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#1
How does one write out power chords in Roman numerals?

I'm confused, since a power chord is neither major or minor so I'm wondering if I should use upper case or lower case.
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#2
Look at the rest of the instruments. If there is a melody, it will imply whether the chord is major or minor.
#3
Your confusion stems from the idea that a power chord is neither major or minor. This is wrong.

Power chords are major or minor chords, but are merely omitting the 3rd.
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#4
Power chords are major or minor chords, but are merely omitting the 3rd.


Are you serious? Because that makes no sense at all.

A power chord is a root and a 5th and an octave. There's no 3rd to omit because it's not intended to be there in the first place. I suppose you could vision 3rds as being somehow implicit given the key, but if 3rds aren't being used at all in practise then I see no reason why one would conceptualize them as if they were really there, as ghost intervals.
Last edited by Brainpolice2 at Sep 24, 2011,
#5
Quote by Brainpolice2
Are you serious? Because that makes no sense at all.


Yup, it's a voicing of a major or minor chord where the 3rd is not played.

Quote by Brainpolice2
A power chord is a root and a 5th and an octave. There's no 3rd to omit because it's not intended to be there in the first place.


Say I've got a song which goes - A maj, D maj, E maj.

By playing my part A5 D5 E5, does this remove the key and eradicate all notion that those chords were ever major?
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#6
Quote by AlanHB
Yup, it's a voicing of a major or minor chord where the 3rd is not played.

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#7
Quote by AlanHB
Your confusion stems from the idea that a power chord is neither major or minor. This is wrong.

Power chords are major or minor chords, but are merely omitting the 3rd.


this. depending on what context the chord is in, it will have a role in the progression as major or minor
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#8
Yup, it's a voicing of a major or minor chord where the 3rd is not played.


On what basis? The only context in which I can make sense of this is if it's the intent of the artist for it to be so ("I'm mentally associating this F# power chord with an F# minor chord because the key is E"), and for some reason I highly doubt this would be the case *explicitly*, I.E. that someone would play an E power chord with the intent of it being an E minor chord.

A major or minor chord in which the 3rd is not played simply isn't a major or minor chord, as the 3rd is what defines them.

Say I've got a song which goes - A maj, D maj, E maj.

By playing my part A5 D5 E5, does this remove the key and eradicate all notion that those chords were ever major?


I anticipated you'd take it in this direction. I don't disagree in your example because you started out with something and then took things away. In this case though, our starting point is just power chords. I'm not argueing that using power chords removes the key, but any 3rds would be something you add in, not something that is mysterously silently there just because there's a key signature. If my starting point is "here's a part with A5, D5, and E5", what we have is just that: A5, D5, and E5. You can envision extra notes from the key if you want, but it has nothing to do with the actual musical context in question.

For the record, other than as a matter of convenience, I'm hesistant to call power chords, well, chords. They are really just a 5th/octave harmony. People are playing around with parallel 5ths and octaves, and that's fine, but it is not functioning very much as a harmony.
Last edited by Brainpolice2 at Sep 24, 2011,
#9
If I play in in E minor, and tell someone to play a G5 chord, I sometimes say G major... to avoid confusion if that person want to play the full chord.
But if you play chromatic chords like in Master of Puppets, I don't.
#10
The 3rd determines whether a chord is major or minor, since power chords do not contain a 3rd (and only contain root, 5th and an octave - which is another root anyway) they are not major or minor by themselves.
#11
Quote by Brainpolice2
I'm not argueing that using power chords removes the key, but any 3rds would be something you add in, not something that is mysterously silently there just because there's a key signature. If my starting point is "here's a part with A5, D5, and E5", what we have is just that: A5, D5, and E5. You can envision extra notes in the key if you want, but it has nothing to do with the actual musical context in question.

For the record, other than as a matter of convenience, I'm hesistant to call power chords, well, chords. They are really just a 5th/octave harmony.


There's some massive thread on whether power chords are chords somewhere, I'm not going to start in that direction.

Otherwise your comment "something mysteriously silent because there's a key signature" is interesting, because that's exactly where I'm getting my "silent 3rds" argument from. You're not going to escape the fact that there's a key/mode in your progression. Give me any power chord progression and I'll tell you the major/minor chords that they reperesent.
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#12
The very point of a power chord is to take away focus from the third and place it on the octave. It's purpose is being ambiguous.
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#13
Quote by AlanHB
There's some massive thread on whether power chords are chords somewhere, I'm not going to start in that direction.

Otherwise your comment "something mysteriously silent because there's a key signature" is interesting, because that's exactly where I'm getting my "silent 3rds" argument from. You're not going to escape the fact that there's a key/mode in your progression. Give me any power chord progression and I'll tell you the major/minor chords that they reperesent.


I believe your obcession with being clear about how tonality works (usually in the form of "no really, you're playing in a key", which I usually agree with) is getting the best of you, because I haven't claimed that there isn't a key. I've simply claimed that a power chord by itself is inherently ambiguous in a way that makes it completely nonsensical to claim as you have that a powerchord inherently *is* something that it doesn't contain any notes from.

The fact that one is playing in a key is not the same thing as major and minor 3rds being implicitly there whenever you hit any note in a key. If I took the 5th away too, would you argue that it's a minor or major chord without the 3rd and 5th? Do you not see how you're imposing conventions on something with very little to go on?

Suppose we're in the key of C major. I see a C and G together. While in most musical contexts, this probably is the root and 5th of a C major chord, it is not *inherently* so. Musical context determines this. I could just as easily continue stacking 5ths and make a quintal stack without any 3rd, while one screams "it should be analyzed as a C major chord" in vain. I feel similarly about the power chord - which *is* my (isolated) example plus an octave.

Traditional conventions of tonal analysis do not apply to all musical contexts. There comes a point in which one is stubbornly trying to reductionistically translate everything into another language that is not fully commensurable.
Last edited by Brainpolice2 at Sep 24, 2011,
#14
Quote by AlanHB
Your confusion stems from the idea that a power chord is neither major or minor. This is wrong.

Power chords are major or minor chords, but are merely omitting the 3rd.


Cheers. Looks like my GCSE music teacher should re-learn a few things.
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#15
Actually your teacher is probably right, and Alan is argueing something pretty bogus that is based on their idiosycratic tendency to focus on major and minor tonality.

But I find your original question a bit odd because I've never seen anyone trying to apply a Roman Numeral analysis to music constructed of nothing but parallel 5ths and octaves. I'm really tempted to say that there simply is no harmonic movement going on at all, even if each power chord can technically be associated with a roman numeral based on its root.
Last edited by Brainpolice2 at Sep 24, 2011,
#16
So we're arguing if a powerchord is a major/minor chord without the third, or if it's just a root and a perfect 5th.

But say I had a E5 A5 B5 chord progression, would I write it out as...
I IV V
or
i iv v
???
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#17
Quote by Woffelz
So we're arguing if a powerchord is a major/minor chord without the third, or if it's just a root and a perfect 5th.

But say I had a E5 A5 B5 chord progression, would I write it out as...
I IV V
or
i iv v
???

Well, if there was a melody, it would depend on the tonality of the melody.
#18
I personally wouldn't find any use for a roman numeral analysis here. I'd just write out the chord names and leave it at that. That whole system is meant for looking at actual harmonic movement. As I see it, an E5 going to an A5 going to a G5 going to a D5 simply isn't harmonic movement in much of a meaningful sense. It's a riff/melody using parallel 5ths.

If one wishes to insist on using roman numerals for power chords, then for the heck of it, sure, you could just use the lower case whenever it'd normally be a minor in the key, and use the upper case whenever it'd normally be a major in the key. I just don't see the point of doing so when all you actually have are parallel 5ths and octaves.

I'm really curious about what application you are actually trying to do here. Are you presenting power-chord-based music in your theory classes and trying to break them down into common practise tonal analysis?
Last edited by Brainpolice2 at Sep 24, 2011,
#19
Quote by Woffelz
So we're arguing if a powerchord is a major/minor chord without the third, or if it's just a root and a perfect 5th.

But say I had a E5 A5 B5 chord progression, would I write it out as...
I IV V
or
i iv v
???


I5 IV5 V5
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#20
I5 IV5 V5


If there's a sensible, simple way to do it without confusing people (imagine I intend for someone to play nothing but power chords and I stick a piece of paper in front of them with roman numerals which normally imply minor/major/diminished chords), this would be it.

I still don't see why anyone would want to.
Last edited by Brainpolice2 at Sep 24, 2011,
#21
Or

Is a major chord a power chord with the 3rd added.


*Waiting to get schooled by alanHB*


edit: I actually agree with what AlanHB's saying
Last edited by mrbabo91 at Sep 24, 2011,
#22
Quote by Wiegenlied
I5 IV5 V5


this would be the way to do it.

but yeah power chords will suggest a third, depending on melody, but all the examples of just power chords implying stuff in this thread have been bad so far.

say for I IV V I but in power chords, these could be either one, using the major, natural minor or minor scale, so in this case it's ambiguous.

take for example: E5 C5 A5

each of these chords will have an implied third, this will be heard as Emin Cmaj Amin, there's no other way to hear this.

if it was E5 C#5 A5, it would be heard as Emaj C#min A major, anyone in the it's ambiguous camp give this a try and see if it's possible to hear it any differently.
#23
Quote by gavk
each of these chords will have an implied third, this will be heard as Emin Cmaj Amin, there's no other way to hear this.

if it was E5 C#5 A5, it would be heard as Emaj C#min A major, anyone in the it's ambiguous camp give this a try and see if it's possible to hear it any differently.

Hmm...I hear a C#min7 myself. And maybe hints of a Asus2add9

I'm of the "power chords aren't chords at all so this whole argument is futile" camp.
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#24
Quote by Dirk Gently
Hmm...I hear a C#min7 myself. And maybe hints of a Asus2add9

I'm of the "power chords aren't chords at all so this whole argument is futile" camp.


Asus2add9? wow. try some ear training. i suppose arpeggios don't imply chords either?
#25
Quote by gavk
this would be the way to do it.

but yeah power chords will suggest a third, depending on melody, but all the examples of just power chords implying stuff in this thread have been bad so far.

say for I IV V I but in power chords, these could be either one, using the major, natural minor or minor scale, so in this case it's ambiguous.

take for example: E5 C5 A5

each of these chords will have an implied third, this will be heard as Emin Cmaj Amin, there's no other way to hear this.

if it was E5 C#5 A5, it would be heard as Emaj C#min A major, anyone in the it's ambiguous camp give this a try and see if it's possible to hear it any differently.

I'm still unsure whether it's fair to call them major/minor chords without a third. Say we have a chord progression of E - C#m - A. Following the same logic, what stops us from calling it Emaj7 - C#m7 - Amaj7? They're just seventh chords without a seventh. I'm not sure whether this particular progression suggests these sevenths, but surely there are some progressions that would do the trick. It's not like all power chord progressions suggest thirds either (as mentioned earlier).

I don't think there's a reason to imply that a power chord suggests a third which isn't there, but who am I to say. If this didn't make much sense, forgive me.
E:-6
B:-0
G:-5
D:-6
A:-0
E:-3
#26
because we have no reason to abstractly put in 7ths, our ears don't naturally hear 7ths, but we naturally hear things as being either major or minor.

and no i'm not saying a power chord does, i'm saying a number of power chords will, because the vast majority of them will hit either a major or minor 6th or 3rd which will implant those degrees, and by extension the scale, in our ears.
#27
and no i'm not saying a power chord does, i'm saying a number of power chords will, because the vast majority of them will hit either a major or minor 6th or 3rd which will implant those degrees, and by extension the scale, in our ears.


I agree with this. But it is not the same thing as the claim that a power chord *is* in fact a triad without the 3rd. This does not follow from the fact that one is in a key and moving power chords around the notes of the key.

Yes, triads can be heard as implied by a power chord, but this does not reduce the power chord to a triad. A power chord does not *inherently* imply anything; you had to put it in some musical context to even begin implying 3rds, and even in that musical context what is implied is a convention that we are used to hearing, not an intrinsic feature of the music itself.

My meta-point-of-contention is really that traditional conventions of tonality are not intrinsic, they are an imposed conceptual scheme, in a way that makes claims for the exclusivity of a certain approach ring a bit hollow when we are dealing with things that are not laws of nature.
Last edited by Brainpolice2 at Sep 24, 2011,
#28
Quote by AlanHB

Otherwise your comment "something mysteriously silent because there's a key signature" is interesting, because that's exactly where I'm getting my "silent 3rds" argument from. You're not going to escape the fact that there's a key/mode in your progression. Give me any power chord progression and I'll tell you the major/minor chords that they reperesent.


But you can't, really.

First, let's take your example: A5, D5, E5 - surely we all agree that this could work as a progression with either major or minor chords. If that's all there is to the song, you can't conclude anything about their major or minor.

Second, once you get into things like borrow chords from the parallel key, you can't make quick and easy assumptions based on assuming a diatonic structure.

Sometimes, certainly, the context implies major or minor. But sometimes is not always.
#29
First, let's take your example: A5, D5, E5 - surely we all agree that this could work as a progression with either major or minor chords. If that's all there is to the song, you can't conclude anything about their major or minor.


Thanks for pointing this out. It's something I overlooked. However, I imagine Alan may have been thinking in a context in which a key signature is already indicated.

Sometimes, certainly, the context implies major or minor. But sometimes is not always.


Right. I think my big bone to pick here is that without that context being explicitly indicated, there is no way to substantiate the kind of claims that Alan is making, and that major/minor tonality (and diatonic harmony built off of 3rds) is not the only possible context. I see this context (always a conventional, tonal, diatonic structure) simply assumed and superimposed on things that are, in isolation, ambiguous and not intrinsically anything more than what they are.

In this case, that's a root, 5th, and octave.
Last edited by Brainpolice2 at Sep 24, 2011,
#30
Or even if there is the possibility of a chord quality that is out of key; from the power chord progression alone there is no way to tell. I go with what Griff said - the overlying melodies, if present, are the best way to pick your chord qualities.
Last edited by Vlasco at Sep 24, 2011,
#31
Quote by gavk
Asus2add9? wow. try some ear training. i suppose arpeggios don't imply chords either?

You could try growing a sense of humor. It's sort of like a tumor, but waaay better.
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#32
Quote by Brainpolice2
I personally wouldn't find any use for a roman numeral analysis here. I'd just write out the chord names and leave it at that. That whole system is meant for looking at actual harmonic movement.


This.

If people want to call a Power chord a Chord, let them. My viewpoint depends upon a few things:

1. If you subscribe to the notion that a chord at its most basic level is a triad (Like I do)

2. If you agree that the sole determinant of a chord being major or minor, is the 3rd (like I do)

3. If you believe that use of it in a known diatonic progression is in an "implied" form rather than a literal one (like I do)

Then, when you do so, such as in Harmonic analysis, Context can "change" your understanding of that chord. For example.

If I played C5 E5 D5 G5 F5 and F5

You might call it I iii ii V IV IV in C

But is it only that?

What if I played and intended that to be understood as C Em Dm G F Fm - you couldn't have known, unless I played the full chords.

And I did it in a Power chord sense...You'd never know by the Power chords alone, that I did a F to Fm IV to iv change. There is no attending information, unless implied by the melody to suggest what happened there.

So, how would you say that Chords can be determined to be Major or minor (and not just an intelligent guess) by looking at the rest of the chords?

My progression was diatonic up to the Fm. That could be a very legitimate move, and a Power chord would not reveal it. The point of this is power chords, are not necessarily always determined by context, you need an actual chord to be sure of that context. It's always implied.

Best,

Sean
Last edited by Sean0913 at Sep 24, 2011,
#33
Quote by Brainpolice2
I personally wouldn't find any use for a roman numeral analysis here. I'd just write out the chord names and leave it at that. That whole system is meant for looking at actual harmonic movement. As I see it, an E5 going to an A5 going to a G5 going to a D5 simply isn't harmonic movement in much of a meaningful sense. It's a riff/melody using parallel 5ths.


This, and everything else BP2 has said.

Not every powerchord is used in a way that it could be replaced by a full chord. There are plenty of riffs where 'powerchords' are used melodically, not harmonically, and it would make no sense to class them as major or minor, or to try to relate them to the triad.

Powerchords are a kind of halfway house between melody and harmony.
#34
Wow this thread really exploded overnight!

Quote by Jehannum
Powerchords are a kind of halfway house between melody and harmony.


If there was either melody or harmony suggested, so would a key. The whole argument
in this thread turns on the lack of melody or harmony.

Quote by Jehannum
As I see it, an E5 going to an A5 going to a G5 going to a D5 simply isn't harmonic movement in much of a meaningful sense. It's a riff/melody using parallel 5ths.


However a progression like this would be heard naturally as E min - A min - G maj - D maj in the key of E minor. To characterise them differently you would have to throw in another instrument suggesting something different.

Firstly I wouldn't say I have an "obsession with tonality", however it would be extremely hard to argue that a song where the guitar just plays power chords is lacking a key merely by virtue that you have decided not to play the 3rd.

But, I do concede that if you just had one guitar alone playing A5 - D5 - E5, the key would be ambiguous. It could be anything. The key could be major or minor, it could resolve to any chord you wish depending on how you play it.

So the obvious answer in relation to roman numerals is (drum roll):

If there is no key, you can't use roman numerals.

They rely upon the presence of a key. Even writing I5 will still suggest a major key. The roman numerals will impose the 3rds on top of the powerchords and your entire argument will become moot.

So the argument "if there was no key, the 3rds wouldn't be imposed over the chords" is correct. However if there is no key, there's no roman numerals involved.

Perhaps I made an error in thinking that the chord progression wasn't in the context of a song, but isn't that where you were headed with it? If not the argument is the same as me asking "is E5 alone major or minor?". It's ambiguous and there's no correct answer.

If you're intending to write and perform a song that is devoid of any other notes, go for it. I would be interested to hear a discussion about a piece of music where the chords go A5 - D5 - E5, and the bassline and vocals (or other primary instrument) all going A - D - E along with the chords. Perhaps not the most interesting piece of music ever recorded, but it would give your argument some weight in terms of "5th chords don't suggest major or minor chords".
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#35
The way I learned and prefer is all caps, always. If you have A5 D5 E5, write I IV VI. If you want them to be major, leave it as it is. If you want Am Dm Em, write I- IV- V-. If you want Dominant 7ths, write I7 IV7 V7. Minor 7ths would be I-7 IV-7 V-7. And so on. This way, you can easily incorporate chords out of key. I have a progression written in D major that goes A, G, Bm, F#, G, B, A, A7. The F# is out of key... normally, it would be a minor chord. I decided I liked the sound of it as a major chord instead. If I were to write it out as Roman numerals, I would write V IV VI- III IV VI- V V7. The dashes (or lack thereof) let the performer know what is a major chord, what is a minor chord, what is a 7th chord, etc...
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#36
Quote by AlanHB


Perhaps I made an error in thinking that the chord progression wasn't in the context of a song, but isn't that where you were headed with it? If not the argument is the same as me asking "is E5 alone major or minor?". It's ambiguous and there's no correct answer.

If you're intending to write and perform a song that is devoid of any other notes, go for it. I would be interested to hear a discussion about a piece of music where the chords go A5 - D5 - E5, and the bassline and vocals (or other primary instrument) all going A - D - E along with the chords. Perhaps not the most interesting piece of music ever recorded, but it would give your argument some weight in terms of "5th chords don't suggest major or minor chords".



So... what Griff said? That the other parts are what make it certain what the chords are?
#37
Quote by Vlasco
So... what Griff said? That the other parts are what make it certain what the chords are?


Sure, the other parts imply a key. If there's lack of a key, you can't impose those 3rds, or use roman numerals to notate them.
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#38
If a power chord doesn't imply an actual chord, it won't have a harmonic function by itself and therefore can't be analysed as harmony (i.e. using Roman numerals).
(Please correct me if I'm wrong.)
#39
Quote by Brainpolice2
Are you serious? Because that makes no sense at all.

A power chord is a root and a 5th and an octave. There's no 3rd to omit because it's not intended to be there in the first place. I suppose you could vision 3rds as being somehow implicit given the key, but if 3rds aren't being used at all in practise then I see no reason why one would conceptualize them as if they were really there, as ghost intervals.

How could one say that highway to hell is in A major?
The chord structure contains only A5 D5 and G.
#40
How could one say that highway to hell is in A major?
The chord structure contains only A5 D5 and G.


Well, in cases like that, if there is no leading tone (major 7th, in this case, G#) used anywhere by anyone in the entire song, and there clearly is no real harmonic movement, it basically is modal. With the G re-occuring, and if there is a consistent C, it's effectively in A Dorian (even if there's a lot of plain minor pentatonic used).

Indeed, listening to the tune now, Angus Young explicitly plays with moving between G and F# notes, and there are no G#'s, just G's, thus indicating A Dorian, given the rest of the musical context. For the most part, while they hang on some other notes for little parts, the whole thing is effectively a big droning A. There is no harmonic movement in the tune.

*awaits the tonality Nazis to insist that it's A minor with accidentals - because hey, one convenient route to write it out on staff paper would be to use an A minor key signature and # all the F's, therefore the use of this key signature allegedly dictates that it is in A minor, even though in such a case a key signature is nothing more than a tool of convenience for writing music on paper*
Last edited by Brainpolice2 at Sep 25, 2011,
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