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Lesson 5.7 - Naming Chords

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Chords are identified by which degree of the scale is at their root (the base note of the chord). In a previous lesson you already came across the tonic, subdominant and dominant triads. Now you will also use chord II (Roman numerals are commonly used to describe chords and in fact are an easier way of doing so).

So in E minor the chords you need are

In Grade 5 ABRSM Theory you need to identify the primary triads I, II, IV and V

In addition to this you will also need to identify which inversion of a chord is being used. There are three to chose from:
  • Root position - as you see in the above examples
  • 1st inversion - with the middle of the chord as its lowest note
  • 2nd inversion - with the top of the chord as its lowest note
Here are the three inversion of a tonic triad in D major
The three Inversions of the tonic triad are root position, 1st inversion and 2nd inversion

Notice how they are described with Roman numerals and then a letter after them (the first chord is really Ia but traditionally we leave off the "a").

Sounding a bit complicated?
Follow these simple rules to name a chord.
  1. Establish what key you are in.
  2. Write out the notes in each of the triads I, II, IV, V
  3. See what notes are in your chord and so decide which triad it is.
  4. See which is the bottom note of your chord to decide which inversion you have. 
For example, lets apply the above method to this chord. The key is A major.

First inversion of the dominant triad in the key of A major

  1. We are already given that the key is A major
  2. Write out the primary triads in that key 

                     Chord I - A, C#, E
                     Chord II - B, D, F#
                     Chord IV - D, F#, A
                     Chord V - E, G#, B

   3. The notes in the given chord match those of chord V
   4. The lowest note in the given chord is the middle note in

       chord  V so it is in 1st inversion. Therefore the chord is Vb

Practice this topic with our workbook
"Music Theory Practice - A Complete Course"
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