[Smt-talk] Passing and Neighboring 6/4s

Olli Väisälä ovaisala at siba.fi
Tue Jan 19 11:36:52 PST 2010

I wrote the following comments to Dmitri's post before receiving the  
other responses. Some of these points have been stated by others, but  
perhaps it will do no harm if I send this anyway. Sorry for redundancy.


First, I agree that some passing and neighboring 6/4 progressions are  
more common or idiomatic than others. However, in my view, this gives  
no reason not to classify the characteristic voice-leading patterns as  
passing or neighboring. Pedagogically, it would seem odd not to pay  
attention to such voice-leading patterns or not to label them in a way  
generally familar from other occurrences of similar patterns.

6/4 chords are by no means unique in this respect. Consider the  
neighboring progression I–V6/5–I (with 3^–4^–3^ treble). This  
progression is hardly applicable to any other level (II–VI6/5–II etc.)  
without tonicization, but in my view this is no argument against  
calling it neighboring.

A significant reason for paying attention to these passing and  
neighboring voice-leading motions is the dissonance of the 6/4 and 6/5  
chords involved. Labels "passing" and "neighboring" clarify stepwise  
dissonance treatment, relating with general basic principles of  
conventional tonality.

Another reason is that these labels also highlight the subordinate  
status of the passing or neighboring chord in harmonic syntax. For  
example, in a phrase based on a I–IV6–"I6/4"–II6/5–V–I progression, the  
conception of the "I6/4" as passing clarifies that it does not affect  
the larger I–IV (or II)–V–I framework.

Hence I think we should teach BOTH specific idioms AND their  
relationships with general principles. The problem Dmitri senses here  
seems to stem from the conception that general principles should be as  
such sufficient for explaining the idioms. However, I think that  
organizational principles concerning a single musical dimension—such as  
voice leading—are seldom sufficient for explaining the overall effect  
of musical passages, but we have to consider the several interacting  
dimensions. This multidimensionality is itself a principle of general  
importance which should, I think, be made clear for students. The  
idiomaticness of 6/4 chords depends crucially on their voice-leading  
status, but this is not the sole determining factor. (For a very  
different example, consider the analysis of dodecaphonic works: we  
should not give students the illusion that the examination of row  
structure amounts to a complete analysis, explaining all significant  

Hence, like Panayotis Mavromatis, I would suggest removing "just" from  
the following quote, thus also removing the tension.

>  And do you feel any tension between "this is just a neighboring  
> chord" and "these other progressions, though contrapuntally quite  
> similar to the acceptable case, are never used?"
Best wishes,
Olli Väisälä
Sibelius Academy
ovaisala at siba.fi
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