TonalityGUIDE - basic tonal music theory and analysis for undergraduates
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Introduction to tonality More about the TonalityGUIDE analysis tool kit Clefs, note labels, intervals and transposition
chord identification understanding voice-leading style awareness

The ToolKIT, which is accessible from all pages of the site, outlines the three main analytical skills that aims to develop. It also links to a short introduction to the study of tonality as well as a reminder of some basics (note and interval labels, clefs and transpositions).

Chord Identification and Labelling
overview triads Roman numerals figured bass

The ability to identify chords and their function is crucial for understanding tonal music. This page explains how chords are labelled on You can remind yourself of the various types of triad and their most common modifications by clicking on the triads link in the above submenu. uses a fairly standard combination of Roman numerals and figured bass. If you are not completely familiar with these two systems, it would be a good idea to browse the more detailed pages on Roman numerals and figured bass.

labelling music with chord names and figures is relatively easy if you are systematic in your approach - try this four-stage method

The chord labelling system

In a nutshell:

  • Roman numerals are used to show which of the seven degrees of the diatonic scale the chord in question is based on (if any!)
  • the key of the section being analysed is shown by a letter followed by a semicolon. Upper case letters are used for major keys and lower case for minor keys (e.g. 'C:' = C major and 'g:' = G minor)
  • if the root of the chord is chromatically altered, the appropriate accidental is added before the Roman numeral
  • all other information on chords, including their inversion, is shown by placing figured bass after the Roman numeral
  • if the use of Roman numerals is inappropriate or unhelpful, figured bass is used on its own

An example:

Notice how figured bass is used to show where chords are not in root position. It is also used to highlight the appoggiatura in the last bar.

Being able to identify and label chords in this way is one of the basic skills taught on this web site. It is worthwhile because it forms a good foundation for understanding how the tonal style works, useful not just for analytical work but also for practical skills such as arranging and composing.

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