[Smt-talk] Nature and Labeling of the Cadential Six-Four

Dmitri Tymoczko dmitri at princeton.edu
Mon Feb 13 07:09:06 PST 2012

> I'd like to respond to Ciro Scotto and Dmitri Tymoczko's mini discussion about labeling a 6/4 on scale-degree 5 that resolves deceptively. The Beethoven example is a good one for this particular example. I think much of it depends on how you consider the progression works. In that piece, a ii6 leads into that 6/4. Today, I imagine most pedagogues, like myself, probably find this spot tricky to analyze for our freshmen/sophomores. If we go the I6/4 route, then we have the conundrum of a ii going to a I chord.

Sorry for being thick, but what is the conundrum?  Is it just that there exist common progressions that only occur in specific inversions, such as ii6->I6/4?

If so, there are a number of these progressions, and there's simply no way to avoid them as a pedagogue.  The most common, besides ii->I6/4, are V->IV6 and vi->I6.  In each case you have a reasonably common progression that only occurs in one specific inversion -- V almost never goes to root position IV, but often goes to first-inversion IV, just as vi almost never goes to root-position I, but often goes to I6.

The deeper issue is that root-functionality is just an approximation -- rules like "V doesn't go to IV" work well enough for the most part, but there are a variety of cases where you need to specify the exact inversions in order to get the harmonic grammar right.  I personally teach the students this from day one, so that they don't get puzzled.  My students learn right off the bat that I6/4 is syntactically anomalous, and that it doesn't behave like a standard root-position tonic chord.  As a result, the label "I6/4" does not confuse them, as they have been taught that this is a very special chord.

From a pedagogical point of view, I would say that it is important to *avoid* the sends that there's any conundrum here.  The best strategy, I've found, is just to announce that root-functionality is an approximation, and that there are a few important exceptions.  This works much better then pretending that root-functionality works 100% of the time, only to turn around and contradict yourself later.  (Or to fiddle with the notation to try to avoid "anomalous" progressions like ii6->I6/4 or vi->I6.)


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