In web pages like https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/ you get the chords of a song (see this for an example). And that's enough if you are aiming to be a campfire guitar player. But when looking for content to quickly know the structure behind a song (secondary dominants, chord degrees and so on), I am running into lots of trouble finding them.

How do real guitar players approach this problem? Do they analyze every song from the tab version or do they know about a secret repository where they keep all these analyzed tabs?

Thank you in advance

  • I've never seen any sheets with the roman numerals instead of regular chords. I did see some regular sheets where the roman numerals have been added. But these additions have been added afterwards (written with pen on the paper).
    – Olli
    Jul 16, 2019 at 10:48
  • to find the degrees in romain numbers you only have to write down the circle of fifths in a circle or in a row and on another sheet the romain numbers. then it's quite easy to find the dominant and the subdominant, the relative chords and the secondary dominants. You can write the 2 lists in a row or in 2 circles (movable like a watch) .musicnotes.com/now/tips/circle-of-fifths-guide Jul 16, 2019 at 11:01
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    "How do real guitar players approach this problem?" What problem? Recognizing structural elements, and doing Roman numeral functional analysis aren't really the same. Most notated music (regardless of notation system) isn't analyzed in the source. Jul 16, 2019 at 16:08

2 Answers 2


How do real guitar players approach this problem? Do they analyse every song from the tab version...?

As a broad answer, I'd say that yes - musicians who wish to do so tend to be able to translate fairly fast in their head from 'absolute' form in a particular key to 'relative'/'analytical' form when they need to.

...or do they know about a secret repository where they keep all these analysed tabs?

Some websites are able to transpose songs into different keys, so I guess in some cases they might be keeping them in 'analysed' format in their databases. It would be nice if you could get them to display in roman numeral format - but I'm not sure if any popular sites have that facility.

There is a system called the Nashville number system, which is a bit like the Roman numeral system but using Arabic numbers!

  • I'm really not sure that a guitarist using tab would easily transpose it to other keys. And if they could, that concept would only work for that instrument. NNS works for all.
    – Tim
    Jul 17, 2019 at 9:58
  • @Tim not saying it's easy for everyone - just that those who do need to do it generally learn to do it themselves, i.e. there isn't a secret repo of the type the OP asked about! Jul 17, 2019 at 11:50

I've used a similar system for decades, based on the NNS (Nashville Number System). That uses Arabic numbers (1,2,3) whereas mine uses Roman Numerals. Not really seen it in general use, but there probably is stuff in the NNS that would do for you.

I tend, for simplicity not to go down the secondary dominant route (V/V), but will use II instead. ii would be Dm in key C. What I don't like about NSS is the use of '-' for minors. A lot of hand-written charts make this sign easy to miss, so either lower case, or 'm' works for me.

However, on guitar, once all the chords of a song are barred, it's straightforward to move up or down a few frets, changing shapes when needed.

The other way, of course, is to work out some simple changes and commit them to memory: C>Em = G>Bm = A>C♯m = F>Am, etc. With barre chord, again, it's often the same sort of chord shape change.

By the way - asking for resouces is out of bounds here! And I expect 'real guitarists' rarely, if ever, resort to referring to tab. Might be wrong - no doubt someone will say...!

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