[Smt-talk] Typical versus less typical chord arrangements

Donna Doyle donnadoyle at att.net
Wed Feb 15 07:16:54 PST 2012

Re additional scale forms ("harmonic major," etc), I find Daniel  
Harrison's discussion of the role of b6 insightful and
valuable for its references (Harmonic Function in Chromatic Music, p  
28 ff).  In a practical sense, ear training students
have an easier time (and sing more in tune) when they're told to "jump  
to the upper leading-tone of ^5" rather than
bridge the aug 2nd gap.

Re Op 2, No 1: TH II's b6 moves down (only), reminding me of Sechter's  
understanding of the harmonic minor
ambitus as b6 down to raised 7. Additionally, I hear the Fb as an  
enharmonic reference to m 8's hanging leading tone,
discharging (down into the RM key) some of its unresolved tension.

Perhaps diatonically ordered tones from ^1 to ^8 are a necessary but  
insufficient condition for common-practice-period
scale viability.

Donna Doyle
Queens College CUNY

On Feb 14, 2012, at 1:11 PM, Ninov, Dimitar N wrote:

> Dear Dmitri,
> Thank you for your thoughtful input on the usage of functional  
> arrangements in the common practice period.
> From the references you have made in there, it seems as if the so- 
> called "common practice period" begins with Bach and ends with  
> Beethoven. I regret to realize that you believe in that.
> Have you looked in Romantic scores? Late Romanticism? Russian Music  
> of the I 19th century? Simple popular music of the XX century,  
> stemming from the classic-romantic tradition? Film scores, some of  
> which are conservative enough to exhibit "music in a common style"  
> with simple tertian progressions and clear tonal centers.
> If you have, you will have discovered not only the chord connections  
> I suggested, but much more, including an ample modal mixture,  
> diverse modulations. etc.
> If Mozart has not used a minor subdominant in major, does it mean  
> that we should not use it? Should we forget about Schumann,  
> Schubert, and many other romantics? Also, the plagal cadences such  
> as IV-I, II6-I or II6/5 - are explored in Russian music. (an Amen  
> progression of the type IV-II half-dim. 6/5 - I, should not be  
> extremely rare, and creates a wonderful effect).
> It is a shame that, more than 100 years after Rimsky-Korsakov wrote  
> his book of harmony, American students (and also some teachers) do  
> not know what harmonic and melodic major are. Rimsky wrote in the  
> introduction: "I based my book on four modes: natural and harmonic  
> major, and natural and harmonic minor". Since the term "harmonic  
> major", not to speak of "melodic major", is obviously not in your  
> database, you do not teach it. This leads me to comment on two sad  
> circumstances which are widely spread in American colleges today.  
> Students are told int their theory classes that there is one major  
> scale, and there are three minor scales. Fortunately, neither the  
> former is true, nor the latter. In fact, when we consider the period  
> that I suggested, six basic scales are used (sometimes only  
> melodically, at other times implied by the harmony, or used in both  
> ways): natural, harmonic, and melodic major, and natural, harmonic  
> and melodic minor. The major scales are less frequently used,
>  but this is not a reason to behave as if they do not exist. They  
> are not some "exotic" or "bizarre" addition to the common practice  
> period; they must be studied in theory I along with the minor  
> scales. I do not have specific observations on the double harmonic  
> versions of these scales, but I suspect Liszt may have used some in  
> his rhapsodies. The double harmonic versions may be considered as  
> scales influenced by folk music. As for harmonic major, the first  
> thing that came up to mind my mind is the beginning of the second  
> theme of Beethoven's first piano sonata in Fm. The implied scale is  
> Ab harmonic major. Of course, classical composers did not explore  
> those scale so much as romantic composers.
> Fortunately, I do not teach music with a folder under my arm, ready  
> to endorse or reject a progression according to a database. It is  
> namely such kind of experience that "molds the students away" from  
> creativity. If a student asks me, "May I connect II6 to I in a  
> plagal relationship" I will not open that folder and say, "No, you  
> may not; Bach and the Classical composers have not used that". That  
> would be the end of creative music theory teaching. Theory must be  
> creative, not too scholastic. I would encourage the student to use  
> that progression with the comments that it much more rare than an  
> authentic resolution, for example.
> In some Russian books of harmony (Mutli, Myassoadov, and others)  
> they have a whole chapter with melodies for harmonizations,  
> entitled: plagal cadences or "alterations in the subdominant  
> harmony". To explore the plagal resolutions.
> Nobody could be a judge of what is typical and what is not. Even a  
> database. We do observe some norms, but as long as the progression  
> makes sense and the voice leading is good, I will praise the  
> student, and even suggest that this is his/her style. Only if they  
> go over the board with too many modal or chromatic harmonies in a  
> classical style chorale, I would suggest changes.
> I think that it is very good to say "I like this progression. Let us  
> use it!" without consulting a database. As long as our sense of  
> style is intact, we do not have to flip through thousands of pages  
> to receive an approval for every  progression that we want to use.  
> This will simply kill the creative spirit in everyone of us -  
> teachers and students.
> Am I a widely known composer and music theorist? No. At least for  
> now (ha-ha). Should I wait to become famous to promote my ideas? I  
> would not respect myself enough if I did that. On the contrary, I  
> will run away from such kind of behavior, as a prisoner would run  
> from the prison.
> All that a good teacher needs to have is talent, professionalism,  
> and common sense. One more thing: love for his students. Our  
> greatest achievement will consist in teaching students how to think  
> critically (Look at every definition with a certain amount of  
> suspicion!), how to inquire, and be creative. Unless they become  
> some specialists in music, they will forget how to connect chords.  
> But the spirit of creativity and critical thinking will remain in  
> their hearts forever.
> If composers/theorists taught music from a database, the vocabulary  
> of chord connection possibilities would be very limited, and  
> different styles would not flourish. Of course, it is beneficial if  
> a composer is also a theorist, but it is never beneficial if a  
> theorist is not a music maker of any kind. Schoenberg refers to such  
> pure theorists with the sarcastic "No masters" label.
> But this is not all. When I teach modal mixture, I tell my students  
> that all chords from major could be transferred into minor (that is  
> true - even the "high or raised mediants") and vice versa. We  
> compose chorales by including many borrowed chords and students love  
> that. With this, of course, we go beyond the common practice period,  
> we touch Prokofiev, even John Williams (I call some progressions  
> "Harry Potter"). Our task is not only to teach students to copy, but  
> also to create, and even to imagine that they are pioneers of some  
> new ideas. In addition, modal mixture cannot be studied  
> comprehensively without exploring some innovations of the XX century.
> About Kostka/Payne. I also use this book in our school, but  
> discussing its merits versus shortcomings is too long a topic for  
> this current discussion. It is enough to begin by saying that they  
> do not have a special chapter on harmonic functionality and on how  
> different functions relate to the tonal center. No major scales; no  
> explanation of strict versus free resolution of dominant seventh  
> chord; no chapter on altered chords - what are genuinely altered and  
> what are relatively altered chords; no secondary subdominants  
> (students do not know what this is!); geographic names for harmonic  
> functions; no extensive exercises in harmonization; very limited  
> exploration of modal mixture; a strange manner of presenting the non- 
> chord tones, including a twisted notion of the appoggiatura (in  
> fact, the appoggiatura is not about melodic contour, but about a  
> moment of entrance and the necessity for resolution; in this sense  
> it may be passing, neighboring or leaping, and needs to resolve as a
>  suspension - this is why Germans call it "free suspension"); and  
> many more things that could probably fill in pages of discussion and  
> scrutiny.
> In fact, I feel happy that I have the freedom to share with mys  
> students what others would consider "less typical" or exceptional. I  
> am convinced that, as long as students master the principles of  
> voice leading well (here we may argue too), they must be allowed to  
> experiment  without consulting a database or without fearing  
> anybody's frowning.
> Best regards,
> Dimitar
> Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
> School of Music
> Texas State University
> 601 University Drive
> San Marcos, Texas 78666
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