So far, I have tried doing Roman numeral analysis mainly on Classical- and Romantic- era music. However, I just took a look at some Miles Davis, and didn't know what to do - there were so many chords which, regardless of how you analyzed them, would contain a handful of 9ths, 7ths, 11ths, and 13ths. When you're dealing with such music, how do you decide what the optimal analysis is? For instance, if [D-C-E-Bb-G] could be a Cdom7/9 in inversion or a E-half-dim/13 in inversion, how do you decide which analysis to choose?


What you should first look at is how the chord is functioning. For example, if it's leading to an F chord, then it's probably C9; if it's leading to an A chord then it's probably Em7b5.

I do wonder where your example came from, though. Other than dim7 chords (which are usually just dominant chords without a root), third- and especially fourth-inversion chords are not very common in modern popular styles of music. Certainly the bass note being the 9th of the chord would not be my first assumption, so if this is occurring frequently in professionally produced music, I would explore other possibilities first (like maybe I got the wrong notes).

By the way, jazz is extremely heavy on modern music theory. Just slapping down a couple of ii7 notations is not going to work for greats like Miles Davis. You will find a lot of chord substitutions, quite a bit of modality, and even some atonality. A lot of your classical theory training will apply, but some jazz music (especially from the Bebop era onward) will challenge the rules you learned. It's best to use it as a foundation from which to move on to jazz theory, rather than something that can be applied directly.

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    +1, I agree 100%. Function is the most important factor, and it often determines a host of other things that are improvised/that occur during the song. – jdcode Jun 29 '18 at 19:03
  • Not understanding your 1st para. The chord is C9. It couldn't be an E7 of any sort really. – Tim Jun 29 '18 at 21:20
  • @Tim, Good catch. Fixed! – ScottM Jun 29 '18 at 21:24
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    @Tim, the C would be a b6 rather than a #5. It's not that weird or uncommon to hear a b6 in a half diminished voicing. The note fits right in with just about any scale one would pick when improvising, and it opens the door to some nice voice leading. It would normally occur higher in the voicing rather than as the second note, but even that wouldn't be too weird. In jazz, I was once told that the use of Eø7 developed because bassists played the 3rd in the root as pianists were voicing a C7 chord. The C would be common in those voicings. – jdcode Jun 29 '18 at 22:47
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    @jdjazz - thanks! That makes sense. I love this site for broadening horizons and gaining extra understanding! – Tim Jun 30 '18 at 6:49

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