I was taking a look at this chord progression and attempted to play it just using the roman numerals. enter image description here

Seeing the V(G) I played what would be the right most G in the image with the B and D above it so that all the notes are in one octave worth of the scale (Is there a better way to describe this?) but clicking on it shows the exact keys played are different.

Is there any possible way to have known that the G would be above the B and D or is that information not part of the roman numerals above and simply a style choice / inconsequential.

  • Does this software only do root position symbols without Arabic numerals - like I - or does it also do Arabic numerals - like I6 or IV6/4? Aug 14, 2019 at 16:57
  • 1
    From the picture, I can see that you are using the tool from HookTheory; this tool is abel to show chord inversions in its notation; the absence of numbers right next to the roman numerals show that these chords are not inverted and are expected to be in the 1-3-5 order on this picture, although that's not an absolute rule as others have said.
    – Thomas
    Aug 15, 2019 at 11:16

3 Answers 3


Where you play the notes - in which ocatve, or even how they split - root in bass and others in r.h., or split them two with each, etc., is very much up to you, as the player. It's called voicing, and as PiedPiper says, when all the notes are as close as possible, it's called 'close position' or 'close voicing'. The opposite being 'open voicing'.

It matters not how many of each note gets played - and sometimes the 5 gets omitted, as the root gives the chord's name, and the 3 gives it its major or minor, an important fact when playing/naming chords. There really is no right or wrong with voicings. There is of course 'appropriate'!

With RN, it merely gives the number of the chord in that situation. There are so many different voicings available, it would be impossible to use a simple means to tell. Except, of course, writing the actual notes. But then that wouldn't be immediately transferrable to different keys.

  • 3
    root in bass .. is very much up to you - Beg to differ.
    – Wyrmwood
    Aug 15, 2019 at 1:35
  • 1
    @DavidBowling Inversions often sound different enough that they are written explicitly. If there's just a V, then that means the root position.
    – JiK
    Aug 15, 2019 at 9:58
  • 1
    @JiK -- different inversions do sound different; in general different voicings sound different. Sometimes explicit voicings or inversions are called for, but (certainly in jazz) it is up to the player to interpret the harmony and possibly even reharmonize. It is an entirely usual thing to do to choose inversions on the fly (e.g. to create a bass line). If you don't see an explicit inversion written, you have to use your own judgement-- is it appropriate to play an inversion here? Hence, exactly what Tim said: its up to the player.
    – user39614
    Aug 15, 2019 at 12:31
  • 3
    Tim and @Jik Simply put, without the superscripts or subscripts, by definition, it means the triad and implies root position (no inversions). You can play it however you like, but that's what the symbol means.
    – Wyrmwood
    Aug 15, 2019 at 14:34
  • 1
    Superscripts and subscripts are not always used, however. @Wyrmwood. It depends on what level of detail is being written. I mean, sometimes even passing chords will be left out of a Roman numeral analysis. Inversions are just not always indicated.
    – trlkly
    Aug 15, 2019 at 17:21

The only thing about the distribution of voices that Roman numeral analysis provides is which voice is in the bass.

Just some background on the symbols...

The Arabic numerals added to Roman numerals are a historical hold over from figured bass and an approach to harmony that was more about counterpoint. The figures told a keyboard accompanist what type of chord to use to harmonize a written bass part, but they were free to improvise the voicing and figuration of the chord. Most of the time there would be written melody parts as well. So in essence the Arabic numerals told the keyboard accompanist how to play harmonic filler with their right hand with no particular concern for the exact voicing or figuration of the chords.

So there is a odd historic evolution of the chord symbols. Figured bass put numeric figures on a written bass part. Later in the Roman numeral analysis (RNA) system the figures were added to the Roman numerals - which give only a chord root - and the bass part is abstracted. Neither system gives specifics about the upper voices.


After re-reading your question I'm confused about what exactly you are trying to figure out.

Is there any possible way to have known that the G would be above the B and D...

Yes, sort of... In Roman numeral analysis (RNA) you can indicate the G is above the B and D by using the 6 figure - like G: I6. But, properly speaking that I6 means the third of the chord is in the bass. It does not necessarily mean G is above the D. Listing tones from bass up to treble I6 can mean B G D or B D G.

...or is that information not part of the roman numerals above...

It isn't clear if the screen shot you provided is of software that cannot display the Arabic figures on the Roman numerals

...or is that information... simply a style choice / inconsequential.

I would say it is not inconsequential and is very important to style. Pop/rock style doesn't typically use RNA for chord symbols so it's a bit hard to explain. Pop/rock often uses chord names and 'slash notation' - like F/C to mean an F major chord over a C bass. In RNA, in C major, it would be C: IV6/4.

Pop/rock often uses chords in root position in which case the Arabic numeral figures might seem inconsequential. Or, if the slash notation is used, some people aren't even aware of the concept of chord inversion.

Nevertheless, chord inversion is important in rock music. In a progression that is supposed to be played with all root position chords, if the bass starts playing the thirds of the chords, it won't sound right. Regardless of the type of chord symbols used, software features to display chord symbols, or a musician's understanding of these things, the inversions are being used and they are an important aspect of any musical style.

  • 1
    RN tells what the chord name and function is. How does it tell which voice is in the bass? Unless one assumes all chords will be played in root position.
    – Tim
    Aug 14, 2019 at 16:29
  • 1
    Ex. Dm: i6 the chord is D minor and the third of the chord is the bass, the bass is F natural. Aug 14, 2019 at 16:51
  • Maybe I misunderstand the question and the software only displays root position chords. Aug 14, 2019 at 16:56
  • Simple question on your last para. 'supposed to be played...'. Who is responsible for making the decision about that? A lot of rock music is played with root in the bass, but 3rds, 5ths (and b7ths) often get played as well. In some rock music, I have a tendency (on bass - therefore the instigator of any inversions, surely!) to also include b3 and b5s as well.
    – Tim
    Aug 15, 2019 at 7:38
  • @Tim This is HookTheory, an analysis tool, not a performance tool. In this software for sure, and many other systems of music analysis, roman numerals specify inversion too; no super/subscript means the chord was played in root position. As far as popular music goes, the chords are specified with letters and slashes to instruct the performer on the bass voice played: C means C, root position, C/E means 1st inversion was performed. The bass is specified, and also explicitly part of this software. If the goal is to play just as the original performers did, the notation does tell the bass.
    – 17slim
    Aug 15, 2019 at 16:24

The roman numerals say nothing about how you distribute the notes in the chord. The V chord contains the notes G, B and D, but you can play them anywhere.
If you play the chord so that all the notes are within one octave, this is known as 'close position'.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.