Chord Numeral Flash Cards — Free Harmony Learning Tool

Chord Numerals - I, ii, iii, IV, V, and vi

There is a way to unlock the subject of Harmony, and that’s through Chord Numerals.

Playing chords and chord progressions by ear seems an unattainable feat for many. A dream never to be realized. But the truth is that you can learn how to play harmony by ear. How? Start with Chord Numerals.

Chord Numerals look just like roman numerals, but in the context of music, they represent the six most popular chords in human history; but most importantly, they do so in a way that combines how they sound with how they’re constructed. This is important. Combining sound with theory is the actual game-changer: chord names don’t do this (they de-emphasize functional/diatonic harmony, they promote absolute pitch and a static approach to harmony), guitar tabs don’t do this (they emphasize where you put your fingers over what you’re hearing and how chord progressions behave), and most guitar tutorials certainly do not do this (Why would they? You’re just there to learn one song, after all). The one exception in today’s music education landscape — sheet music — does combine sound with theory. But to use sheet music, one needs to learn how to read standard notation. And as ubiquitous as standard notation is, it is just as esoteric with its ledger lines, stems, noteheads, clefs, and jargon descended from Italian opera.

There is a better way to learn all of these real world chord progressions by ear.

Four Chord Song

Have you ever heard of the “Four Chord Song?” If you haven’t check out this hilariously funny and slightly acerbic comedic video.

The truth in this video is plain to see: many popular songs use a powerful chord progression.

The chord progression they call “1-2-3-4” in this performance is really I-V-vi-IV (pronounced “One-Five-Six-Four”). It just might be the most popular chord progression in musical history. It is the progression used in all of these popular songs, and many more:

  1. Journey — “Don’t Stop Believing,”
  2. James Blunt — “You’re Beautiful”
  3. Alphaville — “Forever Young”
  4. Jason Mraz — I’m Yours
  5. Mika — Happy Ending
  6. Alex Lloyd — Amazing
  7. The Calling — Wherever You Will Go
  8. Elton John — Can You Feel The Love Tonight,
  9. Maroon 5 — She Will Be Loved
  10. The Last Goodnight — Pictures Of You
  11. U2 — With Or Without You
  12. Crowded House — Fall At Your Feet
  13. Kasey Chambers — Not Pretty Enough
  14. The Beatles — Let it Be
  15. Red Hot Chili Peppers — Under the Bridge
  16. Daryl Braithwaite — The Horses
  17. Bob Marley — No Woman No Cry
  18. Marcy Playground — Sex and Candy
  19. Men At Work — Land Down Under
  20. Banjo Patterson’s Waltzing Matilda
  21. A Ha — Take On Me
  22. Green Day — When I Come Around
  23. Eagle Eye Cherry — Save Tonight
  24. Toto — Africa
  25. Beyonce — If I Were A Boy
  26. The Offspring — Self Esteem
  27. The Offspring — You’re Gonna Go Far Kid
  28. Pink — You and Your Hand
  29. Lady Gaga — Poker Face
  30. Aqua — Barbie Girl
  31. The Fray — You Found Me
  32. 30h!3 — Don’t Trust Me
  33. MGMT — Kids
  34. Tim Minchin — Canvas Bags
  35. Natalie Imbruglia — Torn
  36. Five For Fighting — Superman
  37. Missy Higgins — Scar

Chord Numeral Flash Cards and You

Chord Numerals represent the six most popular chords from the Major Scale. Using these Chord Numeral flash cards, you can try any number of the following exercises to improve your level of fluency in Harmony:

  1. Chord Spelling — perhaps the most immediately useful of these exercises when it comes to improving your musical communication with others, you can use these flash cards as a way to challenge your ability to spell chords. Lay the flash cards face down in a random order, pick any key, and flip one over. Now name the chord, and spell the notes of the chord out. Example: Key of C, flip over card “IV.” What is your answer? “F Major, F-A-C.”
  2. Songwriting — Stuck when it comes to writing new chord progressions? You can create new (diatonic) chord progressions you haven’t used in your songwriting before. Example, vi-iii-IV-I sounds nice. In the key of C, that means Am-Em-F-C. Try it!
  3. Relative Pitch Training — the most musically beneficial skill to come from quizzing yourself in Harmony is most certainly the ability to outline a chord by singing it out loud without the aid of an instrument. Lay the flash cards face down in a random order, play any tonic, and flip one over. Now sing the chord out, relative to the tonic. Example: Key of C, flip over card “IV.” Your task: play the “C” to establish your tonic, then sing F Major (F-A-C) out loud without any help from an instrument. When you can hear the “1” (a.k.a. the tonic) but can sing “4–6–8” (a.k.a. the subdominant, submediant, tonic, or the subdominant chord) without any other reference pitches, you build your internal model of the Major Scale from that tonic. An internal model of pitch relationships is EVERYTHING when it comes to ear-training. I can’t possibly overstate it.
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