So as I'm writing this song, its main chord progression is i-VII-v-VI, D#m-C#-A#-B. I usually compose by ear and just write what sounds nice and analyze it later, and I'm doing here, but I'm now wondering if there's a way to properly indicate the movement of this progression?

What I mean is, in what I have written it starts at D#m, and then goes down to C#, down again to A#, and then up to B. The last three chords' movement is mostly implied so that should be an issue, but I'm mostly trying to find a way to indicate that it should move from i down to VII and not from i up to VII. Is there anything that exists for this?

  • 1
    should it be A#m? Jul 10, 2021 at 5:38
  • do you mean how would you notate a down and up strum on guitar?
    – Neil Meyer
    Jul 12, 2021 at 8:33

2 Answers 2


That is the purpose of standard music notation.

Chord symbols by themselves are directionless, as well as non-specific about the voicing of the chord (except for the lowest pitch). If you want the chords to be played in a particular way, there are three options.

  1. Write it out in standard notation.
  2. Make a recording for the performer to learn from.
  3. Create your own notation. You could just write out the instructions as you did in asking the question ("up to the next chord; down to the next chord"); you could use arrows or, say, a horizontal line above or below a chord to indicate it should be higher or lower than the previous one.
  • When we talk about movement we're mainly talking about the bass line, since the upper registers can pretty much voice themselves however they want to. So there has been a "shorthand" notation in history: "figured bass," common in the baroque period, combined a notated bass line with numbers to indicate the chord. You could take a similar approach if you don't want to explicitly notate all of the chord voicing, by combining chord symbols with a notated bass line. (Of course, if you're writing for a bass player who doesn't read notation, then maybe a recording is the best bet.) Jul 9, 2021 at 18:33
  • I'd figured as much, thanks for the response! I've been writing music for the last 5 years without that much knowledge of theory, so I've been trying to crack into it more lately in-between projects. EDIT: @AndyBonner Oops, replied before your response showed up - that's really interesting! I'll def take a look into it
    – Seth G.
    Jul 9, 2021 at 18:34

Roman numerals i VII V VI are for analysis where the octave, direction, and melodic aspects don't make any difference.

Pop/jazz symbols D#m C# A# B are basically for lead sheets or extra info above a song melody staff in songbooks are convenience in guitar tab. But a basic expectation is the player will ad lib from those chords.

Those two things won't do what you want, because they aren't meant to.

To transcribe the exact performance of a recording or compose with exact performance instructions you need a notated score...

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But, if you aren't writing out any other parts, there isn't much reason for staff, so you could just write octave numbers...

D#3 C#3 A#2 B2

...that's really just the bass notes, not chord symbols, but that octave numbering is fairly well recognized.

If you try to mix that with numbers for seventh chords, etc. it will be confusing, ex. B2(7) for a B dominant seventh chord, bass in octave 2. You could try to get around that with Helmholtz notation which doesn't use letters d# c# A# B7 or D,# C,# A# B7, but I doubt anyone will recognize it.

You could use arrows...

D#m ↓ C# ↓ A# ↑ B

...but there will always be someone who says they don't understand what the arrows mean.

It depends a bit on the writing medium. If you're writing on paper, arrows are pretty easy. Personally, I use that a lot, like ↓P5 ↑P4 to show root progressions. But on computer it's a pain in the neck. You need some way to input the unicode characters and to some extent you need to worry about whether the view has fonts to actually display arrows.

If it really, really matter to show what exactly should be played, notate it.

There is an awesome book of all recorded Beatles songs transcribing exactly what was played in the recordings, The Beatles: Complete Scores, it's written in tablature and staff notation.

Staff notation is appropriate for rock music too if there is a reason to be exact.

  • If you're going to use arrows, then perhaps diagonal ones might be more intuitive?  E.g. D♯m ↘︎ C♯ ↘︎ A♯ ↗︎ B.  After all, the advantage of your own notation is that you can define it however you like.  (The disadvantage, of course, is that no-one else will know it.)  — Mind you, I thought I'd invented my own notation, and found that I'd merely reinvented the Nashville Number System, so there's always a chance you're not being as original as you think :-)
    – gidds
    Jul 10, 2021 at 13:13
  • Sure, diagonals would seem intuitive. Actually up/down arrows get used on some microtonal accidentals so there's a remote chance someone might think an arrow (of any type) means some sort of de-tuning. Non-standard things always have a risk of being misunderstood. Jul 11, 2021 at 23:26

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