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I'm doing ear training to identify chord progressions in order to be able to play chords by ear.

Now, I've already learned to identify I IV V triads. When hearing the progression I-IV-V, I pronounce it as "DO FA SO", no matter what the key is (even for minor chords).

I would like to advance with some more harmonic degrees and I came into a problem:
Let's say I hear the progression I-vi-VI-V. How do I pronounce this sequence of chords? what is the best way? Should I say "DO LA FA SO"? or is there any better way to do this?
Another example: The progression I-vi-ii-V, should I say "DO LA RE SO"?

I saw in another questions that there are some who pronounce the numbers, is that better? (seems to me that it's not).

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    The answer may depend on the language, region and music community. You may want to specify that. Jan 31 at 4:02
  • Depends on which type f instrument (musician) you're talking to. Some instruments are harmonic, some are more melodic. Sometimes you need to simplify chord terminology for those less-harmonically inclined, sometimes you can specify in absolute scientific-level terms. Jan 31 at 13:37
  • it seems that my question wasn't understood. i didn't meant to ask how to define chord progressions for theory purpose, but rather, how to sing the progression in order to memorize and practice it...(instead of "how to say" i should have said "how to sing" . i thought it's clear from the related question... ) i think i will start another question.... thanks everybody anyway!
    – Ynk
    Jan 31 at 19:51

3 Answers 3

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Everyone I've spoken to about chord progression, including rock musicians and college professors, pronounces the Roman numeral name. So, I is the "one chord", ii is the "two chord", etc. etc.

If the chord is not the strict diatonic chord of the key signature some modifier will probably be added. So, if the key were minor, but the final chord is a major I, that might be called something like the "major one chord" or the "major tonic chord".

V/V is usually called the "five of five chord".

Chords on the seventh scale degree come in various qualities and the exact pitch of the seventh scale degree varies in minor keys so the exact spoken description of those chord is a bit fluid and sometimes assumes context. viio might be called simply the "seven chord", or it may be called something like the "diminished leading tone triad", etc. etc. In minor keys VII might be called simply the "seven chord" or the "flat seven chord". That is a case where context often assumes the specific root pitch and chord quality.

When dealing with common progressions like ii V I or I6/4 V I, you might hear "two, five, one progression" or "cadential six four, five, one progress" or something similar.

Basically, just say the name of the Roman numeral, and if anything is either not strictly diatonic, or otherwise chromatic, or potentially ambiguous, use enough language to be clear. I'm thinking of potential confusing things like a "augmented six chord" - being an augmented triad built on the lowered VI minor scale degree - and and "augmented sixth chord" - which is a different chord with the lowered VI minor scale degree in the bass and an augmented sixth above it. Neither chord is strictly diatonic and so will probably need a fairly wordy description to be clear.

For what it's worth, I would not use solfege syllables - DO RE ME... to name chords/chord roots. Solfege make me think more about melodic aspects whether that melodic voice is the bass or any upper voice.

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This might partly have to do with where in the world you live as there are sometimes regional or national differences in the way music is represented and communicated. It would be a good idea to ask musicians in your country how harmony is verbally represented.

In the US Roman numerals are used to represent harmony, not solfège syllables. Also historically, harmony is taught with a numerical system. I find this to be the most practical way because intervals and distances between chords are represented numerically instead of with syllables and even chromatic chords like bII or #ivo are easy to instantly identify. However, that could be because that is what I have become used to over many years. Another issue is solfège is more commonly used to represent individual pitches instead of harmony.

I have played with Latin musicians from the Caribbean and South America who use a fixed DO system for representing harmony so FA mayor is F major, SO menor is G minor, etc. regardless of the key of the song. I do not know their approach for analysis as this is more for practical usage. This is an example of how region and country might play a role in how this is done.

Another issue is whether of not you will use a fixed or movable DO if you use this system. Movable DO would be much better for seeing harmonic function than fixed DO because the I is DO in any key.

Although there is a solfège representation for every pitch including chromatic notes, there is no solfège representation for harmony so perhaps the quality of the chord should be added to the solfège syllable if you choose to use this system. Thus, I vi ii V would be DO major, LA minor, RE minor, SO major. Another option would be to assume that a major chord is implied unless otherwise stated: DO, LA minor, RE Minor, SO. Numerically it would be: “one, six minor, two minor, five” or: “one, six, two, five” since the six and two are minor in a major key.

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There is no standardized way of doing this. For one's own learning, it's okay to use whatever system seems most intuitive.

In the United States, among professional musicians, the general expectation would be to use numbers to communicate chord progressions.

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