I'm used to the standard use of Roman Numerals to note chord sequences in a key-independent way e.g. I vi IV V

But I'm sure I've seen people also use them in some other context in answers on this site to talk about chord variations or voicings or something. I can't think what to search for to find an example though.

Am I right?

  • Without an example, your pretty much asking "Does anyone use Roman Numerals for anything other then chords and analysis in the context?" which is rather broad. Does somebody use Roman Numerals to represent something else in music? Probably. I can see it being used to denote form and other repetition patterns, but the standard way to use them is for analysis. Even within the context of analysis people use slightly different nuances with just a basic alternative of your example being I VIm IV V.
    – Dom
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 14:30
  • Yeah - the thing is now I can't find any examples, I'm looking for some at the moment...
    – Mr. Boy
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 14:31

2 Answers 2


Roman numerals can be used for aspects of instrumental notation, which are for performance, rather than analytical purposes. For instance, Roman numerals are used to denote: positions in classical guitar music (for instance, see this post); which string a note or passage is to be played on in bowed string music.

The wikipedia page about Roman Numerals gives examples of both analytical and performance markings:

In music theory, the diatonic functions are identified using Roman numerals. (See: Roman numeral analysis)

In musical performance practice, individual strings of stringed instruments, such as the violin, are often denoted by Roman numerals, with higher numbers denoting lower strings.

However, inversions (I think this is what you mean by voicings) of chords are shown using either letters or numbers (in figured bass), as an addition to either a Roman numeral or bass note. For example, a first inversion of chord I can be shown as Ia or I6.

  • I put some links in for you. You can change them if you want. I just want to point out in the second paragraph the figured bass along with the Roman Numeral is pretty standard and I would not say is different from the typical use (although I agree it's probably what the OP is thinking of).
    – Dom
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 14:44
  • @Dom, I think we were editing this post at the same time - feel free to have another look to see if you can improve my edit. Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 14:47
  • 1
    Looks fine to me.
    – Dom
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 14:49
  • 1
    Roman numerals are also used in Schenkerian Analysis to direct the listener to specific harmonic moments or shifts. Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 15:04
  • Good point, JJ. I'll add that in later, if that's okay with you. Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 15:08

They can also be used to designate strings, I II II IV (or Ie IIe IIIe IVe) for orchestral strings (violin, viola, cello, bass).

So instead of a passage for violin being marked "sul G" (on the G string) it might be marked "IVe" (or, in full "IVe corde" -- French "quatrième chorde", i.e., "fourth string"). The little "e" would normally be printed as a superscript.

They are occasionally used in pedagogical works to indicate position instead, hopefully with some clarifying text rather than just the roman numeral (e.g., III pos. rather than just "III"). Arabic numerals are also used for this purpose: something like "3 pos." would mean third position, while just a bare "3" would always mean third finger.

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