Chords in Orchestral Scores

In the ABRSM Grade 6 music theory exam you will be probably be asked to identify one or more chords in a score. For this grade, the chords you can expect to find are the basic triads built from each degree of the scale, plus V7 and ii7.

You will need to give the Roman numeral of the chord, as well as the inversion. You can either use the extended Roman system, which uses capitals for major chords and lower case for minor and diminished chords, or you can use capitals for all chords and write out major, minor etc. in words.

Working out chords and prevailing key is covered in detail in earlier lessons. When you are doing this task with an orchestral score, you first need to make sure that you have transposed everything into concert pitch. The inversion of the chord is fixed by the lowest sounding note – this is not necessarily the lowest positioned stave.

Let’s identify the chord in the box, and the prevailing key. This is adapted from Schubert’s 5th Symphony.

chords in an orchestral score

Transpose the trumpet notes down a major 2nd.

The chord notes are C-E-G-Bb. This is a C major triad, with an added 7th of Bb, so this is a dominant 7th chord.

The bass note is Bb, so the chord is in third inversion.

This is V7d. After V7, we expect the next chord to be chord I, but we’ll need to check whether that is F major, or F minor.

The next chord is made up of the notes F, A flat and C, so the prevailing key is F minor.