So, what does I VI II V mean?
It is a chord progression, listing a sequence of chords built upon notes of any scale.
If I show you how it works for C major, the easiest scale of all for keyboard players, or for anyone with a kiddie set of chime bars, then you have the skeleton that you can apply to other scales as you wish.
So, here’s the scale; C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C. I’ve written out two octaves
Each note is numbered using ROMAN numerals; so C is I, moving on a few notes, F is IV, and G is V. These are the commonest chords; the progression above us11es II and VI which are also standard chords, so once you know what is going on, you will be able to make them for yourself.
To build a chord, you write out your scale.
Now, to make chord I, i.e. the chord built on the first note of your scale, you choose the first, third and fifth note of the scale, skipping a letter each time. So, for my scale of C major, chord I contains C E G, played in any order.
What’s next? Oh, chord IV. That’s the chord built upon the fourth note of my scale, in this case F. Again, you start on F, and choose the other two notes by skipping a letter each time. F, then A, then C That’s chord IV, formed from the fourth, sixth and eighth notes of the scale. Oh, hang on a moment, the eighth note is the same as the first. Just in case you hadn’t noticed.
Finally, chord V, using the fifth, seventh and ninth=second notes of the scale. In C major, that will be G B and D
So, now, if you try and construct chord II and chord VI using this method, you should come up with D F A and A C E in C major.
Let’s go back to the original progression; I VI II V. That will be C-E-G A-C-E D-F-A G-B-D which makes a neat little accompaniment to improvisations using the notes of the C major scale. For guitarists/ukuleles, the names of the chords are C, Am, Dm, G. Give it a go…
If you want to use a different key, just write out the scale, and repeat the process. Chords II and VI will come out minor – why? that’s a topic for another post.