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

Donna Doyle donnadoyle at att.net
Mon Oct 3 07:28:13 PDT 2011

I almost agree with Dmitri that "it's better to get rid of the terms  
'neighboring' and 'passing' chords."

I almost agree in that I think the N 6/4 is misnamed. As David Headlam  
points out, the N 6/4 is an
embellishing chord; actually, all three named 6/4s are embellishing.  
Since the other two are
identified by their bass activity, a better label for the N would be  
"Pedal 6/4."  This would allow for
various upper-voice activities (e. g., "walking the bass" [in both  
classical and jazz]). These
various upper-voice workings-out could become sub-categories, i. e.,  
"P above the Ped,"
"IN above the Ped," etc.

RE Matt's original query: I agree with Scott Murphy--that a bare 6/4  
above an ascending step-wise
bass suggests IV - V 6/4 in the dominant key. Of course, metric accent  
would play a role.


Donna Doyle
Queens College


On Oct 2, 2011, at 9:05 AM, Dmitri Tymoczko wrote:

>> 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.
> Sorry for being dense, but I'm not exactly sure I understand.  As I  
> read it, you are asking for an explanation of why we don't often  
> find progressions like:
> (C4, E4, G4, C5)->(D4, D4, G4, B4)->(C4, E4, G4, C5)
> I guess my first question is whether you can think of any common  
> tonal progression in which a 6/4 chord acts in this way, with the  
> bass moving in neighboring fashion (e.g. IV->I6/4->IV).  Off the top  
> of my head, I can't think of one, on any scale degrees.  So  
> "neighboring 6/4 chords" typically involve fixed bass.  But that's  
> just a restatement of your question, I guess.
> My second thought is that this sort of question has convinced me to  
> abandon the term "neighboring 6/4 chord."  If you use the term, you  
> create the (reasonable!) expectation that there is a general  
> procedure here -- "6/4 chords can be used to create neighboring  
> motion."  But common-practice music doesn't bear out this  
> expectation.  The vast majority of "neighboring 6/4 chords" fall  
> into just a couple idioms or schemas -- chiefly I->IV6/4->I and V- 
> >I6/4->V.  (I'd wager that upwards of 98% of the "neighboring 6/4  
> progressions" are in these two categories.)  Progressions like ii- 
> >V6/4->ii and vi->ii6/4->vi, which are perfectly neighboring, don't  
> ever appear.
> So I have reluctantly concluded that it's much better just to get  
> rid of the terms "neighboring" and "passing 6/4" chords and to speak  
> of a small number of idioms instead.  This more particular  
> (idiomatic or "schema-based") explanation correctly gives the  
> expectation that there are just a couple relevant progressions,  
> occurring on specific scale degrees, and expressing specific  
> harmonic functions.  The problem with more general explanations is  
> that they suggest there should be a more general phenomenon, but  
> there really isn't.
> We've actually discussed this on the SMT list previously, I think.   
> There may be relevant posts in the archives.
> DT
> Dmitri Tymoczko
> Associate Professor of Music
> 310 Woolworth Center
> Princeton, NJ 08544-1007
> (609) 258-4255 (ph), (609) 258-6793 (fax)
> http://dmitri.tymoczko.com
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