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

Murphy, Scott Brandon smurphy at ku.edu
Mon Oct 3 21:20:31 PDT 2011

Yes, I was making a categorical distinction between V6/4 and V4/3: a tag-along ^4 shuts off the signal.

Without a doubt, metrical position plays a crucial role in the strength of the signal. My decision to bring up an explanation for Matt's observation tersely, rather than intricately with due attention to such important details (like duration and so forth alongside metrical position), stemmed, in part, from a broader claim that seems to hold water for a few trends in the common-practice style: sometimes a musical solution is more or less preferred not because of the intricacies of the particular situation at hand, but because of coarser, even cruder, stylistic generalizations that cut to the quick. Yes, I V6/4 I6 is common (or at least more common than I V6/4 I), but perhaps the statistically inclined among us could check it against I V4/3 I6 and I vii°6 I6. I think I know where the regle d'octave theorists would put their money. I like very much Edward's insightful explanation of why ^2 might not earn neighbor-chord harmonization. I'm sure I am one of many on this list who beseeches students seemingly daily to write a bass line that goes somewhere, and, in that regard, Edward's argument hits home for me. But Matt's inquiry also concerned the particular quality of the chord above ^2, which is what my first post attempted to address.

For those with corpora at their beck and call, here's one test suggested to me by Edward's cogent reply that might tease things out: compare minor to major. Regardless of what immediately follows the progression (i.e. putting the distinctions between passing and neighbor aside) or other details as listed above, does "tonic in 5/3 followed by major dominant in 6/4" with a non-modulatory continuation appear in minor (e.g. the Beethoven example) significantly more often than it does in major? If so, why, and could the answer be related to an answer to Matt's original query? If not, then I for one wouldn't be surprised: we Murphys are, by law, accustomed to such disappointments.


Scott Murphy
President, Music Theory Midwest
Associate Professor, Music Theory
University of Kansas School of Music
smurphy at ku.edu

From: Edward Klorman <eklorman at juilliard.edu<mailto:eklorman at juilliard.edu>>
Date: Mon, 3 Oct 2011 21:39:15 -0400
To: <smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org<mailto:smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org>>
Subject: [Smt-talk] "Neighboring" 6/4 chords

Dear all,

I'm glad Deborah brought up the Op. 2/3 trio; I immediately thought of this example when reading Scott Murphy's message, which stated that: "Putting a bare V above a bass ^2, thus forming the 6/4, can be a clear and even potent signal that the music is modulating to the dominant" since (in major keys) a second-inversion dominant chord sounds like the cadential 6/4 of the dominant.

But the passing progression I  V 6/4 I6 is extremely common and idiomatic (as in the first three measures of the Op. 2/3 trio and many similar examples). Scott, do I understand correctly that your point is that adding a chordal seventh (thus I  V 4/3  I6) eliminates any ambiguity as to the function of the dominant chord?

To me, a stronger consideration than the presence or absence of a chordal seventh is the metrical placement of the chord in question. A passing 6/4 (like a passing tone) normatively is placed in a weaker position that the chords that flank it. In contrast, a cadential 6/4 is placed in a metrically stronger position than the dominant to which it resolves.

As for Op. 2/3: there isn't any real ambiguity in this case, since it's in minor (meaning that a passing V 6/4 is an E major harmony, whereas the cadential 6/4 of the dominant key would be an E minor harmony). Nevertheless, even if it were changed to A major, the second measure is clearly a passing V 6/4 chord because of its weak hypermetrical position, passing between the tonic in m. 1 and the first-inversion tonic in m. 3

But, a propos Scott's point about modulating to the dominant, the 6/4 chord in m. 6 is a cadential 6/4 chord in E minor, helping to establish a modulation to that key. This 6/4 harmony effects a subtle shift in the hypermeter. That is, the prevailing hypermeter establishes odd bars as strong, but the cadential 6/4 in m. 6 establishes a two-bar span within which m. 6 is stronger than m. 7 (as per MPR 8, the suspension rule), which infers a quasi-hyperdownbeat status on the first ending.

This situation is very common in waltzes, where the final three measures of each strain are often V 6/4, V(7), and I -- such that the cadential 6/4 is in a weak position in the prevailing hypermeter, but it also effects a syncopated span within which the cadential 6/4 is stronger than the root-position dominant, and therefore places some some emphasis on the final measure. It seems to me that this must bear some relation with the traditional pre-cadential hemiola of the baroque and classical minuet, which similarly establishes a syncopated two-bar span, comprising the antepenultimate and penultimate measures. (The idea of a "syncopated time span" is discussed in Carl Schachter's article "Aspects of Meter"; see p. 93 on Unfoldings.)

Of course, none of this answers Matt's original query regarding why a second-inversion dominant appears commonly as a passing chord but rarely as an upper neighbor to I (with bass ^1-^2-^1) or, for that matter, as a lower neighbor to I6 (with bass ^3-^2-^3). My best instinct, which is not at all rigorous, would appeal to a the Gestalt principle of "good continuation" and to an idea of musical momentum or inertia. That is, a bass motion of ^1 to ^2 would most naturally continue on to ^3 (as in the passing progression I  V 6/4  I6). In contrast, in a neighbor progression such as I V 6/5 I, the bass goes from ^1 to ^7, but the strong pull from leading tone up to tonic forces the bass to change direction; the tendency-tone principle presents the bass from continuing downward. The same principle explains I6 V 4/2 I6 (with bass of ^3 ^4 ^3, where ^4 is pulled back to ^3 because it is a tendency tone). Perhaps the status of V 6/4 has to do with the neutral state of ^2, which is not a tendency tone and therefore has no particular pull either up to ^3 or down to ^1. Might this be a reason why the bass most normally passes through ^2 and continues in the same direction (as in I V6/4 I6 or the opposite, I6 V6/4 I)?



Edward Klorman
The Juilliard School

Associate Chair and Director of Core Curriculum, L&M Department
Chair, Pre-College Theory Department

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