[Smt-talk] Chords of the augmented sixth-diminished third

Stephen Jablonsky jablonsky at optimum.net
Sun Feb 5 15:11:39 PST 2012


You were doing great until you got to paragraph 5. Roman numerals are not used to describe pitch classes. They are used to describe harmonic function and thus the Ger+6 should be notated as vii#6/5 of V. Augmented sixth chords are altered dominants, not subdominants, because they have leading tones and all chords that have leading tones are dominant in function, at least where I come from. BTW, there is no such thing as the #IV chord unless you are in Lydian and that is another kettle of avgolemono entirely.

On Feb 5, 2012, at 4:36 PM, Ninov, Dimitar N wrote:

> Dear Colleagues,
> I have always been wondering why some theorists would use geographic names instead of Roman numerals to express a harmonic function that could be determined by a simple analysis. Geographic names are not universally employed (outside of the English speaking world), and, according to my observations and teaching practice, students who only use geographic names for these typical altered chords gradually loose the ability to analyze a variety of altered chords which do not fit the "mold" of "Italian", "German" and "French". Furthermore, they loose the ability to visually recognize those three common chords when they are in different bass positions.
> About the so-called "Russian augmented sixth" - I think Rimsky Korskakov is right when he lists it as a counterpart of the "Ger+6" in minor. However, he never referred to any geographic names himself.
> Of course, this prospective discussion could go for pages on end. Here I only wanted to generalize my main points on the so-called "augmented sixth chords as follows:
> 1. It is true that they have been derived through linear motion. But many chords have been derived linearly (even the seventh chord as a structure) and today we take them for granted - after having decided to use them deliberately as vertical sonorities with a concrete function.
> 2. The so called "augmented sixth chords" are not augmented chords by structure. In this sense, the term "augmented sixth chord" formally implies an augmented triad in first inversion - something which has nothing to do with the intended meaning. Therefore, "chords of the augmented sixth" seems a more precise name to avoid the imperfection of language.
> 3. They have a root, for a rootless structure does not have an intense and concrete harmonic function as they do.
> 4. When they appear in a position that displays a diminished third instead of an augmented sixth, the +6 number does not make sense. For example, the so-called "Ger.+6" in root position does not exhibit an augmented sixth but a diminished third. Yet many theorists simply ignore this fact and keep writing the misleading Ger.+6. When I ask my students where the augmented sixth is, they cannot find it, because it is not there. If, for some musicians, +6 and dim. 3 are the same thing, then we should also equalize the major seventh with a minor second, for example, and consider all possible secondal sonorities as different types of "major seventh chords". 
> 5. Depending on the context, they are either altered subdominants, or altered dominants. Therefore, Roman numerals such as IV, II, V, and VII will do an excellent job - especially if they are used in a  general manner, without much clutter (for instance, #ivo7 (b3) is a visually clumsy and unappealing substitute for "Ger.+6" in minor, but IV 6+/5 or IV6/5 alt. are nice alternatives). Note that I use capital Roman letters only; the size of the chords could be revealed by the key signature plus any additional alterations.
> I would appreciate any thoughts in this regard.
> Dimitar
> Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
> School of Music
> Texas State University
> 601 University Drive
> San Marcos, Texas 78666
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Prof. Stephen Jablonsky, Ph.D.
Music Department Chair
The City College of New York
160 Convent Avenue S-72
New York NY 10031
(212) 650-7663

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