[Smt-talk] Abbreviated Labels of Seventh Chords

Donna Doyle donnadoyle at att.net
Wed Feb 8 20:51:10 PST 2012

Dear Dimitar,

Perhaps the 4-2 tradition is based on comfort rather than logic, i.  
e., we like to say/see two figured bass numbers for each 7th chord  
inversion; or, since a 4th with the bass is usually dissonant, we like  
to be reminded that in this case it's a chord member.
The 4's presence also enables us (and might remind students) to show  
voice leading into the next chord:  4      -   6  ,
rather than bare-bones verticalities  (V 2  -  I  
).                                                                                                          2 
       -   3

Donna Doyle

Queens College CUNY

On Feb 8, 2012, at 10:50 PM, Ninov, Dimitar N wrote:

> Dear Colleagues,
> My students were asking me why I wrote V2 instead of V4/2. I guess I  
> had to ask them why they wrote V4/2 instead of V2. This is not a big  
> deal, of course, but I wanted to bring to your attention the fact  
> that number 4 is irrelevant to the logic of derivation of the  
> abbreviated labels of seventh chords.
> The abbreviated labels are derived by two intervals: 1) the interval  
> between the bass and the root on the one hand, and 2) the interval  
> between the bass and the seventh on the other. Thus in root position  
> the only number is 7, because the interval between the bass and the  
> root is unison; in first inversion we have 6-5; in second inversion  
> 4-3, and in third inversion the only number is 2, because the  
> interval between the bass and the seventh is unison.
> Why 4? It shows the interval between the bass and the third of the  
> seventh chord, which does not have to be shown unless we work in  
> minor and use only figured bass with no Roman numerals.
> When I flip through the pages of some European and older American  
> books of harmony (as well as some relatively new) the above  
> explanation is provided. Author such as Piston, Tischler,  
> Schoenberg, Horvitt, Cook, and all Russian theorists use 2 instead  
> of 4/2, but the massive tendency in the US is to write 4-2. Is this  
> tradition based on ignoring the logic of derivation, or is there  
> something special that stands behind this label?
> I would appreciate any ideas in this regard.
> Best wishes,
> Dimitar
> Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
> School of Music
> Texas State University
> 601 University Drive
> San Marcos, Texas 78666
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