I'm completing a roman numeral analysis in E Major, but there's several chords marked out that fall outside of the key - either with an accidental that shouldn't be there or they're marked as minor.

How how does this affect my analysis? Should a C7 still be chord vi7 without the sharp?

Picture added!

  • are you asking about a C7 in the key of E major?
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 23:50
  • 1
    It would be very useful, and glean more detailed answers, if there was a copy of said piece to better analyse.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 9:42
  • If you want to do an analysis ignoring modulation, then just yeah, put the C7 as a bVI7. If you want to account for modulation it's pretty hard without a melodic context.
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 3:19
  • what is this from? Sounds like a bossa tune or something
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 3:20
  • Also as a tip I'd try and group the bars into 4s and see how that works out for you.
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 3:22

5 Answers 5


Everything you analyze in roman numeral analysis needs to reflect the key you are in and where the chord comes from. If the chord is not in the key, it needs to be marked appropriately. There is no scenario where you would mark a C7 as vi7 in the key of E major because:

  • The standard vi chord in E major is C#, thus a root of C needs to be denoted with a flat to show it is does not have a root of C#.
  • The chord is major in nature, so in most styles of analysis the Roman Numerals would have to be capitalized.

So if the C7 was considered a borrowed chord was functioning in E major it would be shown as bVI7, which is very unlikely because of the dominant nature of the C7.

The most likely scenario is you are modulating to either F major or F minor. In either case the chord would be seen as a V7 in each key. Most likely it would not be a secondary dominant because F is not in the key naturally. If it was however, it would be analysed as V7/bII.

There are a few more possibilities that are a little more involved. The chord itself could be part of a sequence where there is some kind of pattern being repeted over, and over agian to take you from one idea to another. Most likely in this case you would analyze it as a modulation. It could also just be a passing chord in which case, you don't analyse it because it is not functioning as a typical chord in the key.

  • 3
    In jazz and popular music the most likely function of C7 in E major would not be a secondary dominant of F (major or minor), but a subV7 (tritone substitute) leading to the V, i.e. B7. So it replaces F#7, the secondary dominant of B7.
    – Matt L.
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 7:56
  • 1
    another function could simply be a piece where the major/minor character of the key is pretty ambiguous, and the C7 is functioning as a vi7 in E minor. E, G, A is not an uncommon progression in Rock music for example. If I had to write that in romans I think I'd go for I bIII IV. But you could just choose to write it in Em and go for i III IV , and I don't think you could necessarily say that was wrong either.
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 10:52
  • @Some_Guy but if you say it is in E major, III and bIII are two completely different chords and you need to be extremely verbose in stating what it is that's why I stated the vi7 alone in E major does not mean C7, but instead Cm7.
    – Dom
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 20:18
  • I don't quite get how your comment relates to what I was saying. I know that whether you flatten the root or not matters haha... I was just giving a further context in which something like a bVI7 could be very likely, not just as a modulation, in modern popular music where "majorness" and "minorness" are more ambiguous than in Common Practice music. In the same way when notating this music you have to "pick" a key signature, when you consider a roman numeral analysis you just have do the same and analyse according to that. By convention we go for the major for a variety of reasons.
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 2:38
  • Just trying to give a bit more context as to when a plain ol flat 6 might show up in a major key, even a flat 6 root note with a seventh chord, which means a flat 5 note just staring you in the face like, yeah man, and what.
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 2:41

Chords outside the key that you find within a piece of real-world music are called Secondary Dominants or Borrowed Chords. Or in some cases the music may temporarily modulate from the main key into a related key and then back to the main key again. In that case you would see several chords in sequence that outline the modulation to the different key.

There are sections in all the music theory textbooks about how to analyze modulations, secondary dominants, and borrowed chords.


A chord analysis has less to do with the the chords that are traditionally at each tone degree and more with what notes you see in front of you. Yes the Sub Mediant chord in a Major scale is a Major chord but what happens when an accidental is used and this chord does suddenly not conform to the norm?

You need to be able to look at any chord and tell me is it Major / minor / Augmented or Diminished and also know the inversions of the triads and the quadtats.

Not just take the easy way out and memorise the standard chords in Major keys and assume all of them are always going to be the case.

  • Quadtat is a new one on me. Help?
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 7:13
  • I believe that is the word for a four note chord triad - tri - three quadtat - quad - four. I may be mistaken.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 7:25
  • Can't find a word at the moment!
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 7:32
  • maybe he means tetrad?
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 3:06

There is so little to gain from a roman numeral analysis of this excerpt as it features so many transient modulations, cycles of secondary dominants, and non-functional harmony. I'd argue that, although there are elements of tonality, it is essentially non-tonal. It is simply not the type of piece to which you apply a roman numeral analysis.

C7 is the dominant of the Neapolitan in E major.

  • Unfortunately I have to, it's a university assessment
    – Dylan
    Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 9:53
  • I see. It's hardly in E major by the way. The first line makes sense in B major. Third line has a bit of Neapolitan action going on. A couple of cycle of 5th progressions in there as well.
    – user21280
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 0:33
  • 1
    Calling this non tonal is ridiculous. Admitting you don't understand jazz is one thing, but just insulting anything that doesn't fit into your narrow definition of harmony is small-minded. I'm sorry if I seem OTT here but to write off this as non tonal and then use your "expertise" as a justification is just ridiculous. The first four chords are literally a circle of fifths... It's basic stuff man
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 3:10
  • is this non tonal?! youtube.com/watch?v=FOTZJ8EFgpk Lighten up, stop worrying about whether it fits into your theory box and enjoy music!
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 3:12
  • ah, lighten up? I'll leave you to your monologue.
    – user21280
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 15:02

As a contrary to the selected answer, allow me to illustrate how the first 4 chords are perfectly functional in the key of E

B7         E7 B7 

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