[Smt-talk] Abbreviated Labels of Seventh Chords

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Thu Feb 9 07:00:24 PST 2012

Dear Colleagues,

Thank you for this communication. It is good to know how things have "stuck" historically and to respect other approaches. Summarizing these replies I wanted to add:

1. Stephen, thank you very much - I completely agree with you. Of course, the inversion of 7 is 2, and that makes it easy for the student to understand that if 7 is used alone, so must 2.

2. I also respect Dona's point ,if some people insist on showing the dissonance from the bass.

3. Nicholas' explanation of some contemporary French symbols was a revelation. Nicholas, I read and understand French, although my communication is bad; however, I am interested to learn as much as I can how today's French musicians teach harmony. Could you posibly recommend to me a book of harmony that is used today in the conservatoire or in the Sorbonne, or a couple of books, if you use different ones?

4. I guess we, as teachers with an open mind, shall give our students a choice in this regard, and in many other aspects of harmony, as long as they know the logic behind it. I would not understand an instructor who will take points off if a student uses either "2" or "4/2"! This will be called "thinking in a box", and we do not want to convey such thinking to anyone.

My approach to this small issue is this. I explain to the students how the abbreviated derivation is created and then I give them a choice- if they have been used very much to "4-2", they continue to use it and to say it in analysis. Some others readily switch to "2" because they think it saves time in both writing and pronouncing. Still others, who come from abroad, usually use "2".

With best wishes,


Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
School of Music
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, Texas 78666
From: Stephen Jablonsky [jablonsky at optimum.net]
Sent: Thursday, February 09, 2012 7:18 AM
To: Ninov, Dimitar N
Cc: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Abbreviated Labels of Seventh Chords


I've been using 2 instead of 4/2 for decades because it is so easy to teach your students that the abbreviated figured bass numbers descend from 7 to 2: 7 - 6/5 - 4/3 - 2. It is simple and beautiful and seems to possess some universal truth about it.

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,


Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
School of Music
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, Texas 78666
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The City College of New York
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