[Smt-talk] Labeling Systems

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Thu Dec 13 13:56:41 PST 2012

Dear Dr. Khannanov, Maestro Grant and Dr. Bashwiner,

Thank you for addressing different issues on which I would also like to say something. If you allow me, I will go by order.

Ildar, thank you for bringing up the point with SII. It comes as a reminder that the supertonic chord has a subdominant function, because it contains the fundamental bass of that function, scale degree 4, and is often built on it (II6). In fact, as a student, I was taught to use the following labels for the diatonic triads: T, SII, III, S, D, VI, DVII. The mediants may substitute for any of the three main functions, and some professors used such labels as TVI, SVI, TIII or DIII, while others preferred to label them with their RNs, recognizing some levels of their flexibility.

Maestro Grant, I also prefer to write Im, IIm, or Tm, Sm, etc. instead of the miniscule RNs. Right now, one of my dilemmas is whether I should use RNs alone or with moderators to reveal the quality. I am afraid, however, that I feel confused about some of your labels such as SRm, DRm, and TRm. I know what you mean by those, but would it not be easier to adopt IIm, IIIm, and VIm? These are also compatible with jazz harmony analysis. Also, the V/5 label may be confused with a root position V (V as a fifth chord, that is 5/3 or simply 5, as labelled in some countires). The third inversion is simply V2, one does not have to write V6/+4/2. If it is not Vm, therefore the leading tone is there, and +4 is superfluous. 

Dr. Bashwiner, thank you for your thoughtful letter and reasonable reflections on labeling systems and solfege systems.  I agree with most of them and also with the fact that a forceful method of convincing musicians in the priority of a particular method never works. 

I agree with your logical conclusions that movable Do is the most specific system available in solfege. But I have discovered over the years that “most specific” is not an equivalent of “most efficient”. According to my observations, most movable Do singers will stumble across a chromatic melody that modulates and will prefer to sing it with a neutral syllable. On the other hand, I have never witnessed an original (not made) fixed Do singer to prefer to sight read with a neural syllable. The reason for that lies in the fact that for the latter musician the seven syllables Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, and Si are the actual names of the notes. No accommodation of any new key, modulation or chromaticism is necessary. The result is fluency and speed in sight reading. One may assume that, if they sing faster and more accurately, their sense of intervals and tonal degrees will also be better, despite the fact they have never studied movable Do.

Now I will draw a parallel with the simplicity of the capital Roman numeral system. It relies on the key signature to suggest the diatonic basis of the chords, and it allows the use of the same chart in both major and minor, without the necessity to rewrite and change the quality of the chords each time. I think that such expressions as “the two seven chord in minor” or “the subdominant in harmonic major” are revealing enough in terms of chord size. On the other hand, the expression “the two-half diminished in minor” creates redundancy with the key signature basis. Using the mixed system may be beneficial for beginners, but it seems to become an obstacle at a later stage. I had some students in aural IV who could not refer to a chord function without pronouncing its quality. Thus a reference to a scheme (I - V6 – vi - ii7 - V7 - I) turns into a painful reciting: “one major, five six major, six minor, two minor seven. etc” while all these qualities are evident from the key signature. The contrapuntal thinking of such musicians also seems hindered, because they expect to see the exact size of every chord on every beat. Applying figured bass alone in writing or on the piano may also be a problem, because of this constant urge to compare chord sizes visually. Finally, there are altered chords which reside outside of the geographic collection of +6 chords and the augmented triad, and cannot be adequately expressed by capital versus small case numerals. 

But again, having said all of the above (related to labeling) I have not found the right system for myself yet.

Thank you,


Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
School of Music
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, Texas 78666

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