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

Jeremy Day-O'Connell jdayocon at knox.edu
Tue Jan 19 11:32:03 PST 2010

I tend not to get too hung up on theoretical elegance but think in  
terms of both "general principles" and "specific idioms" (a tension  
that's by no means confined to the case of 6/4 chords).

I-IV-I is a common chord progression; neighboring motion is an  
effective decoration; pairs of neighbor decorations in parallel thirds  
or sixths is especially effective.  Each of those things points to a  
particular device, namely I-IV6/4-I.  Other considerations point  
against the possibility of ii-V6/4-ii (though I expect we could come  
up with an example or two without too much trouble): the rarity of ii- 
V-ii in general and the inherent difficulty of motion from ^7 to ^6,  
for instance, are two such considerations.

So yes, I think of I-IV6/4-I as a "neighbor progression," but not as  
"simply a neighbor progression."

More troubling, in my mind, is the inconsistency of the terms  
"neighboring" and "passing": in some cases, the motion in question is  
in the bass (as in "passing" vi-I6/4-ii6) whereas in others the motion  
is in the upper voices, above a pedal (as in "passing" V-I6/4-V7).   
Those strike me as funcamentally different categories.

- - - - - - - - - -
Jeremy Day-O'Connell
Assistant Professor, Music
Knox College
Box K-95
Galesburg, IL 61401

(309) 341-7301
jdayocon at knox.edu
fax (309) 341-7605

On Jan 18, 2010, at 8:02 PM, Dmitri Tymoczko wrote:

> Recently I was preparing to teach second-semester harmony, and found  
> myself contemplating once more the idea of "passing" and  
> "neighboring" 6/4 chords.  And it suddenly occurred to me that these  
> terms are potentially misleading.
> My basic worry is that, in classical music, "neighboring" and  
> "passing" 6/4s occur only in very specific circumstances (e.g. I- 
> >IV6/4->I or IV6->I6/4->ii6), whereas the terms "neighboring" and  
> "passing" suggest more general contrapuntal functions that should in  
> principle appear in a broader range of progressions (e.g. vi->ii6/4- 
> >vi or vi->iii6/4->vi6).
> In other words, if the IV6/4 is really the byproduct of  
> "neighboring" motion, then we should expect progressions like ii- 
> >V6/4->ii.  And conversely, the absence of ii->V6/4->ii should give  
> us good reason to think that IV6/4 is not "simply a neighboring  
> chord."  But then it's hard to understand what's gained by labeling  
> IV6/4 as "neighboring."  Are we really explaining anything, if we  
> have to add the proviso that other neighboring 6/4 chords are almost  
> never used in the style?
> This is leading me to wonder whether I wouldn't be better off simply  
> teaching a few specific tonal idioms, and leaving the labels  
> "neighboring" and "passing" out altogether: I could just say that  
> tonal composers often use I->IV6/4->I, V->I6/4->V and IV6->I6/4- 
> >ii6, and that would cover ~95% of the cases students encounter.
> Does anyone have any thoughts about this?  When you teach  
> "neighboring" and "passing" 6/4 chords, do you teach the specific  
> idioms or general principles?  And if you do the latter, how do you  
> prevent students from overgeneralizing to nonsyntactic progressions  
> like vi->iii6/4->vi6 and so on?  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?"
> Thanks,
> DT
> Dmitri Tymoczko
> Associate Professor of Music
> 310 Woolworth Center
> Princeton, NJ 08544-1007
> (609) 258-4255 (ph), (609) 258-6793 (fax)
> http://music.princeton.edu/~dmitri
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