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

Justin London jlondon at carleton.edu
Sun Oct 2 07:51:40 PDT 2011

Dear Matt & Colleagues,

This is really a question for David Huron and some of his students/colleagues who have done empirical studies of musical corpuses, as the first question to be answered (aside from our anecdotal encounters with CPP idioms) is just how often neighboring 1-2-1 motions really do occur in the bass, and of those motions, what are he relative frequencies of various harmonization of 2(?).

I suspect that one reason is that you simply can't hear V6/4 as well as some of the other chords Matt metions.  Again, David H. might have some ideas about this, but based on the propensity for auditory fusion amongst the elements of a chord (if and when they are properly voiced), a V6/4 chord, with 5 as a common tone, simply isn't terribly noticeable as a motion in the bass; in order to make the motion salient, all the voices have to move, changing the overall spectral imprint of the chord (hence the bias, if there is one, for vii6, vii6/5, or V43).  Note also that consistency of motion in the bass (that is, a passing motion to 3 rather than a return to 2) makes the bass motion more salient--so one can have a passing V6/4.  


On Sep 29, 2011, at 10:38 AM, Matt Bribitzer-Stull wrote:

> 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.
> Best,
> Matt
> -- 
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> Matthew Bribitzer-Stull
> Associate Professor of Music Theory
> University of Minnesota School of Music
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Justin London
Affiliated Researcher, Centre for Music and Science, University of Cambridge
Professor of Music (and other stuff), Carleton College
Department of Music
One North College St.
Northfield, MN 55057 USA
fax 507-222-5561
jlondon at carleton.edu

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