I know that there is not a fully defined specification for the language used in jazz harmonic analysis, as it has grown slowly and organically and has many variations. I have seen some textbooks use the traditional way of marking minor chords with lowercase roman numerals and major chords with uppercase, creating the diatonic scale Imaj7 - ii7 - iii7 - IVmaj7 - V7 - vi7 - vii-7(b5). However, other textbooks such as The Chord Scale Theory & Jazz Harmony (by Nettles and Graf, ISBN: 389221056X) use all uppercase roman numerals, creating the diatonic Imaj7 - II-7 - III-7 - IVmaj7 - V7 - VI-7 - VII-7(b5).

Is there a preferred or more idiomatic way to notate analyses between these two methods or is it purely a personal preference?


4 Answers 4


Having looked at many analyzed scores, I find the lower case for minor and diminished and upper case for major and augmented much easier to read. The most common places I found hard to read were in music that uses both major and minor of the same key (tangos come to mind). (As far as I can tell from looking at older books, the use of both cases is an earlier practice.) A (non-tango) example would be in Bésame Mucho and songs with similar harmony. The opening phrases start:

i iv i iv V7 i V7 i I7 iv II7 V7 i iv i

The I7 could be analyzed as V7/iv but it's also a I from the point of view of parallelism in the phrases.

The argument I have read for all upper-case is that the reader is expected to know the key; my counterexample (or argument) is that a significant amount of music tends to use major and minor chords based on the same root in fairly close proximity.


As long as you use the two systems with the degree of specificity that you've done in your question, it ultimately won't matter, because they tell you the exact same thing.

As you've mentioned, major/augmented chords use uppercase Roman numerals while minor/diminished chords use lowercase. But note that in your system of using uppercase Roman numerals, quality is still specified after the Roman numeral. For instance, the clearly minor ii7 is still specified to be a minor seventh in the uppercase system by the dash following the Roman numeral: II-7.

As such, I would argue that it's strictly personal preference; my sense is that trained musicians will immediately understand either system, and have likely encountered both (and others) throughout their careers.


My preference, and I think it's the more contemporary style, it to user upper/lower case to show chord quality.

Using all upper case (and sometimes only Roman numerals) seems to be an older analysis style. At least, I see it more often in theory books from the first half of the twentieth century. I have always assumed this style took for granted people knew diatonic chord qualities for major/minor keys.

It seem worth considering the either/or of letter case reflects the importance of scale degree and root progression over chord quality, at least on the basic functional level. So, you might say II V I and iio V i are the same functionally, regardless of the specific chord qualities. Or, even II V I - which you sometimes see, versus V/V V I are the same, because functionally they are all pre-dominant to dominant to tonic.


Would you rather write Imaj(maj7) or I(maj7)? IIm7 or ii7? Unless you see some advantage in the longer form, I suggest you use the more compact one.

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