Playing in any key

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Universal Chord Notation

This enables you to focus upon the tune in your head whilst overcoming the difficulties of the instrument you are playing. The method is based upon replacing the chord root names with by Roman numerals

Doh Reh Me Fah Sol Lah Te Doh
I II III IV V VI VII VIII

A number of songs spring to mind to fit the chords C, Am7, Dm7, G7. In universal notation this sequence becomes

I, VIm, IIm7, V7.

The circle of fourths can be written in universal notation as shown below.

Modern music is essentially composed of repeated and predictable chord sequences. Once learned they soon become easy to spot, and the use of universal notation greatly simplifies the process of identifying them by ear. For instance, many traditional 12 bar blues are based on the chords I, IV, and V, whilst a large number of ballads remain within III, VI, II, VI, I.  In modern worship songs, the most popular (and least imaginative) sequence is I, V, VIm, IV, which may begin on the I, or the VIm.

The diatonic chord set can be represented using Universal notation as follows:

Secondary tonic I♮7 IIm7 IIIm7 IV♮7 V7 VIm7 VIIm7b5 C♮7
Secondary dominant V7 VI7 VII7 I7 II7 III7 bV7 V7
Secondary supertonic IIm7 IIIm7 bVm7 Vm7 VIm7 VIIm7 bIIm7 Im7

Chord functions

Use of the universal notation can help understand the function of each chord. The following taken from Jerry Cokers book “Jazz Improvisation”  lists chords  in order of occurrence

Comprise 1 V7 Dominant of I
About 75% of all 2 IIm7 Functions as subdominant of I, preceded dominant, and is a substitute for IV
chords 3 I♮7 Tonic
4 VI7 Precedes II
5 111m7 Substitutes for I, often follows V7
6 VIm7 Substitutes for I. Often follows I or occurs between III and II
7 I7 Dominant of IV
8 IV♮7 Tonic relief. Temporary (usually) key centre
9 Vm7 IIm7 of IV. Usually precedes I7, (dominant of IV)
10 IVm7 Transitionary chord between IVM7 and IM7, or between Iim7 and I
11 II7 Sometimes substitutes for Iim7. Usually occurs between IVM7 (or Ivm7) and V7
12 bIIIm7 Substitutes for VI7. Usually occurs between IIIm7 and IM7
13 bVII7 Usually occurs between IVm7 and IM7

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