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I am going over an exercise in a chapter about sus2, sus4 and chords without 3rd and 5th note.

The exercise below is to write down roman numerals for each chord symbols, and I found out that for measure 3 and 6, the notes turn out to be B F# A C E, and B A C E.

They are 1 5 b7 b2 4 and 1 b7 b2 4 respectively. In an exercise where answers are either sus chords or diatonic chords, these symbols are neither one of them.

Can someone explain what the chord symbols are in roman numeral?

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  • 1
    With so many questionable questions, maybe consider the book isn't as good as it could be?
    – Tim
    Mar 20 at 10:47
  • sorry about that. But in fact I have learned a lot for the last few days asking around questions though, thanks to you guys.
    – Sean
    Mar 20 at 11:42
  • 4
    Roman numeral analysis of jazz chords is often more trouble than it's worth. That's because the roman numeral system was not designed for such chords and therefore you end up in situations like this. If you simply ignore the bass notes it makes much more sense, and you can extract the function and meaning of the chords more easily while interpreting the bass motion as not always paired with the chords. Late 19th and early 20th century music can present similar problems. Note that a chord with a 2nd or 4th in it is not a sus chord if the 3rd is also present. They are 9/2 or 11/4 chords. Mar 20 at 14:15
  • 1. susb2, together with the context of all the other fourth chords could suggest the piece is modal, and e.g. the Fø/B is e.g. B phryg or B dorian b2 chord. See e.g. this article: thejazzpianosite.com/jazz-piano-lessons/jazz-chords/… article. 2. To me, the sequence in the first measures resolves in Amaj7, so it might be better to consider it in the context of this chord, rather than the key of E. Mar 20 at 14:16
  • Also note that the roots of the chords in question are not B! They are F# and A, respectively. So the F# chord is not 1 5 b7 b2 4. It's 4 1 b3 b5 b7. The Am is 2 1 b3 5. Mar 20 at 14:18

2 Answers 2

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It’s important to point out that all of these slash chords are actually sus chords with the bass note being the root, and that most have a b7, making them technically “7sus2” or 7sus4” chords.

This is obviously not from a classical book so I am taking the approach of contemporary harmony for my answer.

Functionally, slash chords are usually better analyzed by bass note movement, not root function. In this case I see a cycle of 5ths progression from the C#m7 to the Amaj7 with many secondary dominant chords. Omitting sus labels and chord extensions and treating bar 4 as a single chord the first five bars are:

VIm, V/V, V, I(also V/IV), IV

After that it is a V-I in the home key with a delayed resolution using a B/E, which is really an Emaj7sus2(no5). FYI, this is sometimes referred to as the Steely Dan chord. The sus chords like E/F#, D/E and Bm7/E are all 9sus4 variants of V chords, the first two have no 5th.

Now to explain the F#m7b5/B and Am/B, when you think of the bass note as being the root these are 7sus4 chords with a b9 added. They are very similar to each other, the only difference is the omission of the F# in the Am/B:

F#m7b5/B: B,F#,A,C,E, or R,5,b7,b9,4. This translates into a B7sus4(b9).

Am/B: B,A,C,E or R,b7,b9,4. This translates into a B7sus4(b9,no5).

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  • Why the 'Steely Dan' chord?
    – Tim
    Mar 20 at 16:34
  • @Tim A root with a triad built on the 5th has often been used by Fagen and Becker in their compositions. I don’t know who coined the phrase. Mar 20 at 16:36
  • @Tim I guess it’s like the 7#9 is the Hendrix chord… Mar 20 at 16:37
  • So, in key C - C G B D ? The Hendrix chord was used way before him - one of Glenn Millers tunes had it , sure you must have played it!
    – Tim
    Mar 20 at 17:01
  • I think there's a fifth in the Steely Dan chord, relative to the bass note. Calling it "sus" something feels misleading, because it's not like there's a missing or suspended third waiting to be resolved. Like in "with (Bb/Eb) rage in your (C/F) eyes and your (D/G) megaphones" in Don't Take Me Alive. And IMO it's best to voice the triad so that its third is the highest note, like x6333x for Bb/Eb on the guitar. Mar 20 at 20:08
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In my opinion the first thing to point out is Roman numeral (analysis) does not normally indicated suspensions. A chord is a chord regardless on non-chord tones embellishing it.

If you first consider the chord symbols as given and look at the chord before the slash, and label them with Roman numeral analysis, you get...

E: C♯m7  E  F♯m7♭5  D   Bm7     Amaj7  Am  B  Emaj7
   vi7   I  iiø7   ♭VII v(min)7 IV7    iv  V  I7

Alternately, if you write out what the bass tones are and then label those as possible chord roots with Roman numeral analysis, you will get...

E: C♯  /F♯ /B  /E  A  /B  /E  E
   vi   ii  V   I  IV  V   I  I

The first Roman numeral analysis appears complicated, in terms of chord roots, compared to the second. Generally it's a good idea to go with Roman numeral analysis that makes functional progressions clear. So, I would start with Roman numeral analysis based on my second example and complete the figures on the roots by listing out the other tones involved, with the understanding that suspensions are not normally given in those figures.

E major: 
              Bass    Other-tone-in-thirds    Root       Interval-figures  RNA
m.1 C♯m7      C♯       E G♯ B                 vi          3 5 7            vi7
m.2 E/F♯      F♯       E G♯ B                 ii          7 9 4            ii9
m.3 F♯m7♭5/B  B        F♯ A C♮ E               V          5 7 ♭9 4          V♭9
m.4 D/E       E        D♮ F♯ A                 V/IV       7 9 4            V9/IV
    Bm7/E     E        B D♮ F♯ A               V/IV       5 7 9 4          V9/IV
m.5 Amaj7     A        C♯ E G♯                 IV         3 5 7            IV7
m.6 Am/B      B        A C♮ E                  V          7 ♭9 4            V♭9
m.7 B/E       E        B D♯ F♯                 I          5 7 9            I9
m.8 Emaj7     E        G# B D♯                 I          3 5 7            I7

So, putting the Roman numeral analysis (RNA) between barlines we get...

E: | vi7 | ii9 | V♭9 | V9/IV | IV7 | V♭9 | I9 | I7 |

Revising the chord symbols to fit the RNA chord function...

E: | C♯m7 | F♯m9 | B7♭9 | E9sus4 | Amaj7 | B7♭9 | Emaj9 | Emaj7 |

Those revised chord symbols may or may not be more immediately playable. I'm not sure, because I'm not at a piano right now, but it is at least worth considering whether writing the progression without so many slashes would be easier to read from both the functional harmony and performance perspectives. In my opinion I've see way too many lead sheets that write very harmonically confusing chord symbols that could be re-written for harmonic clarity without loosing any important harmonic detail.

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  • "Generally it's a good idea to go with Roman numeral analysis that makes functional progressions clear." @Sean Underlying point: While letter-name chord symbols often answer the question "what notes should I play at this moment," roman numerals are for analysis, and harmonic analysis. They answer "what are all these chords doing and where are they going." It's always best to work from the big picture down to small details (and to stop before they get too small!). Mar 20 at 19:12

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