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I'm in the key of A major. I descend down chromatically from the 5 chord of E to Eb and then to D. Where is the Eb chord from and how would I write this in roman numerals?

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  • I'm not sure what you mean by "where is the Eb chord from" but perhaps bV.
    – user50691
    Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 22:18
  • Is it a tritone substitution? Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 22:19
  • To what? The A? It could definitely be. But what is the piece doing after that? It's identity is somewhat determined by its function. If you were modulating to D then perhaps, also one might expect an altered 7th chord in that regard. Can you give the whole progression, or pic of the sheet music?
    – user50691
    Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 23:05

4 Answers 4

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If the chords are in root position, you just have a V,bV, IV sequence. If in root position, you may have to be careful of parallel fifths if they style calls for avoiding these.

Chromatic passing chords are rather common. They can be used to create smooth bass lines.

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  • I had accurately the same association as you! ;) I just could add 2 examples. Commented Oct 26, 2019 at 13:21
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With scant information, it's not easy to answer 'where's it from?' But it could well be a tritone substitution. Particularly if there's a C♯/D♭ there.

A tritone substitution here is a chord containing two notes from A7. The 3rd of A7 is C♯, the 7th is G. Swap those round, and the C♯ becomes D♭ - the 7th of E♭, while the G becomes the 3rd of E♭. That A7 would usually lead straight to D, but here, the tts does that same job.

It's quite common in jazz, and makes a smooth transition. It would be called ♭V.

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  • I think it is a chromatic passing chord bV as the music still stays in the key of A throughout. Can someone please explain what parallel 5ths are and how to avoid them Commented Oct 26, 2019 at 9:15
  • @MartinO'Brien - there is no reason at all why a tts should cause any key change. That's not how they are used.
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 26, 2019 at 9:21
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this progression can be applied in the third line of a Blues (bars 9-10), when not only the bass or the melody steps down by a chormatic tone but the whole triad: instead of EEEE,DDDD,AAAA,EEEE you play E-E-E-Eb,DDDD,AAAA,BBBB

Here is an example of a 16 bars "schuffle-blues" and a chorus:

like ttw says it is a V-bV-IV progression while the extended bars play V-bVI-V-I

the chorus is built on the same progrssion on the root: I-bI,bVII-bI, (2x)

(btw.: with the help of the simple music of this band I've been grown up, before the Beatles came up ...)

and here's another similar shuffle blues in F with a turn around:

https://www.8notes.com/playalong/shuffle_groove.asp

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(edit: LOL somehow I had read the "Eb" in the original question as "D#" and here I'm explaining that I looked at it as Eb instead of D#.)

About the D# chord, "where is it from"... I think it's better to ask, "what can I do with it". Or "as part of what kind of harmonic pattern or trick can I see it". Whether you look at it as a chromatic passing chord or a Roman numeral of some key, depends on where, how and how long it is played. In my very subjective and anecdotal "research" I found that if the D# chord is held any longer than about half a second, it requires special attention and melody notes cannot completely disregard it. And if it is held longer than one second, I definitely want to think of it as producing a feeling of a modulation, i.e. the key might possibly be changing. And if the D# chord is played on a weaker part of the beat or measure, then it seems to require slightly less attention - just like is usual in harmony progressions. If the "weird" chord or note comes in at a weak part of the beat/measure, I'm more likely to feel it's just a chromatic passing chord.

In my subjective and anecdotal doodling experiment I found that a nice way to handle the "modulation" aspect was to think of the D# chord as Eb in the key of Bb major or G minor. For melody notes, I used the D note as a common pivot point that's present both in the keys of A major and Bb major. Making a melody line that moves to D right before the Eb chord comes made the transition sound smooth, in my opinion.

What do you think? Decide for yourself. Here are four variations of the chords A - E - D# - D - A, first with just accompaniment and then with melody.

Treating the D# chord as a tritone substitution of A7 felt a bit awkward, so I didn't do that. To be used as tritone substitution I felt that it would have to be a D#7, preferably D#9 or D#13 or something like that. In the original example it was a plain major chord and the tritone substitution approach felt like it was jazzing it up too much.

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