[Smt-talk] "Neighboring" 6/4 Chords

Guerin, William Brian wguerin at indiana.edu
Sun Oct 2 05:45:42 PDT 2011

Dear Matt,

I wonder if the issue has more to do with the rarity of upper-neighbor motions in the bass than the question of how V4/3 is most typically used.
That is to say, V4/3 may more often be used with passing bass motions simply because those bass motions are more common when prolonging a tonic.

Writers of our usual harmony textbooks do seem to gloss over the "neighboring V6/4" possibility, but I'd suspect the answer has to do with the fact that, in most cases where you'd want to use V6/4, some other chord is a better choice.
V4/3 is, in fact, a viable option (I believe Laitz gives it, at least), as are viio6 and viio6/5.  All of these chords avoid the unresolved dissonant fourth (^5) against the bass tied into the second tonic.

And it seems to me that oftentimes, what really "counts" isn't the neighboring figure in the bass, but rather a neighbor figure in some other voice (say, the soprano) in which choosing some other bass motion (such as by skip to V5/3) provides a better sonority and better VL results.

And more generally, the I-V6/4-I situation seems awfully static from a compositional perspective:
Using a PT ^1-^2-^3 or consonant skip ^1-^5-^1 in the bass, or some kind of voice exchange, allows *something* significant to happen while the NN in the upper voice plays out -- either a melodic motion or a strong harmonic gesture.
Similarly, with the other choices for the middle sonority (esp. V4/3 and viio6/5) you get a resolution of a dissonance in the inner voices (or at least the promise of one, even if it needs to be denied for VL reasons.)
I-V6/4-I just doesn't seem to accomplish very much.

These are the type of things i'd tell a trusting class of undergraduates, but I'll admit I've thought little about whether these factors have any historical basis.


William Guerin
Ph.D. Cand. in Music Theory, Indiana University
Editor, Indiana Theory Review
wguerin at indiana.edu

From: Matt Bribitzer-Stull <mpbs at umn.edu<mailto:mpbs at umn.edu>>
Date: Thu, 29 Sep 2011 10:38:16 -0500
To: Society for Music Theory <smt-talk at societymusictheory.org<mailto:smt-talk at societymusictheory.org>>
Subject: [Smt-talk] "Neighboring" 6/4 Chords

Dear Colleagues:

I find when instructing undergraduates in core harmony courses that students accept the guidelines we provide for part-writing much better if they understand the reasoning behind them. I'm at a loss, however, to explain why common-practice composers rarely used a 6/4 chord above scale degree 2 as a bass neighbor motion expanding tonic. V4/3 is most often a passing bass gesture (in which, of course, there's a good reason why students need not resolve the chordal seventh in the soprano - namely, it's not a dissonance with the bass and often completes a pleasing parallel-tenths idiom) or part of a collection of dominant-functioned chords, though it can and does function as a bass neighbor expanding tonic; and vii 6 an vii 6/5 harmonize bass neighbor notes with much more frequency than a 6/4 chord.

I'd be interested if there are any compelling contrapuntal or harmonic reasons why composers tended not to harmonize neighbor motions in the bass with unaccented 6/4 chords.




Matthew Bribitzer-Stull
Associate Professor of Music Theory
University of Minnesota School of Music

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