TonalityGUIDE - basic tonal music theory and analysis for undergraduates
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Quick Reminder: Chord Identification and Labelling

Identifying and labelling things can sometimes seem a bit pointless! However, learning how to identify chords is like gaining a better understanding of any language: it helps you understand and communicate more effectively.

The following offers a slightly laborious method to help you get started. The point of the roman numerals is to identify the triads involved, while the figured bass (arabic numbers) helps identify some of the voice-leading (particularly chord inversions) and embellishments.

  1. write out the figured bass below each chord in full (i.e. the interval of every note above the bass)
  2. work out the abbreviated version of the figured bass and retain the figuring for any suspensions or other embellishments (see pages on figured bass and melodic embellishments)
  3. identify the type of chord and its root (see reminder of figured bass and chord types, working out the root of a chord, and triads)
  4. work out the key of the passage and the Roman numerals for each chord (see working out the key, Roman numerals). Combine the Roman numerals with the abbreviated figured bass

This method is followed in the example below:

If this all seems a bit laborious, take a look at the following example. The second half of the bar includes a suspension which other systems (e.g. IB etc) have no way of notating this efficiently. Using the above method helps build in this sort of observation right at the beginning of your analysis.

The Tonality GUIDE tonal music analysis tool kit
information and orientation as you browse around
chord identification
understanding voice-leading
style awareness

© Copyright Thomas Pankhurst

TonalityGUIDE - Tonal Harmony and Voiceleading - Table of Contents