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I was reading the wiki page on chords [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chord_(music)], specifically the Roman numeral notation section, and they have an example chord progression [C: vi6 ii V6 I] along with a midi file (midi). As a self test exercise, I opened up Ableton and blind recreated it to the best of my knowledge.

This is what I ended up with: Wrong

After realizing it sounded off, I imported the original midi file to compare and I was definitely incorrect. I'm wondering if someone could help me correct my mistakes, and more importantly understand where I went wrong.

Thanks!

  • Can you read standard notation? – Dave Aug 6 '16 at 3:33
  • Without giving more information about what your knowledge currently (such as @Dave asked) and how you tried to recreate it, the only answer we'd be able to give as to where you went wrong is that you put the wrong notes in, and that to correct it you should put the right notes in. – CW Grimmick Aug 6 '16 at 4:04
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Roman numeral notation consists of two parts:

  1. The Roman numeral itself, which tells you the root of the chord; and
  2. The figured bass (the numbers that occasionally appear to the right of the Roman numeral) that tell you the inversion of the chord (ie, the intervals above the lowest pitch).

Let's start with the Roman numeral, which tells you the root. Since your example is in C, this entire post will focus on C major.

Now, think through the C major scale: C D E F G A B C. In music we often assign "scale degree numbers" to these pitches, so C is "scale-degree one" in C, D is "scale-degree two," ... and B is "scale-degree seven." (The next C is not "scale degree eight," but rather it returns to "scale degree one.")

The Roman numeral is thus the scale degree written in Roman numerals. This means that your chord progression of vi6 ii V6 I is based on chords whose roots are scale degrees six, two, five, and one. Your chords are thus built on A, D, G, and C.

Important to know is that uppercase Roman numerals indicate a major chord while lowercase indicates minor. (If you ever see a lowercase with a circle next to it, that means diminished.) Thus now we know the chords are A minor, D minor, G major, and C major.

  • vi = A C E
  • ii = D F A
  • V = G B D
  • I = C E G

So, now let's talk about the 6 that shows up occasionally; as we said, we call this "figured bass." For triads, there are only three possibilities:

  • No figured bass at all means the chord is in "root position." In other words, the root of the chord (ie, the Roman numeral number) is the lowest sounding pitch. (Occasionally you might see this written as 53.) So your vi and I chords are in root position.
  • A 6 indicates the chord is in "first inversion," meaning the pitch a third above the root is in the bass. So vi6 should have the chordal third in the bass. A is the root, which means C is the chordal third, so your vi6 chord will actually have C in the bass. (A similar thought process will address the V6.)
  • A 64 means the chordal fifth is in the bass, putting the chord in "second inversion."

With this knowledge, then, your progression should be what I give below; the lowest pitch is always given on the left. The remaining two pitches can be in any order, but the order I've given is the smoothest "answer" to this progression:

  • vi6 = C E A
  • ii = D F A
  • V6 = B D G
  • I = C E G

(As an explanation of your error, you may have been counting half-steps. Thus your ii6 is a minor chord built on the second half-step of the scale, C#. Similarly, your V6 is a major chord built on the fifth half-step of the scale, E. But this doesn't explain your first chord, so maybe that wasn't what you did. Or perhaps you read the vi as a iv, which is actually a really common mistake!)

  • This helped me a ton, thank you very much for the detailed explanation! – Toms Jensen Aug 6 '16 at 23:18
  • @TomsJensen Glad to hear it! – Richard Aug 6 '16 at 23:21
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To answer your question, you simply entered the wrong notes. Is this the example you were working from? The first chord is C, E, A. You entered D#, F#, A#. The next two chords are way out too, but you got the last one right!

If you want to study harmony, Ableton isn't the best tool. You need a notation-based program. Look at MuseScore. It's free!

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