[Smt-talk] Music Theory Translation (Wiki)

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Sun May 6 10:11:23 PDT 2012

Dear David,

I cannot tell you how useful and important the idea of exchange concepts and labels on harmonic progression is; I myself kept saying over and over that theorists who bury themselves in their own symbols and know nothing else, are thinking in a box, and they are teaching their students to think in a box too. You may choose a system and follow it systematically, but to not know other systems and to penalize students for using a different way of labeling is a sign of incompetence or stubbornness, or both.

The foreign students that had a solid background in harmony scored poorly in US because the tests that were given to them were designed by people who only expected one possible answer and labeling of a certain chord. Therefore, it is the examiners who scored poorly, not the students! By penalizing a student for using capital Roman numerals only or, let us say, Riemann's letters, the examiner reveals his/her inflexibility which is a sign of unawareness of the outer world. Instead of trying to see what the student meant by D2/S, for example, the examiner wanted to see V4-2 of IV, and , because they did not care to decipher the "Unknown label" they simply take points off for wrong analysis! That is such a shame, that, I can hardly contain myself to not utter harsher words about the way some colleagues review a test...

Especially shameful is the expectation from a foreign student to use geographic names for labeling altered chords. Harmonic function is not expressed by a geographic name, and the insistence that they use such names is telling about the character of those who want to impose this system as mandatory.

I also would have a lot of objections to the limited and often incompetent manner a certain concept is explained by some test designers. For example, the definition of the so-called "augmented sixth chordsin the wiki is biased and very limited in its concept, and it also would make one think that these are augmented chords by structure. But the following portion of that concept that I copied from your wiki, is really astonishing:

"They come in 4 varieties: Italian, French, German, and Enharmonic German." Do you really think that these are all the types of chords that contain a diminished third/augmented sixth? One of the main problems with geographic names is that once students (and some teachers) learned the main names of the typical chords, they are not able to recognize other altered chords that contain an augmented sixth, because those chords do not have a geographic name attached to them. Another problem is the lacking of a comprehensive theory of altered chords in the US theoretical musicology; a theory that deals with functions, and not with colorful descriptions.

Wiki says: "enharmonic German". Let us see...for example, F7 (label of convenience for F-A-C-D#) can resolve as an altered subdominant or altered dominant into several triads, three of which do not require an enharmonic substitution of any of the tones of the German chord: it will resolve into Am, C, and E, retaining the same spelling. In the first two resolutions F7 will function as a secondary altered subdomiannt (altered IV in Am, and altered II in C), and in the third one as altered dominant (altered VII in E). Where exactly is the enharmonic German, when none of its constituting tones is spelled differently? On the other hand, F7 may be resolved enharmonically as a diatonic dominant (into Bb) and, as an altered dominant, into Dbm (C#m) . I think very often theorists confuse the enharmonic features of a chord with its potential to resolve differently when it has the same structure and is spelled in the same manner.

Another "witty" invention is the so-called "German of scale degree 2, or 3, or whatever" - chords do not tonicize scale degrees, they tonicize chords. For example, if, in C major, the chord Eb7 resolves  into three different chords such as Dm, Bb, or G - all of them having the tone "D" as a bass note, how could a teacher explain the difference to their students if they use the indifferent "German of scale degree 2" label? They usually do not explain those details - they are too much for them, while a simple sentence that relates Eb7 to an altered S or D chord will clarify the differences in function.

Anyhow, I could not find a way to "contribute" to the wiki - what is the procedure?

Best regards,


Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
School of Music
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, Texas 78666

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