[Smt-talk] Abbreviated Lables of Seventh Chords and Labeling of Functions

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Sat Feb 11 16:58:27 PST 2012

Dear Bruce, 
I am pleasantly surprised that you occasionally embark on Riemann's letter such as T, S, and D. These are great for generalizing if we teach American students that are used to Roman numerals only, but they could also be specific if we want to use them instead of Roman Numerals.

I find your system a little more complicated, however. But I think that it was Riemann who made is so complicated, by introducing Trm, etc. - ambiguous sybmols that reveal the mediant functions. I have been experimenting with symbols for teaching purposes, and with symbols for my own harmonization and analysis purposes, and tight now I am in favor of simplifying things as much as I can. For instance, from time to time I use the Schonbergian system (capital Roman numerals only) with no inversion symbols, as used in his "Structural Functions of Harmony". The dash across the letter would mean either a borrowed chord or a genuine altered chord. For instance, the progression I - #iio7-I6-IV-viio/V-V would be labeled by Schoenberg as: I-II (with a scratch)-I-IV-IV (with a scratch) and V. Of course, without seeing the music this could be a problem, because no specifics are provided, but when you analyze complicated things visually, this provides the freedom to think generally and to avoid the usual clutter.

Otherwise, I also use T, S and D, but I also introduce a two more functions: M (for both mediant and submediant, or you can use M and SM, if preferred), and K or Cad. (for cadential six-four, which for me is not V with two non-chord tones; I already submitted a thread with a treatise on that) Thus we have:

T (I)
S (IV)
D (V)
K (or Cad.) for the cadential 6/4

As for the II and the seventh chord, I could either mark them as SII (subdominant on the second scale degree) and DVII (dominant on the seventh scale degree), or place them under the umbrella of a general S and generalr D, respectively. Depends on whether I want to be specific or general.

Thus I acquire clear and uniform labeling system, which could also be used with inversion symbols from the figured bass as necessary. For the secondary dominants and subdominants (we should not not forget that there is also IV of...and II of...which could also be altered on top of that, for example CTo7/III, etc.) I use D of or S of such as in D/D (dominant of the dominant) or D/S (dominant of the subdominant). However, D/SM (dominant of the submediant) could have an alternative label such as D/VI.

For minor mode I use the same capital letters above; the size of the chords being suggested by the key signature and by different alterations if any. However, if a chord is borrowed from major minor to major, for instance, I would write -S or -D, for example. 

There are various ways of using letters and symbols, and I am in a process of looking for a simple system that allows me to analyze chromatic and modulating passages without using so many symbols that make the labels clumsy and unattractive.

Best regards,


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

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