[Smt-talk] Abbreviated Labels of Seventh Chords

Ildar Khannanov solfeggio7 at yahoo.com
Thu Feb 9 11:06:11 PST 2012

This slight difference reveals a larger issue. I do not know why contemporary North American music theory must follow the "figured bass tradition" and disregard German theory of the 19th century, but if to consider the latter, we can see the following:
First of all, German theorists of the 19th century, composers and students, operated with hearing rather than seeing. This innovation could not be possible without understanding of the roots of the chords, inversions, and tonal functions, introduced by Rameau earlier. All three switch musical perception from the visual domain (figured bass) to the aural (Funktionstheorie). The primary mode of operation for the 19th-century theorists was hearing, the secondary--seeing. It seems that, due to the lack of funding of aural skills lessons in North American high schools, music students nowadays operate primarily in the visual domain. Contrary to this pitiful situation, a 19-century German student had to learn the inversions of the seventh chord first by ear, and only then could approach writing them down and analyzing them in the score.
The first thing that you hear, when listening to the last inversion of a seventh chord, is a buzzing noise in the bottom of the chord. Hence, the distinguishing feature of this chord is the second in the base and the name of the chord is Sekundakkord. Moreover, when listening to the first inversion of the seventh chord, you hear first the fifth, and then the sixth added to it. Therefore, the name of the chord is Quintsextakkord. In North America, students understand this chord as “sixth-five” only because this is the way our eyes work: they grab the larger object first and then analyze smaller detail. Hearing grabs the smaller element first and then proceeds to the larger. Accordingly, it is the Terzquartakkord, and not the four-three chord. It is not the sixh-four, but the Quartsextakkord. The first inversion of a triad is simply a Sextakkord: it is not a sixth-three. And the six-four is actually Quartsextakkord. Russian theory faithfully followed
 this system.
When you operate not with noteheads, but with aural images in the aural pitch space (something which great German theorist Hugo Riemann called innere Hoerung), you realize that the scale step seven is essentially different from the seventh of the seventh chord, and in general, the names of the intervals should be different from the names of the scale steps. Thus, German theorists use Latin names for intervals: Prima, Sekunda, Tertia, Quarta, Quinta, Sexta, Septima and Oktava. For the scale steps they use the words of their native language.
Considering all this, I am puzzled by the statements of Nicolas concerning “Schenker’s hearing.” What is that?
Dr. Ildar Khannanov
Peabody Institute, Johns Hopkins University
solfeggio7 at yahoo.com

From: "composer at mykeyboard.com" <composer at mykeyboard.com>
To: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org 
Sent: Thursday, February 9, 2012 10:26 AM
Subject: [Smt-talk] Abbreviated Labels of Seventh Chords

I think that it's important to remember that figured bass is a practical system for performing basso continuo that predates fundamental bass theory.  A continuo player shouldn't need to worry about what is dissonant or what the chord root is.  The figures merely indicate what alterations to make to the default (8)53 intervals above the bass.  Thus, the figure "2", while certainly seen as a short form of 642, is ambiguous, possibly meaning 52 instead.  I personally don't have a problem with using just 2, and I also teach the 7 65 43 2 mnemonic to my students, but I consistently use 42 for all third-inversion seventh chords to appease my inner continuo harpsichordist.


Robert T. Kelley, Ph.D.
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Lander University
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