[Smt-talk] Subdominant versus Predominant

Arthurs, Daniel Daniel.Arthurs at unt.edu
Thu May 3 16:07:39 PDT 2012

Dear List,

In response to an older discussion about what precisely 'subdominant' means (a fifth below the tonic vs. a step beneath the dominant), I found this old theory text published by Theodore Presser, authored by Carl Venth, and titled Musical Theory and Writing Book (1920).  It's approx. 70 pages (which I mention because it ties into the recent discussion of textbook lengths) and could probably be used today in Theory I and II.  It consists mostly of exercises.  After a brief introduction, Venth discusses the formal names of the scale steps, where he writes on p. 5:

"Each tone of the scale, whether major or minor, has its distinctive name.  The first tone: Tonic, tone.  The second tone: Super tonic, above the tone.  The third tone: Mediant, between. The fourth tone: Sub Dominant, the under dominant. The fifth tone: Dominant, the governing tone. The sixth tone: Super Dominant, above the dominant. The seventh tone: Leading tone. The eighth tone [!]: Octave, the completing tone."

It seems very strange to me that he considers the dominant "the governing tone"; the subdominant is under it, but then he adds a second moon orbiting around the dominant when he describes VI as the super dominant, not submediant!

Danny Arthurs<http://music.unt.edu/mhte/node/208>
Lecturer of Music Theory<http://music.unt.edu/mhte/node/208>
Division of MHTE<http://www.music.unt.edu/mhte>
College of Music<http://www.music.unt.edu/>, UNT<http://www.unt.edu/>

From: smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org [mailto:smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org] On Behalf Of Nicolas Meeùs
Sent: Saturday, February 25, 2012 2:35 AM
To: Ninov, Dimitar N
Cc: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Subdominant versus Predominant


If you have all the answers to all your questions, I do not see why you ask them, nor what you expect from us all.

As I tried to show in my preceding message, Rousseau was unclear as to the meaning of subdominant, and wrote: "I may be mistaken in the acception of these two words, not having under the eyes the writings of Rameau as I write this article. He may understand by subdominant simply the note that is one degree under the dominant." I added that it was not Rameau who first gave the name, but probably Dandrieu, and that Dandrieu most probably understood the word as meaning "the degree under the dominant". This is how the term is understood in French today. See my article "Scale, polifonia, armonia" in J. J. Nattiez ed., Enciclopedia della musica, vol. II, Il sapere musicale, Einaudi, 2002, p. 84, which is precisely about that question of the difference of conception between German and Roman languages.

Nicolas Meeùs
Université Paris-Sorbonne

Le 25/02/2012 00:22, Ninov, Dimitar N a écrit :


Since I-IV is acoustically and functionally more impressive than IV-V in a I-IV-V-I progression, the question "What follows the tonic?" is more relevant in identifying the harmonic function of IV than the question "What precedes the dominant?" The former question is an equivalent to a more important question, namely "How do we leave the state of stability?". On the other hand, "What precedes the dominant?" is an equivalent of the question "What is the lower degree of instability?" which does not seem as important.

According the the logic explained above, the arrangement T-S-D-T makes perfect sense, but T-PD-D-T does not, for it answers the question "What is the lower state of instability?" instead of answering "How do we leave the state of stability?". This argument, paired with the fact that harmonic functions refer to the tonal center, in my view renders the label "PD" both superfluous and superficial.

Thank you,


Dr. Dimitar Ninov

Texas State University

dn16 at txstate.edu<mailto:dn16 at txstate.edu>


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