Let's say I'm playing the chords D, G, A and Bm. I know that D is my key, which would be Roman numeral I. How do I associate the other chords with their proper roman numerals? How would I determine this if I did not know the key?


The other chords get Roman numerals based on the key you are in. For example in the key of D major you would have the following Roman numerals map to the following chords:

D  Em  F#m  G   A  Bm  C#dim
I  ii  iii  IV  V  vi  viio

This comes from how chords are built in major keys.

When you don't have a key try and figure out what key fits the chords best. For example if you had the progression C Am G C there are two possible keys that it could be (technically 4 because of relative minors). Both the key of G major and the key of C major have the chords C, G, and Am. The analysis for them however is much different with the analysis in C major being I vi V I and analysis in G major being IV ii I IV.

In this case the best fit is C major because in general a progression will more likely end on I than IV. There are other reasons why C major is a better and I suggest reading up on harmonic analysis to learn more about it.

  • 1
    Harmonic analysis is a great tool to identifying this type of thing. It really depends on what genre of music we're dealing with. Harmonic analysis tends to cater towards very simple pop songs or Western Art Music (Classical, Romantic, Baroque, etc). Note: pop music refers to everything from hip hop to rock to country, etc. When it comes to pop music nowadays, starting and ending chords rarely determine key. In the example above, G major is as good a candidate as C major is. A good method for determine which is key works better is to play both scales with the song. One will always fit better. – 02fentym Dec 26 '14 at 14:41

In addition to Dom's excellent answer, you might find this chart helpful and handy. It came from Guitarteacher.com. There is also a similar chart for only the most common keys used for guitar. Find it here Major Scale Guitar Chords with Roman Numerals

From GuitarTeacher.com


Cut a circle of fifths on paper. Then cut a smaller circle with the degrees names. Pin the centers over the wall. Now you can rotate them to find any possible modulation. enter image description here There is also an android app called chord wheel, having this old idea.

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