Chord conventions in classical and popular music


New Member
Dec 23, 2016
Hi - I'm a songwriter with some classical training. I don't write in a classical idiom - I mainly write comedy songs and I'm just starting to branch into jazz and swing. Nevertheless I find that my knowledge of classical theory is invaluable in helping me to work out harmonies and other aspects of the music.

I've just come from a forum for (mainly commercial) songwriters, with some very talented people on it, and I was shocked by the level of ignorance of basic music theory. One person appeared not to know that C and B sharp were the same note. Many of them didn't seem to know how to determine what key a piece was in. They could understand the chord sequence but couldn't tell you that it was in G major or E minor or whatever.

One difference I've noticed between classical and popular music conventions is that in classical music chord symbols are notated relative to the key (I, V, ii and so on), whereas in popular music it's the actual letter-names that are used (G, Dm, C6 and so on). I'm wondering if in some way that affects people's perception of the music. I always perceive music relative to the keynote, even when I don't know what that keynote is. To me "C-Am-F-G" and "G-Em-C-D" are just two ways of writing the same thing, in different musical "dialects". To a jazz or pop musician they might be perceived as completely different.

Any thoughts about this?

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