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

Dave Headlam dheadlam at esm.rochester.edu
Mon Oct 3 03:32:31 PDT 2011

Hi - I've been contemplating a paper, using Roundabout by Yes as a prime
example, but I'll probably never get around to it.  Anyway, the topic is
precisely the 6/4  as a N, P figure around I, IV, and V.

In blues music, a term "walking the basses" was  used for the classic
A-E , A-F#, A-E or 5-6 motion ( N over  stationary bass). This can of course
be elaborated into a complete 6/4, and also into the classic blues P 6/4

B -  C#  - D
G#  A    - B       
E    E      E

which has all sorts of jazz and rock outgrowths.  During John Covach's
excellent Mannes class, I was thinking about this progression as a "rock
blues UrSatz" -- it appears in Roundabout at different time scales --
And is part of the middle bass line --

5      -     6 - 7  -- 6    7  -     6            5
3      -     4   5 --  4     5 -      4            3
 E-F#-G-A, B-A-G-A, B-A-G-A-G-F#-G-F#   E

Here its cool that the 75 sounds like a N to the 6/4  ( at least to me)-- a
new kind of "double neighbor" ( Mr. Rogers!)

Anyway, this figure is endemic to the blues -  the I-IV-I  -I first part
often has the IV implied only ( as a 6/4) to anticipate the IV-IV-I-I
following, the V is elaborated in many ways, with embell. 6/4s etc.

I like the term "Embellishing 6/4 (Salzer?) as a catch-all for this usage.

On the original question : we usually think of P, N tones in the melody -
but there's no reason to limit the motion to any one voice --

The classic Mozart/Bach progression C-E-G, C-(D)-F-A, B-D-(F)-G, C-E-G
combines the P C-D-E, with the DN bass C-D -B-C  (or C-C-B-C) and N C-D-D-C
and perhaps even C-D-F-E (Brahms symphony keys and Mozart Jupiter, from Fux,
etc, etc.) in an interesting way -- giving us all sorts of implications . .

Totally random thought:  does Palestrina write the equivalent of Matt's


Dave Headlam

On 10/2/11 9:05 AM, "Dmitri Tymoczko" <dmitri at princeton.edu> 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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> rg


Dave Headlam
Professor of Music Theory
Joint Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Eastman School of Music / The College
The University of Rochester
26 Gibbs St.
Rochester, NY 14604
dheadlam at esm.rochester.edu

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