learning. But could you explain how it makes this example easier?
    – user45266
    May 5, 2021 at 17:27
  • @user45266 - it's more 'bare bones' and not steeped in history!
    – Tim
    May 5, 2021 at 17:35

I see two ways to analyze this. First, it's just a IV-V7-IV with a subdominant pedal. Another possibility is a IV-V42-IV progression. Both give the same note. I think the first describes the music a bit better. It might be worth looking at some of Handel's stuff as he liked the third inversion seventh enough that it's been commented on in the music history books.

"Passing" or "non-functional" chords are not always easy to describe; they often arise from just voice-leading considerations rather than being part of a harmonic direction. (They don't conflict with harmonic functions, they only "decorate" them.)

  • But does the second chord sound like a V7 to you? To me, it really doesn’t.
    – Daan
    May 5, 2021 at 21:47
  • Passing chords don't always sound the same as when used functionally. Also, a pedal point seems to disguise most chords with perhaps the exception of a pedal on the dominant. Here not only is it a passing chord, but also a 64 chord; these (to me anyway) always sound like decorations rather than functional. Analysis of chords over an independent bass line isn't well described by most analyses.
    – ttw
    May 5, 2021 at 23:23

In your last question, you engaged with the common-tone diminished seventh chord (CT°7). But diminished sevenths aren't the only possible common-tone chords; another common possibility is the common-tone dominant seventh (CTV7), which I would argue is what we have here.

This is especially common with IV moving to V above a scale-degree 4 pedal, as it does here. And it's exactly the same as the opening of "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid: "Look at this stuff" is above a IV chord, and "isn't it neat?" is above a CTV7, that V42 where V is above a pedal of scale-degree 4. It resolves back to IV on "Wouldn't you think..."

I think this label is better than understanding that middle chord as a true V42, because in most cases that V42 is going to resolve to tonic (and typically in first inversion, but that changes based on style and genre). Here it's clearly prolonging IV, and since common-tone chords are inherently prolongational, I think the CTV7 is the best interpretation.

  • I like this answer, I think you might be onto something about the common-tone prolongation being more important than strict harmonic function.
    – user45266
    May 5, 2021 at 17:30
  • I don't think you're wrong, but honestly, it's hard to beat the plain V/IV in roman numerals - in the same way that I find IV/V a more functional expression than V9sus4. I'm starting to think whether I should just use the slash for bass and then 'V of V' etc. for secondary chords. (I'm sure many folks here will now roll their eyes haha.)
    – Daan
    May 5, 2021 at 20:04

It's triads over a pedal. F, G/F, F. If tempted to call the second chord G7/F, take the idea a little further...

enter image description here

Wouldn't it be ridiculous to call that new chord A♭6/F? No, these are plain triads over a pedal and deserve to be named as such.

But I don't think Roman numbers deal with this very well. It likes everything to be functional.

(This, of course, would be a different matter. Here it IS a last-inversion G7.) enter image description here

  • I agree with you that V/IV is the common sense way to do it. But then how to distinguish it from a secondary chord? (V of IV)
    – Daan
    May 5, 2021 at 19:56
  • Yes, V/IV means V of IV. Like I said, Roman number analysis doesn't deal with this sort of non-functional harmony very well.
    – Laurence
    May 5, 2021 at 20:47

Normally the melody do-ti-la above IV (the subdominant) will be considered (the middle not e) as passing tone. Now together with parallels of 3rd and 6th we get a resoti (V) chord. I think it is most useful to consider this passage as a slash chord and it will help you to transpose it easily in other keys.

I think the idea of passing tones or suspensions 6-5;9-8;11-10 is more logical than the 3rd inversion of V7.

  • 1
    The OP is asking, what is the official notation for writing slash chords in Roman numerals. Slash notation "V/IV" is already reserved for a different use meaning "five of four", i.e. in key C major it would mean secondary dominant, "dominant of F", i.e. C7. Maybe slash notation is used in other meanings as well even with Roman numerals, but I couldn't find credible evidence of that. May 5, 2021 at 11:54
  • Then we must use the through bass notation 43;65;98. We over here use the secondary dominant in brackets: (V)V=V/V ... May 5, 2021 at 11:57
  • @AlbrechtHügli So you use brackets for secondary chords and slash for the bass?
    – Daan
    May 5, 2021 at 21:27
  • yes, if you look up the German wiki site of secondary dominante (Zwischendominante = the dominante between ). But for the slash chord V over IV you can invent your own signs, if you want. Btw. I can use what I want, if I understand my language. Theory is never ending. ;) May 6, 2021 at 7:34

I agree that these are modal 'color' chords over a pedal point. The V chord is not functioning as a dominant at all; rather, it brings out the Lydian nature of the IV chord. The Lydian mode gives that faraway, otherworldly sound, and is especially exploited in cinematic music.

You might have better luck with pop/jazz music notation, even though you lose the tonic-agnostic benefit of roman numerals. Check out this excerpt from a jazz lead sheet:

Jazz lead sheet excerpt

Here we see chords progressing over pedal tones. The emphasis is on readability. Functional analysis is left open to debate - this kind of music can have multiple, overlapping harmonic interpretations.

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